There was once a wealthy businessman flying on his way to Israel. He takes a seat next to this elderly man, and they set out for a ten hour flight together. Right after taking off, the elderly man shuts his eyes to go to sleep. The young businessman frantically wakes him up. The young man says "We have a long 10 hour flight ahead of us and I need someone to talk to! You can't just go to sleep!" The elderly man smiles and says "I am an old man, I need to get my sleep."
The young businessman gives one final attempt to jostle the old man into a conversation. He says "I will tell you a riddle, and if you don't know the answer you have to give me $5, then you tell me a riddle and if I don't know the answer, I will give you $500. Deal?" The elderly man agrees and off they go. The young man tells his clever riddle, and after thinking for a minute or two, the elderly man takes out $5 and hands it over. The elderly man then turns to the young businessman and asks "What goes up a mountain with three legs, and down a mountain with four?"
The young man sits and thinks. And thinks and thinks. He ponders for over an hour and comes up blank. He gets antsy and starts pacing up and down the plane, asking different people in other aisles. He even pulls out his phone to Google it. But alas, he comes up blank. He pulls $500 out of his wallet and hands it over. The old man contently turns the other way and closes his eyes for some much needed rest. The young man suddenly jumps up and shouts "You can't go to sleep just like that!! What's the answer!?" The old man looks at him, thinks for a minute, then proceeds to pull out $5 and hands it over to the young man.
Some questions don't always have simple answers.
There's a question in this week's Parsha. Yaakov was on his deathbed. Yosef brought in his two sons to get them berachos before their grandfather passes away. Menashe was the oldest son, so Yosef naturally placed him by Yaakov's right, and Ephraim was placed by his left. He figured Yaakov would put his right hand on the eldest, which was the standard procedure. However, Yaakov comes out of left field and criss-crosses his hands, placing his right hand on Ephraim to his left and his left hand on Menashe to the right. Yosef tried telling him that he got it all wrong, but Yaakov didn't budge.
What was Yaakov doing? Why did he switch his hands?
When a person meets someone else, they automatically try to find the other person's faults and amplify their own positive traits. We might not realize it, but subconsciously it's true. Just think back to an old roommate or classmate, we naturally find it easier to see others' faults and ignore our own. We allow others to easily get on our nerves. Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin teaches that we even see this play out before our own eyes when we are standing face-to-face with someone else. When we stand opposite another person, our right hand is facing their left, signifying our strengths against their weaknesses, and their right is against our left, as they do the same to us.
By switching his hands, Yaakov was trying to teach them something. After crossing his hands over, his right hand was placed by their right and his left by their left. He was showing that what we do for ourselves, we should match for other people. If we amplify our own positives and downplay our negatives, we need to strive to do that for others as well. We always need to match our "right" to their "right". This serves as the model beracha to give over to Jewish children on Shabbos as well. We strive to see the positive in everyone, and the only faults that we should notice should be what we can work on within ourselves.
~ Mordechai Sendler is originally from Detroit, and is a first-year student at Lev Zion.