Ya'akov Blessing Efrayim and Menasheh
וַיִּקַּח יוֹסֵף, אֶת-שְׁנֵיהֶם--אֶת-אֶפְרַיִם בִּימִינוֹ מִשְּׂמֹאל יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְאֶת-מְנַשֶּׁה בִשְׂמֹאלוֹ מִימִין יִשְׂרָאֵל; וַיַּגֵּשׁ, אֵלָיו
Vayikach Yosef et-shneihem et-Efrayim bimino mismol Yisra'el ve'et-Menasheh vismolo mimin Yisra'el vayagesh elav.
48:13 Yosef took the two, Efrayim in his right hand to Yisra'el's left, and Menasheh in his left, to Yisra'el's right, and he came close to him.
וַיִּשְׁלַח יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶת-יְמִינוֹ וַיָּשֶׁת עַל-רֹאשׁ אֶפְרַיִם וְהוּא הַצָּעִיר וְאֶת-שְׂמֹאלוֹ עַל-רֹאשׁ מְנַשֶּׁה שִׂכֵּל אֶת-יָדָיו כִּי מְנַשֶּׁה הַבְּכוֹר
Vayishlach Yisra'el et-yemino vayashet al-rosh Efrayim vehu hatza'ir ve'et-smolo al-rosh Menasheh sikel et-yadav ki Menasheh habechor.
48:14 Yisra'el stretched out his right hand and placed it on Efrayim's head [although] he was the younger one. His left hand [he placed] on Menasheh's head. He deliberately crossed his hands, although Menasheh was the firstborn.
Yosef presented them to his father in the proper order, Menasheh the older one on his father's right, and Efrayim the younger one on his father's left. Ya'akov realized that this was the order in which Yosef would place his sons before him. This is why he crossed his arms in order to place his right hand on the head of Efrayim and the left hand on the head of Menasheh. He possessed sufficient divine inspiration to foresee that historically Efrayim would be of greater significance than his senior brother Menasheh. This is why he said of Menasheh (v19) "he too will become a nation, however his younger brother will be greater than he."
According to Rabbeinu Chananel Ya'akov did not actually cross his arms but he placed his hands one on top of the other. What the Rabbi meant was that Ya'akov did not rearrange the position of the boys but the position of his hands. This does not seem right. We do not need Rabbeinu Chananel to tell us this as the Torah had already made it plain that the lads remained in their respective positions but that Ya'akov crossed his hands!
The correct interpretation of Rabbeinu Chananel appears to be that the words שִׂכֵּל אֶת-יָדָיו, "he crossed his hands" mean that relative to Yosef he rearranged his hands. When the Torah said "he stretched out his right hand and placed it on Efrayim's head," the meaning is that he rearranged the boys and placed them so that Efrayim was opposite his right hand, etc. He also rearranged the position of Menasheh so that he stood opposite Ya'akov's left hand. He did not rearrange his own hands at all. All he did was to rearrange the position of the boys. This is the correct meaning of the words שִׂכֵּל אֶת-יָדָיו, i.e. he rearranged them differently from the say Yosef had arranged them. The blessing took effect as a result of Ya'akov placing his hands firmly on the heads of the lads. We find something similar in Bamidbar 27:23 where Moshe placed his hands on Yehoshua and proceeded to bless him, making him his successor. The act of placing one's hands on the person one blesses is designed to facilitate the transfer of the ruach ha-kodesh possessed by the one conferring the blessing to the recipient of said blessing.
When the Sages of old ordained someone they also literally placed their hands on the head of the person so ordained. In the case of the kohanim blessing the people this was physically impossible. Instead the kohen spread his hands heavenwards in a gesture commanding G-d's blessing on those present. This is the deeper meaning of the words שִׂכֵּל אֶת-יָדָיו, the word שִׂכֵּל being derived from שכל, חכמה, "intelligence, wisdom." The ten fingers are to be the instrument which draws down blessings from its celestial source.
כִּי מְנַשֶּׁה הַבְּכוֹר
ki Menasheh habechor
although Menasheh was the first born.
Ya'akov ignored this biological phenomenon as the younger of Yosef's sons displayed signs of spiritual superiority. The use of the word כִּי in the sense of "although" is not unique. We find it being used in the same sense in Tehillim 41:5 רְפָאָה נַפְשִׁי, כִּי-חָטָאתִי לָךְ, "heal me although I have sinned against You." Another example of the use of the word כִּי in the sense of "although" is found in our daily prayer: "forgive us our Father although we have sinned." It would certainly not be logical to translate the words סלח לנו אבינו כי חטאנו, "forgive us our Father for we have sinned."
May HASHEM continue to enlighten us with the Light of His Torah.
- Bachya, Me'am Lo'ez