web analytics
July 26, 2014 / 28 Tammuz, 5774
Israel at War: Operation Protective Edge
 
 
At a Glance
Judaism
Sponsored Post
IDC Advocacy Room IDC Fights War on Another Front

Student Union opens ‘hasbara’ room in effort to fill public diplomacy vacuum.



Putting Judaism Before Assimilation

The drama of younger and older brothers, which haunts the book of Bereishit from Cain and Abel onwards, reaches a strange climax in the story of Joseph’s children. Jacob is nearing the end of his life. Joseph visits him, bringing with him his two sons, Manasheh and Ephraim. It is the only scene of grandfather and grandchildren in the book. Jacob asks Joseph to bring them near so that he can bless them. What follows next is described in painstaking detail:

Joseph took them both, Ephraim in his right hand toward Israel’s left, and Manasheh in his left hand towards Israel’s right, and brought them near him. But Israel reached out his right hand and put it on Ephraim’s head, though he was the younger, and crossing his arms, he put his left hand on Manasheh’s head, even though Manasheh was the firstborn. . . . . When Joseph saw his father placing his right hand on Ephraim’s head he was displeased; so he took hold of his father’s hand to move it from Ephraim’s head to Manasheh’s head. Joseph said to him, “No, my father, this one is the firstborn; put your right hand on his head.”

But his father refused and said, “I know, my son, I know. He too will become a people, and he too will become great. Nevertheless, his younger brother will be greater than he, and his descendants will become a group of nations.” He blessed them that day, saying: “In your name will Israel pronounce this blessing: ‘May G-d make you like Ephraim and Manasheh.’” So he put Ephraim ahead of Manasheh. (48: 13-14, 17-20)

It is not difficult to understand the care Joseph took to ensure that Jacob would bless the firstborn first. Three times his father had set the younger before the elder, and each time it had resulted in tragedy. He, the younger, had sought to supplant his elder brother Esau. He favored the younger sister Rachel over Leah. And he favored the youngest of his children, Joseph and Benjamin, over the elder Reuben, Shimon and Levi. The consequences were catastrophic: estrangement from Esau, tension between the two sisters, and hostility among his sons. Joseph himself bore the scars: thrown into a well by his brothers, who initially planned to kill him and eventually sold him into Egypt as a slave.

Had his father not learned? Or did he think that Ephraim – whom Joseph held in his right hand – was the elder? Did Jacob know what he was doing? Did he not realize that he was risking extending the family feuds into the next generation? Besides which, what possible reason could he have for favoring the younger of his grandchildren over the elder? He had not seen them before. He knew nothing about them. None of the factors that led to the earlier episodes were operative here. Why did Jacob favor Ephraim over Manasseh?

Jacob knew two things, and it is here that the explanation lies. He knew that the stay of his family in Egypt would not be a short one. Before leaving Canaan to see Joseph, G-d had appeared to him in a vision:

“Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there. I will go down to Egypt with you, and I will surely bring you back again. And Joseph’s own hand will close your eyes.” (46:3-4)

This was, in other words, the start of the long exile which G-d had told Abraham would be the fate of his children (a vision the Torah describes as accompanied by “a deep and dreadful darkness” – 15:12). The other thing Jacob knew was his grandsons’ names, Manasheh and Ephraim. The combination of these two facts was enough.

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 Manasheh, 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. Manasheh 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 Manasheh was born, he was trying to forget: who he was, where he came from, where he belonged.

Jacob’s blessing of Ephraim over Manasheh 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, anaesthetize 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 (Manasheh) 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.

No Responses to “Putting Judaism Before Assimilation”

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
Soldiers take wounded comrade wounded in Gaza from helicopter to Soroka Hospital in Be'er Sheva.
Hamas Fires while Israel Extends Ceasefire
Latest Judaism Stories
Weiss-072514

Just as the moon waxes, wanes and renews itself, so has the nation of Israel renewed itself through the millennia.

126_masei_web

Parshat Masei: Rabbi Fohrman addresses the age-old question, are we our brother’s keeper?

Hertzberg-072514

When Germany invaded neutral Belgium on August 4, England declared war on Germany. Thus, by the end of the first week of August all the major powers of Europe were at war.

Winiarz-072514

The Talmud teaches that the Beis HaMikdash was destroyed because of baseless hatred.

When taking any major step in life it is a good idea to carefully re-evaluate one’s past.

Ours is a small and intensely vulnerable people. Inspired, we rise to greatness. Uninspired, we fall

The enormity of Hiram’s accomplishments crazed him and deluded him into self-deification.

When Hashem first thought (if it could be) about creating the world, the middah of din was in operation.

Hallel On Purim?
“Its Reading Is Its Praise”
(Megillah 14a)

If the only person available to perform the milah on the eighth day is a person who is not an observant Jew, the milah should be postponed until a devout mohel is available.

It is apparent from the Maharsha that he does not see galus as atoning for killing accidentally; otherwise, this Gemara would not bother him.

It was found to be a giant deer tick living in her head – with its claws in her scalp.

While daydreaming about finding the perfect job, I never expected to be rewarded in spades for my aforementioned experience.

We are all entrusted with the mission of protecting our fellow Jews

Today, we remain Hashem’s nachal.

More Articles from Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks
Rabbi Sacks

Ours is a small and intensely vulnerable people. Inspired, we rise to greatness. Uninspired, we fall

Rabbi Sacks

The negotiation between Moses and the tribes of Reuven and Gad is a model of conflict resolution.

God’s “name” is therefore His standing in the world. Do people acknowledge Him, respect Him, honor Him?

The very act of learning in rabbinic Judaism is conceived as active debate, a kind of gladiatorial contest of the mind.

In Judaism, to be without questions is a sign not of faith, but of lack of depth.

You perpetuate a transformative event by turning it into a ritual.

There is much in this episode that is hard to understand, much that has to do with the concept of holiness and the powerful energies it released that, like nuclear power today, could be deadly dangerous if not properly used. But there is also a more human story about two approaches to leadership that still resonates with us today.

Nasi is the generic word for a leader: a ruler, king, judge, elder, or prince. Usually it refers to the holder of political power.

    Latest Poll

    Do you think the FAA ban on US flights to Israel is political?






    View Results

    Loading ... Loading ...

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/jewish-columns/rabbi-lord-jonathan-sacks/putting-judaism-before-assimilation/2012/12/26/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: