Yosef the righteous is found in a foreign land. Far from his father his brothers and his birthplace. The fact that he is a ruler does not make him forget his past and personal pain. It was very painful for him that his brothers have sold him as a slave. He does not forget his prolonged imprisonment in the Egyptian jail for no reason. Yosef eternalizes the pain by naming his first born "Menashe", which means (Beraishis 41; 51): "For G-d has made caused me to forget all my toil and all my father's house". Through this name he expresses the suffering that he went through, and that G-d has detached him from his glorious past, from his father and brothers…
His second son he names "Ephraim" (Beraishis 41; 52): "For G-d had made me fruitful in the land of my suffering". Yosef stresses, that with all the hardships good things have occurred to him as well, here another son was born.
After Yaakov and his sons went down to Egypt and lived there for seventeen years, Yosef brings his two sons, Menashe and Ephraim to Yaakov his father to receive a blessing before his passing. Yosef positions Menashe the eldest to the right side of Yaakov, and Ephraim the young one to the left side. And then, Yaakov crosses his hands- places his right hand upon the head of Ephraim and his left hand upon the head of Menashe, and gives them the blessing (Beraishis 48; 16): "The angel who hath redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads, and let my name be named in them, and the name of my fathers… and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of Earth." Yaakov ends his blessing, and a dialogue begins between Yaakov and Yosef:
"And Yosef saw that his father laid his right hand upon the head of Ephraim, and it displeased him, and he supported his father's hand to remove it from Ephraim's head unto Menashe's head: Yosef said to his father: 'Not so, my father, for this is the first born; place thy right upon his head'"… Yosef thought that Yaakov made a mistake, but Yaakov tells Yosef (Beraishis 48; 19): "I know it my son, I know it, he also shall become a people and he also shall be great, howbeit his younger brother shall be greater than he…"
In addition to the prophecy and vision of the coming days, that the descendants of Ephraim the young one will rise greater than Menashe the elder, a path for future generations is included in the blessing of Yaakov to his grandchildren, by favoring Ephraim over Menashe.
Both the names of Yosef's sons eternalize two different viewpoints. There is the viewpoint of "Menashe", and the viewpoint of "Ephraim".
A person's life occurrences consists many details. Some under the title: "Could be better", and some under the title: "Could have been worse", since even the term "worse" can be compared to a bottomless pit…
The conversation between Yaakov and Yosef is a key to life…
Yosef sees his father putting his right hand upon Ephraim's head. He feels that Yaakov is diminishing what the name "Menashe" symbolizes. For twenty two years, Yosef's heart is bleeding, and he eternalizes the pain through his son's name. Therefore, Yosef turns to his father: "not so my father", and tries to lift his father's hand, as if to tell him: do not ignore the past suffering…
Yaakov tells him: "I know it, my son, I know it". I know that Menashe is the eldest, and in his name your sufferings are condensed. Though I have suffered anguish no less than you- I have run away from my brother so that he shall not kill me. My father in law Lavan wanted to kill me, and if G-d would not save me, he would do so… I was a grieving father for twenty two years, and cried numerous days. A person has to have "Ephraim" in mind, the clear understanding that it could be better.
Every single Jew, in every generation, whenever he will want to bless his children shall say: "G-d make thee as Ephraim and as Menashe". As it says (Beraishis 48; 20): "And he blessed them that day, saying: 'By thee shall Israel bless".
Every father shall bless his son and say- you should know, my son, that during your life you will have days of 'Menashe' and days of 'Ephraim'. Also when times are hard- be wise enough to direct your point of view to the bright points, and only then look at the tribulation.
This blessing constitutes a format for life for every individual, an opening of hope for any Jew in any situation. Even if it seems narrow and difficult for him, he must have in mind that his remedy has been created already, and the only thing that is left, is for him to hope that it will be discovered, and it will immediately appear.
Moreover, the name "Menashe" symbolizes the attribute of "depart from evil", since by the birth of Menashe, Yosef had requested that all his hardships, toil, and suffering of the past shall be forgotten from him. This is a hint to the spiritual path of "depart from evil", in which a person seeks to become pure and depart himself from any fault or flaw of materialism and sin. In contrast, "Ephraim" was named: "For G-d had made me fruitful in the land of my suffering", and this is to hint the second spiritual path of "do good". This name indicates the request for additional sanctity and good, even if he is still found in the land of his suffering.
These two spiritual paths are primary and essential to all who come to reach their spiritual wholeness. A person cannot suffice with departing from bad alone, unless he simultaneously continues to increase Mitzvoth and good deeds. On the other hand, if a person will only multiply his good deeds and not focus on eliminating the bad, all his good deeds might ultimately be found flawed.
A difference of opinion was found between Yaakov and Yosef as to the question of which quality shall precede the other: Shall one first depart from evil from its root, and only then can he continue to elevate, or rather perform the commandments as much as possible, and by empowering the good, evil will disappear.
Yosef preceded Menashe before Ephraim, out of the belief that one must start with "departing from evil". And indeed, that is how he acted during his life, when he ran away and escaped from the sin: "And he escaped, and ran out". However Yaakov pointed out a different way of life, in which the "do good" precedes the complete opposite, from the bad. Yaakov taught that one may start with "do good", and "depart from evil" will follow.
Although Yosef's path is elevated not all can regularly live according to which. Yaakov set a path for future generations that even whoever cannot rise to such a high spiritual level, can cling to the good and through that overcome and depart from all evil.
If one will wait for the evil to entirely disappear, it is likely that he will not reach to "do good", since the battle against eradicating evil is much heavier. Therefore a person shall cling to good, and with that he will be able to overcome and "depart from evil".
Adapted from the book "Tzemach Tzaddik", By: Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vishnitz.
Translated By: T.N.