B parashat hashavua b

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Rabbi Shlomo Riskin http://www.ohrtorahstone.org.il/

Efrat, Israel – For many parents, the highlight of the Friday evening home celebration and meal, indeed the highlight of the entire week, is the moment when they bless their children. However, even this could be tension-producing if one’s son suddenly wants to know why his sister is blessed to grow up like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah, while he has to settle for Ephraim and Menashe, Joseph’s Egyptian-born sons, instead of the patriarchs. Is it possible that boys are finally getting the short end of the blessing?

I believe the reason can be found if we study Genesis from the perspective of family psychology. Sibling rivalry constantly surfaces as a powerful motif, love-hate relationships that end up more bitter than sweet. Right from the opening pages in the Bible, Cain is jealous of Abel, whose offering to God was found more pleasing than his own. Before we know it, Abel is dead, killed by his own brother — the Torah’s first recorded murder.

Things get worse. Jacob spends 22 years away from home because he’s afraid Esau wants to kill him. Upon returning from his long exile, richer, wiser and head of a large household, he makes all kinds of preparations to appease his brother. If that should fail, he devises a defense strategy should Esau’s army of 400 men attack. And all of this hatred came about as a result of Jacob having deceived his father, at the behest of his mother, in order to wrest the birth-right and blessings away from his less deserving brother.

Jacob’s own sons live through aspects of their father’s sibling experiences; since Jacob felt unloved by his father, he lavished excessive favoritism upon his beloved son, Joseph. As a result of the bitter jealousy that the brothers harbor toward Joseph, they take the radical step of slow but inevitable death by casting their defenseless brother into a dangerous pit. Had Judah’s last minute advice to sell the boy to a caravan of Ishmaelites been ignored, Joseph would have been torn to death by some wild animal.

When the Torah commands “. . . do not hate your brother in your heart” (Lev. 19:17), it could have easily used the word “friend” or “neighbor.” But the word “brother” is deliberate; the people we are most likely to hate are the ones closest to us. If the natural affection between brothers backfires, the very same potential for closeness turns into potential for distance. No silence is more piercing than brothers who refuse to speak to each other because of a dispute. Unlike a feud between strangers, family members don’t bury the past — they live with it. Indeed, there is even a custom, retained by many old Jerusalemite families, that children should not attend their father’s funeral. And one reason may very well be that if the children are going to fight over the inheritance, it should not begin at the gravesite.

There is, however, one remarkable exception to the pervasive theme of sibling hatred in Genesis. In contrast to their ancestors, Joseph’s sons, Ephraim and Menashe, do not fight when Jacob bestows the younger brother, Ephraim, with the double blessing. Joseph even tries to stop Jacob. “That’s not the way it should be done, Father. . . The other one is the firstborn. Place your right hand on his head” (Gen. 48:18). Jacob knows what he is doing. “The older one will also become a nation. . . But his younger brother will become even greater. . .” (Gen. 48:19).

As a result of this seeming rejection, one might expect a furious reaction from Menashe, lashing out like Cain. But Menashe overcomes his personal feelings. He understands that the birthright is a function of merit, and that Jacob’s choice testifies to Ephraim’s greater merit – or least to Ephraims expertise in the highest Jewish Vocation.

The Midrash fills in the gaps regarding the characters of each of these sons of Joseph. Menashe is the worldly brother, the viceroy’s assistant in running affairs of the state, a talented linguist with a PHD in languages and political diplomacy from the University of the Nile. He serves as his father’s interpreter and righthand assistant in all important affairs of state (Gen. 42:23, Rashi Ad loc). Ephraim, on the other hand, is studious, devoting his time to learning Torah with his old and other-worldly grandfather, Jacob. In fact, when we read in this week’s portion, Vayechi (Gen. 48:1), of how Joseph is brought news of his father’s illness, the text does not reveal the messenger’s name. Rashi identifies him as Ephraim returning from Goshen, where he’s been studying with his grandfather.

Menashe, the symbol of secular wisdom, also receives a blessing, will also achieve greatness, but it is Ephraim the Torah Scholar who must receive the birthright of familial leadership. Both branches of wisdom much compliment each other, secular wisdom and international expertise on the one hand and the Divine Torah with its ethical and moral direction on the other, and they must even be combined together in the educational and personality makeup of each Jew: “May G-d make you like Ephraim and Menashe, but he placed Ephraim before Menashe”(Gen. 48:20)

When parents bless their daughters to be like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah, what’s being evoked is the very bedrock of Jewish existence — our matriarchs. But when they bless their sons to be like Menashe and Efraim, the blessing evokes the long slow process of Genesis, which finally finds fruit with the sons of Joseph, the only brothers who overcome sibling rivalry in order to achieve the unity which will lead to redemption.



Virtual Beit Midrash, Alon Shevut, Gush Etzion 90433 e-mail: yhe@virtual.co.il,

Home Page: http://www.vbm-torah.org/


Yaakov's Last Task

By Rabbi Yaakov Beasley

A. Introduction

Last week, we discussed how the Yosef narrative centered on the descent to Egypt. It began with Yaakov's hope that he would be successful in maintaining a foothold in Canaan; it will end with the irony of Yosef caring for his grandchildren during his old age in Egypt. Yaakov exclaimed, "(It is) Enough! Yosef my son is still alive! I will go and see him before I die! (45:28)" He had hoped to see his long-lost son, and then return to Egypt. Hashem, however, informed him differently:

I am the God, God of your father. Fear not to go down to Egypt, for a great nation I will make of you there. I Myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I Myself will surely bring you back up as well, and Yosef shall lay his hands upon your eyes." (46:3-4)

Hashem's statement contains two interesting curiosities. First, we can read backwards from Hashem's response to discern Yaakov's present state of mind; we can safely assume from Hashem's reassurance to Yaakov "Fear not!" that Yaakov was indeed beset by fears and concerns. Rashi suggests that Yaakov's fears were motivated by the necessity to leave the land of Israel again; and interprets the promise "I Myself will surely bring you back up" as guaranteeing Yaakov that he would be buried in the land. The Seforno suggests that Hashem was trying to reassure him that paradoxically, Egypt was a safer place to raise his family; unlike Canaan, where his grandchildren would have intermarried with the local Canaanites and eventually assimilate, Egypt was a place where the local prejudices would ensure the survival of the Children of Israel as a distinct group. The second curiosity may help us find an additional, as of yet unstated, concern that Yaakov felt. Hashem's promise to Yaakov ended with the phrase, "and Yosef shall lay his hands upon your eyes." This phrase, idiomatic for being present at a person's death (Ibn Ezra), was meant to assure Yaakov that Yosef would in fact outlive him (the Or Ha-Chayim). Yet what rationale did Yaakov have to fear for Yosef's survival? Surely, as the viceroy of Egypt, his physical security was assured! This week, we will examine the true nature of Yaakov's fears.

Last week, we noted a serious discrepancy in the summary of the census that takes place as the Children of Israel descend to Egypt:

All the persons who came with Yaakov to Egypt, the issue of his loins, asides from the wives of Yaakov's sons, sixty-six people in all. All the sons of Yosef who were born to him in Egypt were two persons. All the persons of the household of Yaakov coming to Egypt were seventy. (46:26-27)

Were Yaakov's descendants sixty-six or seventy? We suggested that the discrepancy might be intentional. The different numbers create a literary tension that alludes to the deeper thematic question that needs to be resolved – is Yosef to be considered part of the family, or has he gone of on his own, separate path. We can suggest that this is what constitutes Yaakov's fears. Yosef has been lost to him physically for over twenty years; will the Egyptianized Yosef be lost to him spiritually as well? The basis for these worries, and how Yaakov overcomes them, will be the subject of our analysis this week.

B. Egyptian Dreams

While most readers and listeners to the recounting of Yosef's dreams (brothers and father included!) hear the secret yearnings of a younger sibling who desires to rule over others, we noted two salient features that already suggested that real import of the visions lay elsewhere. First, he dreams of wheat – strange imagery for shepherds[1]. Sheaves belong to another place, where one man indeed commands obeisance from all others – Egypt. More tellingly, Yosef then dreams of the heavenly bodies paying homage to him. This fantasy of cosmic mastery, where the heavens do not declare "the glory of God" but the supremacy of man is part of the Egyptian fantasy.

Upon being sold to Egypt, it is not long before Yosef's cleverness, charisma, and good looks cause him to rise in the estimation of his master. Rashi in fact chides Yosef for excessive concern over his physical appearance. Not surprisingly, his mistress casts her eyes upon him, and attempts to seduce him. It is not for naught that the Torah describes sexual immorality as being characteristic of the "Egyptian abominations" (Vayikra 18). More significantly, had Yosef succumbed to her advances, the final break with his past would be complete. Only at the last moment is he able to clearly state that to sin would be "to give offense before God" (39:9).

He is cast into jail, but once again, he rises to a role of leadership. He is responsible over a section of the prison where the most important prisoners are kept; including Pharaoh's own chamberlains. At the most opportune moment, the butler remembers Yosef's wisdom and talents to Pharaoh, who is searching for a person who can interpret his troublesome dreams. Rashi notes that as the butler did so, he did so in a manner that could only disparage Yosef before Pharaoh:

Cursed are the wicked – even when they do a good deed, their favors are incomplete. The butler recalled Yosef in the most disparaging terms: 'na'ar,' a youth – ignorant and unfit for distinction; 'Ivri,' a Hebrew - a foreigner who does not even understand our language; and 'eved,' a slave – and the laws of Egypt state that a slave cannot neither be ruler or wear the robes of a noble. (Rashi, 41:12)

However, as Pharaoh summons him, we note Yosef's preparations:

And he shaved himself and changed his garments, and came before Pharaoh. (41:14)

We hear echoes of previous episodes in Yosef's life; the last time he was lifted out of a pit, it was to be sold as a slave; the last time that his clothing was changed, it was because of his being cast into prison. This time, there is a reversal of fortune. Lifted out of slavery, he must discard his prison rags. However, while a change of clothing in order to dress appropriately when appearing before the royal court is expected, the shaving makes us wonder. Alone among the peoples of the ancient Near East, the Egyptians shaved their faces and their heads. For the first time, Yosef acquires "the perfect Egyptian appearance".

Our feeling of discomfort is complete when Pharaoh completes Yosef's transformation through a renaming and arranged marriage:

And Pharaoh called Yosef's name Tzafenat-Pane'ach; and he gave him as a wife Osnat, the daughter of Potifera, priest of On. (41:42)

If Potifer's wife is responsible for Yosef's jailing; Potifera's daughter provides the greatest indication that Yosef has indeed, arrived. His marriage to a daughter of a priest to Egypt's most powerful deity cements the reader's impression that Yosef has become Egyptian. Discerning ears will note that as Yosef sets about his preparations for the famine, he "laid up grain as the sand of the sea, very much, until they left off counting, for it was without number." Imagery previously associated with the blessing of the future progeny and fertility of the Jewish people[2] is now applied to seeds of grain. Moreover, what of Yosef's own children?

And unto Yosef were born two sons … And Yosef called the name of the firstborn Menashe: 'For God has made me forget all my toil, and my father's house.' And the name of the second he called Efrayim: "For God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.' (41:50-52)

Within Yosef's words, we hear his dilemma: while the text re-emphasizes the Egyptian character of his wife, he attempts to close off the past, and concentrate on his new, fruitful life. Yet, the very name of one son "forgetting" ensures that he will have before him a constant reminder of "his father's house"[3]. However, until his brothers' arrival, he is not forced to choose between his two identities. Indeed, until Yehuda's impassioned speech in defense of Binyamin cracks through Yosef's veneer, he is able (externally, at least) to maintain the façade that the hungry men before him are strangers. Only when he acknowledges his family ties must he confront the question of his identity. Let us examine the speech he commands his brothers to recite to Yaakov their father:

Hurry and go up and say to my father, "So says your son Yosef: 'God has made me lord over all of Egypt. Come down to me, do not delay. And you shall dwell in the land of Goshen and shall be close to me, you and your sons and grandchildren, and your flocks and cattle and all that is yours. And I will sustain you there, for five more years of famine remain – lest you lose all, you and your household and all that is yours.' ... And you must tell my father all my glory in Egypt, and all that you have seen." (45:9-13)

There is no question that Yosef's is motivated by a desire to be reunited with his father; the root words 'father' and 'son' appear seven times in the speech. However, his words suggest more than simple reconciliation. He emphasizes repeatedly, both in his words to his father and to his brothers, his lofty standing in Egypt. Even more gregariously, he makes offers that were not in his purview to make – only Pharaoh can grant the right to settle in Goshen or anywhere else. Finally, his offer that the family settle (Hebrew root Y.SH.V.) in Goshen implies repudiating the land of Canaan.

C. Yaakov's Strategy

We now clearly understand the predicament facing Yaakov. He must go down to Egypt, in order to get Egypt out of Yosef. We will see three specific strategies that Yaakov will use to convince Yosef where his ultimate destiny lies. The first occurs at the point of entry in Egypt. Remembering that Yosef told his brothers that they were to come unto him, Yaakov instead travels to Goshen. Instead of answering Yosef's summons, Yaakov chooses to preserve a sense of geographical distance from Egypt. He sends Yehuda to inform Yosef of his arrival. Yosef, riding Egypt's greatest military symbol, the chariot, will have to go out to meet his father, Yisrael[4].

After the emotional reunion, Yosef proposes that five brothers be brought before Pharaoh. While Yosef had asked that his family comedown to him, Pharaoh had made a similar invitation:

And take your father and your families and come unto me; and I will give you the good of the land of Egypt, and you shall eat of the fat of the land … also, regard not your stuff (leave it behind), for the good things of all the land of Egypt are yours." (45:17-20)

In addition to the repeated emphasis of the land of Egypt, we note that Pharaoh emphasized that the brothers and Yaakov were to come to him, where he (and not Yosef) would grant them riches. That Pharaoh intends them to assimilate into Egyptian culture is clear; not only does he make no offer of settling them separate from other Egyptians, but that even their goods (including the flocks that were so abominable to the Egyptians) be left behind. To this, Yosef, suggests that Pharaoh be told that as the family are cattlemen, not shepherds, and as they had brought all of their flocks, a separate area be set aside for them. Indeed, Pharaoh's first question regards their occupation. Notably, the brothers ignore the counsel Yosef provided them, and state the unpopular truth before the king:

And they answered Pharaoh: Shepherds are your servants, both our fathers and us.

And they said unto Pharaoh: We have come to sojourn (Hebrew root – G.U.R.) we have come, for there is no pasture for your servants flocks, because the famine is severe in the land of Canaan. Therefore, let us dwell please in the land of Goshen. (47:3-4)

We note several notable features of the brothers' reply to Pharaoh. First, they ignore, possibly deliberately, Yosef's advice on how to present themselves before the royal court. Proudly, they acknowledge their non-Egyptian ways. In addition, they state openly that they have come 'to sojourn' – they intend for their stay in Egypt to be temporary, not permanent. Finally, the reader notes that between their two responses, it restates 'And they said unto Pharaoh' – a fact the reader is already aware of. We have discussed in previous shiurim how this phenomenon signifies a pause between the two speeches. Perhaps they wait nervously, wondering how Pharaoh will respond. When the expected answer that Yosef promised them, that he would grant them the land of Goshen, is not immediately forthcoming, they offer more information. When Pharaoh responds, it is noticeably not to them, but to Yosef:

Your father and brothers have come to you.

'Come to you' – but not to me, as I commanded. Pharaoh decides to allow Yosef's little act of disobedience go unpunished for now (possibly because he still needed the foreigner - the citizens and free landowners of Egypt still needed to be transformed into slaves). However, he places Yosef on notice that his attempt to usurp Pharaoh's authority was noted.

Yaakov's second step in returning Yosef to the fold occurred seventeen years later:

And Yisrael's time to die drew near, and he called for his son, for Yosef, and said to him, "Please, if I have found favor in your eyes, please put your hand under my thigh, and deal [with me] kindly and truly – do not, please, bury me in Egypt. When I lie down my fathers, carry me from Egypt, and bury me in their burial place."

And he said, "I will do as you have spoken."

And he said, "Swear to me." And he swore to him. (47:29-31)

The brilliance behind Yaakov's request, and his insistence on an oath, is clear. No doubt, Yaakov's reasons and motivations are many. Practically, only Yosef could ensure that his final wish be granted. However, Yaakov here is Yisrael – thinking of the family as a whole. He pointedly rejects Egypt as a place even of death. By compelling Yosef and the brothers to make the burial trek personally, it may ensure that the brothers maintain their connection to and memory of the land they left behind. Finally, there is a subtle message to Yosef that Yaakov must teach him, even posthumously. Yosef initially rejects the request to take an oath. We can imagine him thinking, "Isn't he the second most powerful man in the world?" Yet, Yaakov insists. When the time comes for Yosef to receive permission, he discovers that he isn't as all-powerful as he previously assumed:

And when the days of weeping for him [Yaakov] finished, Yosef spoke to the house of Pharaoh, saying, "If please, I have found favor in your eyes, speak please in the ears of Pharaoh saying, 'My father made me swear, saying, "Behold, I die; in my grave which I dug for myself in the land of Canaan, there you shall bury me.' Therefore, please let me go up and bury my father, and I will come back."

And Pharaoh said, "Go up and bury your father, as he made you swear." (50:4-6)

To his chagrin and surprise, Yosef must speak to Pharaoh's courtiers; his usefulness passed, the days when he could command an audience with the king are long gone. While he cleverly omits his father's negative references to the land of Egypt, he realizes that only his oath to his father and his promise to return immediately give him a chance of success. The land of Egypt has become a prison for him.

Yaakov has one more stage in his strategy to return Yosef to the fold. When Yosef comes upon the ailing Yaakov on his deathbed, Yaakov has one final message to give to Yosef, before he blesses the tribes as a group. Seating himself upright, he tells Yosef about an event that occurred many years previously:

Kel Shaddai appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan, and blessed me and said to me, "I am about to make you fruitful and multiply you, and make you an assembly of peoples, and I will give this land to your descendants after you as an everlasting holding (Hebrew – achuzat olam). And now, your two sons who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you in Egypt shall be mine – Efrayim and Menashe, like Revuen and Shimon, shall be mine. (48:3-5)

In front of Yosef, Yaakov summarizes the twofold blessing that God promised the Jewish people throughout Sefer Bereishit – tremendous progeny and the land of Yisrael. This land is an 'achuzat olam' – an everlasting holding, as opposed to the 'achuza' in Egypt that Yosef offered the brothers (47:11). More importantly, Yaakov brings Yosef back into the family by demonstrating how the Divine promises all point towards the inclusion of Yosef's children. When God commanded Yaakov to 'be fruitful and multiply' at Luz, Yaakov already had twelve children. Yet, he was promised that 'a congregation of nations' (35:11) would descend from him, meaning that he would have more than one child. Since Binyamin was the last of Yaakov's children, Yaakov wondered how and when this would happen. Upon seeing Yosef's children, Yaakov finally understands Yosef's role in the drama. By adopting Efrayim and Menashe as his own, not only does Yaakov honor Yosef with a double portion of Yaakov's inheritance, an honor normally reserved for the firstborn, but Yaakov also demonstrates to Yosef how his life fits into the larger Divine scheme, and not Yosef's own private dreams. Finally, Yaakov grants Yosef a gift in the land of Canaan – Shekhem. Yosef the land-giver becomes the recipient. Ultimately, Yaakov is able to show Yosef where his ultimate destiny lies. When Yosef is about to die, he turns to his brothers with Yaakov's lessons on his lip. His body cannot be removed from the land of Egypt. However, he can make them swear not to forget him when the time to leave Egypt arrives. He reassures them that God will remember them to bring to the land of their fathers– powerful and ironic words from someone who once praised God for enabling him to forget his father's house. Thanks to Yaakov, the redemption of Yosef is complete.

[1] Rabbi J. B Soloveitchik first suggested this point in his "Five Addresses." Note that the Rav sees in this a positive attribute of Yosef; the ability to recognize that as times change, the Jewish people must adapt, and not attempt to maintain the status quo ad infinitum. We view this as a hidden textual criticism of Yosef. [2] The comparison of the descendants of the Jewish people to sand can be found in the blessing to Avraham (22:17) after the Akeida, and in Yaakov's prayer to Hashem before meeting Esav (32:13). The idea that it could not be counted we recognize from the original instructions given to Avraham by Hashem in the Brit Bein Ha-Betarim (15:5). [3] We can suggest that the use of Hebrew names reflect this paradox – had Yosef really intended to assimilate, he would have uses their Egyptian counterparts. [4] It is beyond the scope of this discussion to account for all the variations when the Torah names Yaakov as Yaakov, and Yaakov as Yisrael. We will suggest that whenever the episode assumes a national dimension, as opposed to a solely personal happening, then the Torah prefers the name Yisrael.

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