web analytics
January 25, 2015 / 5 Shevat, 5775
 
At a Glance
Judaism
Sponsored Post


Generations Forget and Remember

It is not difficult to understand the care Joseph took to ensure that Jacob would bless the firstborn first.
Rabbi Sacks

When Joseph finally emerged from prison to become prime minister of Egypt, he married and had two sons. This is how the Torah describes their birth:

Before the years of the famine came, two sons were born to Joseph by Asenath, daughter of Potiphera, priest of On. Joseph named his firstborn Manasseh, saying, “It is because G-d has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household.” The second son he named Ephraim, saying, “It is because G-d has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.” (41: 50-52)

With the utmost brevity the Torah intimates an experience of exile that was to be repeated many times across the centuries. At first, Joseph felt relief. The years as a slave, then a prisoner, were over. He had risen to greatness. In Canaan, he had been the youngest of eleven brothers in a nomadic family of shepherds. Now, in Egypt, he was at the center of the greatest civilization of the ancient world, second only to Pharaoh in rank and power. No one reminded him of his background. With his royal robes and ring and chariot, he was an Egyptian prince (as Moses was later to be). The past was a bitter memory he sought to remove from his mind. Manasseh means “forgetting.”

But as time passed, Joseph began to feel quite different emotions. Yes, he had arrived. But this people was not his; nor was its culture. To be sure, his family was, in any worldly terms, undistinguished, unsophisticated. Yet they remained his family. They were the matrix of who he was. Though they were no more than shepherds (a class the Egyptians despised), they had been spoken to by G-d – not the gods of the sun, the river and death, the Egyptian pantheon – but G-d, the creator of heaven and earth, who did not make His home in temples and pyramids and panoplies of power, but who spoke in the human heart as a voice, lifting a simple family to moral greatness.

By the time his second son was born, Joseph had undergone a profound change of heart. To be sure, he had all the trappings of earthly success – “G-d has made me fruitful” – but Egypt had become “the land of my affliction.” Why? Because it was exile. There is a sociological observation about immigrant groups, known as Hansen’s Law: “The second generation seeks to remember what the first generation sought to forget.” Joseph went through this transformation very quickly. It was already complete by the time his second son was born. By calling him Ephraim, he was remembering what, when Manasseh was born, he was trying to forget: who he was, where he came from, where he belonged.

Jacob’s blessing of Ephraim over Manasseh had nothing to do with their ages and everything to do with their names. Knowing that these were the first two children of his family to be born in exile, knowing too that the exile would be prolonged and at times difficult and dark, Jacob sought to signal to all future generations that there would be a constant tension between the desire to forget (to assimilate, acculturate, anaesthetise the hope of a return) and the promptings of memory (the knowledge that this is “exile,” that we are part of another story, that ultimate home is somewhere else). The child of forgetting (Manasseh) may have blessings. But greater are the blessings of a child (Ephraim) who remembers the past and future of which he is a part.

About the Author: Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, former chief rabbi of the British Commonwealth, is the author of many books of Jewish thought, most recently “The Great Partnership: Science, Religion, and the Search for Meaning.”


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

One Response to “Generations Forget and Remember”

  1. Yechiel Baum says:

    we did not forget your hateful words in the british parkiment against Jewish Israel when you sold us out. Now oyu want to speak nicely in the USa in hope that when you die, you can be buried in a Jewish cemetery? Lets see if the queen who knighted you will lets you rest in peace in ****ingham palace.

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
Official Palestinian Authority media report that the Mossad trained terrorists and gave them weapons to kill the four French Jews (above) in a Paris kosher market in order to promote aliyah.
Palestinian Authority Incitement: Israel Planned French Terror
Latest Judaism Stories
Torah-Hakehillah-121914

Rabbi Yaakov Nagen, a Ram at Yeshivat Otniel, notes that the verse is suggesting that retelling the story of the Exodus is so important that Hashem is performing ever-greater miracles specifically so that parents can tell their stories to future generations.

Parshat Bo

Before performing the 10th plague God makes a fundamental argument about the ultimate nature of justice.

Daf-Yomi-logo

Life Before The Printed Word
‘A Revi’is Of Blood’
(Yevamos 114a-b)

The-Shmuz

How is it possible that the clothing was more valuable to them than gold or silver?

Question: If Abraham was commanded to circumcise his descendants on the eighth day, why do Arabs – who claim to descend from Abraham through Yishmael – wait until their children are 13 to circumcise them? I am aware that this is a matter of little consequence to our people. Nevertheless, this inconsistency is one that piques my curiosity.

M. Goldman
(Via E-mail)

“It means that the disqualification of relatives as witnesses is a procedural issue, not a question of honesty,” explained Rabbi Dayan.

Property ownership is an extremely important and fundamental right and principle according to the Torah.

The tenderest description of the husband/wife relationship is “re’im v’ahuvim/loving, kind friends”

And if a person can take steps to perform the mitzvah, he should do so (even if he won’t be held accountable for not performing it due to circumstances beyond his control).

Suddenly, she turns to me and says, “B’emet, I need to thank you, you made me excited to come back to Israel.”

Pesach is called “zikaron,” a Biblical term used describing an object eliciting a certain memory

Recouping $ and assets from Germans and Swiss for their Holocaust actions is rooted in the Exodus

Pharaoh perverted symbols of life (the Nile and midwives) into agents of death.

I think that we have to follow the approach of the Tannaim and Amoraim. They followed the latest scientific developments of their time.

Three years of war and the loss of one-tenth of Britain’s men is not too great a price to pay.

More Articles from Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks
Rabbi Sacks

Pharaoh perverted symbols of life (the Nile and midwives) into agents of death.

Rabbi Sacks

The 5th cup is supported by a 5th expression of Deliverance: “And I will bring you to the land…”

The first recorded instance of civil disobedience is the story of Shifra and Puah, defying Pharaoh

Truthfulness is a fundamental value in Jewish yet truth isn’t its highest value. Peace is. Why so?

Jacob’s blessing of Ephraim over Manasseh had nothing to do with age and everything to do with names

Tamar’s conduct bears an uncanny resemblance to Ruth’s; virtuous outsiders at the margins of society

A Jew is an iconoclast, born to challenge the idols of the age,whatever the idols, whatever the age.

Simply too many cases of prayers being answered to deny it makes a difference to our fate. It does.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/jewish-columns/rabbi-lord-jonathan-sacks/generations-forget-and-remember/2013/12/12/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: