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Which peshat Torah or Tanach passage supports the negative reaction of Joseph when his father Israel (in Genesis 48:14) places a right hand of blessing over the head of the younger son of Joseph?

This passage is not by itself a peshat source, as it does not explain why the left hand is "bad" or "inferior" and why the right hand is "good" or "better".

I will also accept the oldest rabbinical source, if there are no peshat Torah or Tanach source.

There were only two previous peshat mentions of a right hand and left hand in the Torah, and in both previous cases, they were neutral: Genesis 13:9 + 24:49; in these two passages, there is no suggestion that a left hand is inferior to a right hand or that a right hand is superior to a left.

Is not a bestowing hand of blessing a hand of blessing whether it is the left or right?

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  • Is not a bestowing hand of blessing a hand of blessing whether it is the left or right? Of course; he was blessing both sons after all. But this passage teaches us that doing something with the right hand gives it prominence.
    – shmosel
    Jan 19, 2023 at 8:34
  • @shmosel agree, but show me a peshat source for this concept.
    – ninamag
    Jan 19, 2023 at 8:39
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    Isn't this enough of a source?
    – shmosel
    Jan 19, 2023 at 8:42
  • 3
    Until the last century or so, everyone in every culture around the globe wouldn't have thought to ask why the right symbolizes the good side. It was obvious. No source needed.
    – Double AA
    Jan 19, 2023 at 13:57
  • 1
    There is Binyamin, but there is no Binsmol :)
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Jan 22, 2023 at 12:34

3 Answers 3

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As stated in my comment, see also the comment of @DoubleAA, the right side is often a reference to 1) strength and judgement, 2) good things.

In Koheles, Ecclesiastes, the Torah teaches us that:

A wise man’s heart inclines him to his right hand: but a fool’s heart to his left.

See the commentary of the Ta'alumot Chokhmah.

The Gemara in Berachos 61a interpret this posuk from Koheles to mean that:

A person has two kidneys; one advises him to do good and one advises him to do evil. And it stands to reason that the one advising him to do good is to his right and the one that advises him to do evil is to his left, as it is written: “A wise man’s understanding is at his right hand, but a fool’s understanding is at his left” (Ecclesiastes 10:2).

Rashi, in his commentary to Shemos (Exodus) 15:6 writes that when Yisrael performs the will of G-d, the left hand (intended for punishment) becomes a right hand (intended for reward). See Mareh Yechezkel on Torah, Bereshit 13.

Regarding the Holy Temple, the Gemara teaches us (Yoma 15b):

All turns that you turn should be only to the right.

Similary, kabbalah (Zohar 1:16a:4) mentions that the Angel Michael symbolizes the right side and Gavriel the left side. However, in kabbalah, the left or right side are not necessarily about moral and not-moral, good and not good etc..

I would recommend that you read this article, with a lot of more sources like this.

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The Gemoro Brochos 62a describes the special status of the right hand in respect to cleaning oneself after defecation. There are four different reasons given.

The Gemara asks: Why must one not wipe himself with his right hand, but with his left? Rava said: Because the Torah was given with the right hand, as it is stated: “At His right hand was a fiery law unto them” (Deuteronomy 33:2). Rabba bar bar Ḥana said: Because the right hand is close to the mouth, i.e., people eat with the right hand. And Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish said: Because one ties the phylacteries onto his left hand with his right hand. Rav Naḥman bar Yitzḥak said: Because one points to the cantillation notes of the Torah with his right hand.

The Gemoro goes on to show that the last three reasons were the subject of an earlier Tannaitic dispute,

The Gemara notes that this is parallel to a tannaitic dispute: Rabbi Eliezer says: One is forbidden to wipe himself with his right hand because he eats with it. Rabbi Yehoshua says: Because he writes with it. Rabbi Akiva says: Because he points to the notes of the Torah with it.

So it seems that there is a rabbinical source that the right hand is superior to the left although there are different reasons given for this.

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Here are some examples from Tanach of positive contexts for a side, where left and right could have been mentioned, but only right is mentioned. There is no equivalent for left. That's not to disparage the "left", which is also likened to more "hidden" goodness (see Song of Songs 6:2 for example). However, in 99% of the rest of the cases, right is mentioned either alone, or first, then left, and right comes up about 3x more often in Tanach than left. See for yourself and see if you can find a counter example? It's worth noting that Psalms seems to be the main advocate for "right over left" :)

Possibly the most clear example of "right" being "best" is:

לְךָ֣ זְ֭רוֹעַ עִם־גְּבוּרָ֑ה תָּעֹ֥ז יָ֝דְךָ֗ תָּר֥וּם יְמִינֶֽךָ׃ (Psalms 89:14)

Many other examples:

מִֽינְךָ֣ יְהוָ֔ה נֶאְדָּרִ֖י בַּכֹּ֑חַ יְמִֽינְךָ֥ יְהוָ֖ה תִּרְעַ֥ץ אוֹיֵֽב׃ (Exodus 15:6)

מִזְמ֡וֹר שִׁ֤ירוּ לַֽיהוָ֨ה ׀ שִׁ֣יר חָ֭דָשׁ כִּֽי־נִפְלָא֣וֹת עָשָׂ֑ה הוֹשִֽׁיעָה־לּ֥וֹ יְ֝מִינ֗וֹ וּזְר֥וֹעַ קָדְשֽׁוֹ׃ (Psalms 98:1)

אִֽם־אֶשְׁכָּחֵ֥ךְ יְֽרוּשָׁלִָ֗ם תִּשְׁכַּ֥ח יְמִינִֽי׃ (Psalms 137:5)

שִׁוִּ֬יתִי יְהוָ֣ה לְנֶגְדִּ֣י תָמִ֑יד כִּ֥י מִֽ֝ימִינִ֗י בַּל־אֶמּֽוֹט׃ (Psalms 16:8)

ק֤וֹל ׀ רִנָּ֬ה וִֽישׁוּעָ֗ה בְּאָהֳלֵ֥י צַדִּיקִ֑ים יְמִ֥ין יְ֝הוָה עֹ֣שָׂה חָֽיִל׃ (Psalms 118:15-16 too)

וַתָּבֹ֤א בַת־שֶׁ֙בַע֙ אֶל־הַמֶּ֣לֶךְ שְׁלֹמֹ֔ה לְדַבֶּר־ל֖וֹ עַל־אֲדֹנִיָּ֑הוּ וַיָּקָם֩ הַמֶּ֨לֶךְ לִקְרָאתָ֜הּ וַיִּשְׁתַּ֣חוּ לָ֗הּ וַיֵּ֙שֶׁב֙ עַל־כִּסְא֔וֹ וַיָּ֤שֶׂם כִּסֵּא֙ לְאֵ֣ם הַמֶּ֔לֶךְ וַתֵּ֖שֶׁב לִֽימִינֽוֹ׃ (Kings 1:2:19)

תּֽוֹדִיעֵנִי֮ אֹ֤רַח חַ֫יִּ֥ים שֹׂ֣בַע שְׂ֭מָחוֹת אֶת־פָּנֶ֑יךָ נְעִמ֖וֹת בִּימִינְךָ֣ נֶֽצַח׃ (Psalms 16:11)

אַל־תִּירָא֙ כִּ֣י עִמְּךָ־אָ֔נִי אַל־תִּשְׁתָּ֖ע כִּֽי־אֲנִ֣י אֱלֹהֶ֑יךָ אִמַּצְתִּ֙יךָ֙ אַף־עֲזַרְתִּ֔יךָ אַף־תְּמַכְתִּ֖יךָ בִּימִ֥ין צִדְקִֽי׃ (Isaiah 41:10)

עַתָּ֤ה יָדַ֗עְתִּי כִּ֤י הוֹשִׁ֥יעַ ׀ יְהוָ֗ה מְשִׁ֫יח֥וֹ יַ֭עֲנֵהוּ מִשְּׁמֵ֣י קָדְשׁ֑וֹ בִּ֝גְבֻר֗וֹת יֵ֣שַׁע יְמִינֽוֹ׃ (Psalms 20:7)

וַהֲדָ֬רְךָ֨ ׀ צְלַ֬ח רְכַ֗ב עַֽל־דְּבַר־אֱ֭מֶת וְעַנְוָה־צֶ֑דֶק וְתוֹרְךָ֖ נוֹרָא֣וֹת יְמִינֶֽךָ׃ (Psalms 45:10)

גָּדַ֣ע בָּֽחֳרִי אַ֗ף כֹּ֚ל קֶ֣רֶן יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל הֵשִׁ֥יב אָח֛וֹר יְמִינ֖וֹ מִפְּנֵ֣י אוֹיֵ֑ב וַיִּבְעַ֤ר בְּיַעֲקֹב֙ כְּאֵ֣שׁ לֶֽהָבָ֔ה אָכְלָ֖ה סָבִֽיב׃ (Lamentations 2:3 - here it is a negative situation when Hashem withdraws His right hand)

וַתִּתֶּן־לִי֮ מָגֵ֪ן יִ֫שְׁעֶ֥ךָ וִֽימִינְךָ֥ תִסְעָדֵ֑נִי וְֽעַנְוַתְךָ֥ תַרְבֵּֽנִי׃ (Psalms 18:36)

כְּשִׁמְךָ֤ אֱלֹהִ֗ים כֵּ֣ן תְּ֭הִלָּתְךָ עַל־קַצְוֵי־אֶ֑רֶץ צֶ֝֗דֶק מָלְאָ֥ה יְמִינֶֽךָ׃ (Psalms 48:11)

הַפְלֵ֣ה חֲ֭סָדֶיךָ מוֹשִׁ֣יעַ חוֹסִ֑ים מִ֝מִּתְקוֹמְמִ֗ים בִּֽימִינֶֽךָ׃ (Psalms 17:7)

דָּבְקָ֣ה נַפְשִׁ֣י אַחֲרֶ֑יךָ בִּ֝֗י תָּמְכָ֥ה יְמִינֶֽךָ׃ (Psalms 63:9)

נִשְׁבַּ֧ע יְהוָ֛ה בִּֽימִינ֖וֹ וּבִזְר֣וֹעַ עֻזּ֑וֹ אִם־אֶתֵּן֩ אֶת־דְּגָנֵ֨ךְ ע֤וֹד מַֽאֲכָל֙ לְאֹ֣יְבַ֔יִךְ וְאִם־יִשְׁתּ֤וּ בְנֵֽי־נֵכָר֙ תִּֽירוֹשֵׁ֔ךְ אֲשֶׁ֥ר יָגַ֖עַתְּ בּֽוֹ׃ (Isaiah 62:8)

לְךָ֣ זְ֭רוֹעַ עִם־גְּבוּרָ֑ה תָּעֹ֥ז יָ֝דְךָ֗ תָּר֥וּם יְמִינֶֽךָ׃ (Psalms 89:14)

Left is sometimes viewed negatively such as:

לֵ֤ב חָכָם֙ לִֽימִינ֔וֹ וְלֵ֥ב כְּסִ֖יל לִשְׂמֹאלֽוֹ (Ecclesiastes 10:2)

It is also interesting to note that the mitzva of taking the thigh is specifically the right thigh.

וְלָקַחְתָּ֣ מִן־הָ֠אַיִל הַחֵ֨לֶב וְהָֽאַלְיָ֜ה וְאֶת־הַחֵ֣לֶב ׀ הַֽמְכַסֶּ֣ה אֶת־הַקֶּ֗רֶב וְאֵ֨ת יֹתֶ֤רֶת הַכָּבֵד֙ וְאֵ֣ת ׀ שְׁתֵּ֣י הַכְּלָיֹ֗ת וְאֶת־הַחֵ֙לֶב֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר עֲלֵהֶ֔ן וְאֵ֖ת שׁ֣וֹק הַיָּמִ֑ין כִּ֛י אֵ֥יל מִלֻּאִ֖ים הֽוּא׃ (Exodus 29:22)

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