Simchat Torah night in Czarist Russia was an occasion not only of great joy but also great anticipation.

The custom in some communities was to auction aliyot for sections in the Torah that were going to be read in the course of the coming year. It was the time of the Czarist draft and it was common that the section from this week’s parasha, HaMalach HaGoel Oti Mikol Ra – “May the angel who protects me from all harm …” would be auctioned for a large sum. It was regarded as a special Segula (protection) for safety to be called up for this aliya.

The context in which this passage appears in the parasha is fascinating.

Joseph has brought his sons, Ephraim and Menashe, to Jacob to receive a blessing. He arranges the boys so that Menashe, the older, is next to Jacob’s right hand and Ephraim is next to his left. Jacob, however, crosses his hands, and with his right on Ephraim and left on Menashe, blesses them with the words: … HaMalach HaGoel Oti Mikol Ra – “May the angel who protects me from all harm bless these lads …”

Joseph tries to object. Maybe Jacob has made a mistake? He attempts to shift his father’s right to Menashe’s head. Jacob refuses. He replies that he knows exactly what he is doing. He explains that both boys will have a great destiny. But, the younger will surpass the older. Jacob then blesses the boys again with the words that the boys should be the role models for all future blessings to boys, and parents should bless them with the words, “May G-d make you like Ephraim and Menashe.”

The great 19th century Chassidic leader, R Zvi Elimelech of Dynow, makes a profound observation. He points out that although Jacob felt impelled by prophecy to give the senior blessing to Ephraim, it could not have been easy. Jacob knew only too well the bitter consequences that had occurred in previous generations when the younger had been favoured over the older. But when Jacob had imparted his blessing to the boys he saw something remarkable. Menashe, the older, displayed no envy. Ephraim, the younger displayed no superiority. Each was happy for the other.

Jacob recognised that in these two boys we now have a role model of brotherhood. This is a standard that all future generations should emulate. Hence, he blessed the boys again with the added dimension: “With your names Israel shall bless, ‘May G-d make you like Ephraim and Menashe.’”

Dayan Ivan Binstock