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December 5, 2016 / 5 Kislev, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘Yaakov’

Yaakov’s Three Lives

Thursday, January 5th, 2012

This week’s parshah begins, “Vayechi Yaakov b’Eretz Mitzrayim – And Yaakov lived in the land of Egypt [17 years] vayeehi yemei Yaakov –and the sum total of his years [were 147]” (Bereishit 47:28).

The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, zt”l, notes that Yaakov Avinu’s years can be divided into three periods.

First, he resided in Eretz Cana’an, the Holy Land, for 77 years, secluded in “the tents of study,” sheltered from the entanglements of material life.

Then in the second stage of his life Yaakov lived in Charan for 20 years, where Lavan employed him as a shepherd. During those two decades Yaakov married, built a family and amassed much material wealth.

After living another number of years in Cana’an, Yaakov “descended” to Mitzrayim, where he spend the last 17 years of his life.

Yaakov’s quality of life in each of the three stages differed drastically one from the other. The first 77 years in Eretz Yisrael were tranquil and blessed, when nothing alien intruded upon his life of Torah study, tefillah (prayer) and avodas Hashem (service of G-d).

Going fully to the opposite extreme, Yaakov’s sojourn in Charan, in the house of Lavan, was fraught with challenge and struggle. Yaakov had to be on guard every moment to recognize and counteract the deceit and duplicity of Lavan. In order to marry and support his growing family, Yaakov, worked to exhaustion as (in his own words), “heat consumed me by day, and frost at night; and sleep was banished from my eyes” (Bereishit, 31:40). Upon Yaakov’s return from Charan, the malach (angel) told him, “You have struggled with G-d and with men, and have prevailed (Bereishit 32:29).

Yaakov, however, held his own throughout these hardships, and eventually he triumphed. Then came the 17 years that he lived in Mitzrayim, where he experienced for the first time in his life, true galut, being under the yoke of an alien environment. Here Yaakov was compelled to pay homage to Pharaoh, the arch-idol. Then after Yaakov passed on, his body was in the possession of the Egyptian embalmers, certainly idol-worshipper, for 40 days.

After a lifetime in which he either lived within his own self-imposed sacred seclusion or struggled against adversity, Yaakov’s final years were a time of spiritual bondage in a society which the Torah calls “the depravity of the earth.”

In that light, how can Chazal (our Rabbis) comment that the Torah regards these 17 years as the best of Yaakov’s life? This is because Yaakov knew how to utilize his galut in Mitzrayim to impel the strivings of his soul and work towards its aim. Is it not amazing that Yaakov’s descendants were forged into a nation, Bnei Yisrael, under the tyranny and decadent rule of the Pharaohs?

As with all that is written in Torah, we look for the message to apply to our own lives today. As Ramban (Nachmanides) writes in his classic commentary on Sefer Bereishit (The Book of Genesis), “Ma’aseh Avot Siman LeBanim – The action of the forefathers is a sign of what will happen with the children.”

We, too, experience in the course of our lifetimes the three stages of being, which Yaakov knew: sovereignty, struggle, and subjugation.

We hold onto a vision of a transcendent self – a pure and inviolate soul, at the core of our being. Although this essence is not always accessible to us, there are “moments of truth” in our lives in which this spiritual internal truth asserts itself over any outside influence. For most of us these illuminating moments are few and far between. More commonly, we exist in a state of struggle between the passions of our divided hearts. Our old habits and behavior patterns are often deeply engrained and not easy to conquer.

This tension indicates that we have not fully mastered our existence, but it is also a sign that we are alive. This is life at its fullest and most productive. We are resisting the forces that seek to pry us away from our internal truth; we engage them and battle them. This is why we were put on earth – to fight the blinding neon lights – and open our eyes to pure natural daylight.

However, we also know times of powerlessness, when we face circumstances that are beyond our control and ability to resist. Those are moments when it seems that our lives have stopped in its tracks, and we feel locked into a fortress of despair. Keep in mind, “Everything that happened to the Patriarchs…is decreed to happen to their descendants.” Our lives will not follow our forefathers’ in exact sequence and occurrence. Yet the three lives of Yaakov are “signposts” that guide, inspire and enable our own.

Shabbat Shalom!

Elki Rosenfeld

Sensitivity Of A Tzaddik

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

“But as for me, when I traveled from Padam, Rachel died on me in the land of Canaan on the road…and I buried her there on the road in Ephras, which is Bethlehem.” – Bereishis 48:7

Yaakov Avinu spent the final seventeen years of his life in Mitzrayim. While there he lived in peace for the first time in many years and remained in that state for the rest of his life. Near the end of his days he called in his beloved son Yosef and made an impassioned request: “Please do not bury me in Mitzrayim.”

After this event, when Yaakov felt his end drawing nearer, he again spoke to Yosef, saying, “On the road your mother Rochel died, and I buried her there.”

Rashi explains that these two conversations were connected. In this final meeting, Yaakov was expressing something he had held inside for many years. He was telling Yosef, “I know that you have harbored a complaint in your heart against me. You feel that when your mother died, I didn’t treat her with due respect. I didn’t bury her in a city, or even in an inhabited place, but right there on the road where she died. You should know I did this because Hashem commanded me to. Many years from now, when Nevuzaradan will force the Jews into exile, they will pass along that road where she is interred. Rachel will cry out with bitter weeping, and her tears will save the Jewish people.”

The Siftei Chachmim explains why Yaakov chose this particular moment to explain this to Yosef – “If not now, when?” He hadn’t told him up to then because he didn’t want to tell him about the suffering that was to occur. But he had to tell him now because it would be his last opportunity. He was about to leave this world.

This Rashi is difficult to understand. If Hashem had told Yaakov to bury Rachel there, why didn’t Yaakov explain this to Yosef years ago? Why did he allow his beloved son to feel some sense of ill will against him for so long? Yosef was not a fragile youth who would fall apart if he heard bad news. He was a mature, sophisticated talmid chacham. His role at the time was leader of all of Mitzrayim. He could have handled the knowledge that the Jewish nation would suffer. And Yaakov knew that eventually he was going to have to tell Yosef anyway. Why not just tell him right away and eliminate all those bad feelings?

The answer is that Yaakov was extraordinarily guarded in what he said. Every word was measured, every expression weighed. And he had a policy: “I am not the one to cause suffering to others. If I tell Yosef why I buried his mother on the road, I will have to tell him the Jewish people will be sent into exile. That fact will cause him much suffering, and I won’t be a part of it. When he has to hear the bad news, I will tell him, but not a moment sooner. If this will cause him to question my actions, if this will cause him to feel some element of resentment toward me, I am willing to pay that price rather than cause him the pain of knowing what will occur.”

This Rashi illustrates a number of beautiful concepts. First, we see the extraordinary sensitivity a tzaddik has in not causing another human being to suffer. Even though Yosef could “handle it,” and even though Yaakov would eventually have to tell him, he was willing to bear the burden of letting his son think of him as insensitive rather than cause him pain. We also see an incredible example of discretion. Yaakov was extremely guarded in the words that came out of his mouth. Yaakov had been separated from his beloved son for twenty-two years. For those two decades, Yaakov was living in a state of unending mourning. When they finally met, Yosef was so filled with joy that the tears couldn’t be stopped. The love between the two was overflowing. And yet, there was something that stood between them. Yaakov knew that within the heart of his son was a sense of resentment, of ill will. In Yosef’s mind, his mother had been mistreated; her final honor had been compromised. And his own father was the man who dishonored her.

It wasn’t just at one moment that this was a barrier between them. For the next seventeen years, every time they spoke and every time they were together, there was a certain wedge keeping them apart. And yet Yaakov wouldn’t say a word. Even though these feelings were completely unfounded, he wouldn’t talk about it because that would cause a Jew to suffer, and he couldn’t be a part of that. This self-control is illustrative of the way Yaakov lived every moment of his life.

Rabbi Ben Tzion Shafier

How Did Yaakov Live In Mitzrayim?

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

The opening pasuk in this week’s parshah states: “Vayechi Yaakov be’eretz Mitzrayim sheva esrei shanah… – Yaakov lived in Mitzrayim for 17 years…” The Gemara in Kiddushin 82a says that Avraham Avinu kept the entire Torah, even the mitzvos that may not have applied. The meforshim assume that this was the practice of the other avos and their descendents as well. There are three pesukim in the Torah prohibiting one from living in Mitzrayim. This question is raised: How were Yaakov and his sons allowed to live in Mitzrayim when it is in fact prohibited?

I believe that the author of the Haggadah alluded to this question in the following drasha: The Haggadah expounds on the pasuk in Devarim (26:6): “Va’yeired Mitzraimah va’yagar sham – And he went down into Mitzrayim and sojourned there.” The Haggadah says that we are to learn from the word va’yagar (sojourn) that Yaakov Avinu did not go down to Mitzrayim with the intention to live there permanently, but rather to sojourn there. The Rambam (Hilchos Melachim 5:7,8) says that it is only prohibited to live in Mitzrayim lehishtakya (permanently); one is allowed to temporarily visit Mitzrayim. Apparently the author of the Haggadah alludes to this question, and answers that Yaakov did not live in Mitzrayim in a permanent manner – but rather his dwelling was temporary. Therefore Yaakov was not transgressing the prohibition of living in Mitzrayim.

I suggest that this is the reason that the Torah chose to write the word “vayechi – and he lived.” The pasuk does not write “vayeishev – and he dwelled” because Yaakov was merely living there temporarily, not permanently.

The Radvaz, in his commentary on the Rambam (Hilchos Melachim 5:8), asks how the Rambam was allowed to live in Mitzrayim. He suggests that perhaps he was forced by the country’s king to remain since he was the doctor of the king and many other officials. He then proceeds to ask the same question regarding himself, how he (the Radvaz) was allowed to live in Mitzrayim. He responds that he built a yeshiva and learned and taught Torah, and under those circumstances there is no prohibition.

This answer is perplexing, for building a yeshiva and learning and teaching Torah does not grant one a license to transgress a Torah prohibition. Perhaps the Radvaz’s logic is based on the Rambam’s ruling that if a king of Yisrael conquers Mitzrayim, there is no prohibition of dwelling in Mitzrayim. It is only prohibited to dwell in Mitzrayim while it is under non-Jewish rule. The reason for this is because the actions of the people of Mitzrayim were the most immoral, and thus the Torah did not want individuals to dwell there under their influence. Perhaps the Radvaz extended this halacha to one who is living in a yeshiva, since he is not affected by the corrupt world that surrounds him. It is comparable to the scenario whereby a king of Yisrael conquers Mitzrayim, negating Mitzrayim’s cultural influence. Therefore, the Radvaz ruled that he was permitted to live in Mitzrayim under those circumstances.

Based on this, we can suggest an alternate p’shat in explaining how Yaakov and his sons remained in Mitzrayim. In last week’s parshah, prior to Yaakov’s descent to Mitzrayim, he sent his son Yehudah “lehoros lefanav” (Bereishis 46:28). Rashi quotes a medrash that explains that Yaakov sent Yehudah to establish a yeshiva prior to his arrival. This was seemingly a strange practice. Why could Yaakov not have waited until everyone arrived before the yeshiva was built?

According to the Radvaz we can understand why it was necessary for the yeshiva to be established, even prior to everyone’s arrival. Since the building of a yeshiva is what would ensure that they would not be influenced by the people of Mitzrayim, Yaakov arranged that it should be established prior to their arrival.

This yeshiva remained for the entire time that Klal Yisrael were in Mitzrayim. The Rambam (Hilchos Avodah Zarah 1:3) says that after recognizing Hashem as the Creator and the one who controls everything, Avraham Avinu started educating others about Hashem. Eventually Yitzchak Avinu assumed that role, and Yaakov followed. Yaakov taught all of his sons, and later appointed Levi to be the rosh yeshiva. It was this yeshiva that kept the teachings of Avraham Avinu intact during the galus of Mitzrayim. This was made possible because shevet Levi was not subject to the physically torturous labor; thus they were able to remain in the yeshiva. The Rambam adds that if not for this yeshiva, all of the fundamentals that Avraham Avinu set forth would have otherwise been forgotten.

For questions or comments, e-mail RabbiRFuchs@gmail.com.

Rabbi Raphael Fuchs

Life Is Like A Video Game

Thursday, December 29th, 2011

“And Yaakov said to Pharaoh, ‘The days of my sojourning are a hundred and thirty. Few and difficult were the days of my life, and they haven’t reached the length of days of my father’s life.” – Bereishis 47:9

For most of his life, Yaakov Avinu suffered tests, trials and tribulations. It seems his days were spent moving from adversity to crisis. Clearly he didn’t have it easy, and the suffering took its toll.

When Yaakov went down to Mitzrayim and appeared in the king’s court, Pharaoh was so astounded at how aged Yaakov looked that his very first utterance was, “How old are you?” The Rishonim explain that Yaakov looked older than anyone Pharaoh had ever seen.

Yaakov responded: it wasn’t that he was that old; it was that he had a hard life. “Few and difficult were the days of my life.”

The Midrash (Das Zakainim 49:9) says that when Yaakov said these words, Hashem responded, “I saved you from Eisav and Lavan, I returned Dina and Yosef to you, and you are complaining about your life? Because of this you will lose 33 years!”

This Midrash is very difficult to understand. Every word Yaakov said was true. He did live a very difficult life. He was beset with troubles and distress. He suffered for decades. The proof of this was his appearance – his suffering aged him. What possible sin did Yaakov commit by expressing the reality of his hard life?

The answer to this question can be best understood with a parable.

If you enter a video arcade, you might notice the boxing game. For your two dollars in tokens, you get to fight a virtual boxer. When you put your money in and put the gloves on, up on the screen the referee appears to usher you and your opponent into the center of the ring. And then, “Ding!” – the action starts. Jab, jab, duck, punch. Jab, jab, duck, punch. Your opponent circles. He swings wide, you block and counter.

THUD! He falls to the canvas. The count: 1, 2, 3… But no. He’s back up and now on the offensive. He throws a power right to your midsection – thud! Now, a hook to your jaw – smash! Now it’s you who’s down. The count 1, 2, 3, 4… but you’re back up, and the fight continues. Jab, jab, hook. Duck. Jab, jab. Move right. The bell rings again, signaling the end of the round.

And you’re sweating. No matter what shape you’re in, the pace is so fast and the simulation so real that you are putting everything into it. And then you go to spend the rest of your day with your children. No headaches, no bruises.

If you speak to someone who has been in a real boxing ring, you get a very different picture. Likely, you will hear something like, “Nothing in my life prepared me for those two minutes – the punches to the jaw, the jabs to the head, and more than anything, the fear that at any moment this beast is going to smash my brains in. . .” All of that make boxing a very different experience than the boxing arcade. It’s a whole lot less fun.

The Video Game of Life

This is a very apt parable for life. Throughout our lives, Hashem puts us through many different situations, all measured, all finely focused for our growth. Some are tests of endurance, some are tests of faith, and some are tests of patience, but each one is custom-designed for our growth. But like a video game, it’s not real. It’s a mirage, just a frightening image. When it is over, we see it for what it was: an empty threat.

The Chovos HaLevovos explains that one of the basics of our belief system is, “You can’t harm me; you can’t help me.” Everything – every ounce of suffering, every event that is to befall a person, is all decided, defined and directed by Hashem Himself. No human being can inflict damage on me that wasn’t already decided by Hashem.

With this recognition comes a deep understanding: the doctor isn’t the determinant of whether I live or die; the threat isn’t the failing economy; the danger isn’t man. All humans are powerless to affect my destiny. Like a simulated opponent in an arcade game, they look very menacing, but it is just smoke and mirrors. Hashem is hiding behind every scene, orchestrating the outcome. And all along, I am always safe and sound, guarded and protected.

This seems to be the answer to the Midrash. Yaakov suffered during his lifetime, and that was the problem. It is expected reasonable for any mortal going through these events to feel felt fear and anxiety. But this was Yaakov Avinu. This was the man who walked with Hashem. This was the man who saw Hashem in every moment and every action. He should have recognized the fight scene as the mirage it was – a mere illusion. If he felt fear and actually suffered, then on some level he didn’t see through the smoke and mirrors, and for Yaakov Avinu, that was unacceptable.

Rabbi Ben Tzion Shafier

Why Was Yaakov Avinu Reciting Krias Shema?

Thursday, December 29th, 2011

In this week’s parshah, Yaakov is reunited with his son Yosef after having being separated from him for 22 years. When they met, the pasuk says that Yosef fell on Yaakov’s neck and cried extensively. Rashi quotes a medrash that says that while Yosef did this, Yaakov did not fall on Yosef’s neck, nor did he kiss him. The medrash explains that Yaakov was reciting Krias Shema at that moment.

There are several questions that bothered the mefarshim regarding this episode. First, why did Yaakov feel the need to recite Krias Shema at this moment? Second, if it was indeed the appropriate time to recite Krias Shema, why did Yosef not recite it? The Taz and the Vilna Gaon (Orach Chaim 61:1) – based on the opinion of the Rush (Berachos 1:5) that one may interrupt the recitation of the Krias Shema to inquire about the wellbeing of one’s father, rebbe, or a king – ask why Yaakov did not pause to inquire about Yosef’s wellbeing, since he was a king. We find that Yosef was considered a king, for when Yosef came to visit his ill father, Yaakov sat up in bed (Bereishis 48:2) – and Rashi explains that he did so to show respect for the king.

The Gur Aryeh explains that when Yaakov met Yosef it was not the time to say Krias Shema. Rather, the reason that Yaakov was reciting Shema at this time was because it was the custom of tzaddikim that at a moment of simcha they would be mekabel ol malchus shamayim (by reciting the Shema) in an effort to channel that simcha toward accepting the yoke of Hashem. Additionally, Reb Yehoshua Leib Diskin says that the ultimate purpose of the middah of love is to love Hashem. Therefore, when one experiences an overwhelming measure of that middah, he should focus it on his love for Hashem. So Yaakov recited Shema in order to use the love he was experiencing toward Hashem.

The Taz and the Vilna Gaon answer that the halacha that one may interrupt Krias Shema to inquire about the wellbeing of one’s father, rebbe, or a king does not apply to the first pasuk of Shema – only to the rest of Shema. Since Yaakov was in the middle of the first pasuk of Krias Shema he was unable to interrupt himself, even to inquire about the wellbeing of his son the king.

Others understand that it was indeed the appropriate time to read Shema, and therefore Yaakov recited it. As for Yosef, the Sifsei Chachamim explains that he was exempt from the mitzvah of Krias Shema since he was osek b’mitzvah (involved in a mitzvah) of kibud av (honoring one’s father).

The Brisker Rav explains that the time to recite Shema had already begun and Yosef had already recited Krias Shema. Yaakov had not yet recited Shema, since until this point he was osek b’mitzvah of following the commandment of Hashem to descend to Mitzrayim. At this moment he had just arrived in Mitzrayim, and thus he was now obligated to recite Shema – which he did. While he was still reciting the Shema, Yosef approached.

Reb Yehoshua Leib Diskin suggests that throughout all the years that Yaakov and Yosef were separated, Yaakov was unable to have complete kavanah while reciting the words in Krias Shema, “u’vechal nafshecha” (which mean that one must be willing to sacrifice his own life for Hashem). This was because Yaakov knew that he was promised that he would have 12 sons that would all be shevatim. Since one was missing, he was unable to wholeheartedly say that he would give up his life while still not yet fully complete. Now that he sees that all of his sons are alive, he could once again recite those words with total sincerity. Therefore Yaakov recited Shema at the moment that he met Yosef.

With this explanation Reb Yehoshua Leib answers another question. In the very next pasuk Yaakov exclaims “amusah hapa’am – now I can die.” The Gemara, in Berachos 19, says that one should not open his mouth to the satan. In other words, do not make statements that invite trouble. Why would Yaakov make this strange statement? Reb Yehoshua Leib says that Yaakov was explaining why he recited Krias Shema at this point: because he could now have complete kavanah, and if it were necessary he would wholeheartedly give up his life for Hashem.

For questions or comments, e-mail RabbiRFuchs@gmail.com.

Rabbi Raphael Fuchs

Living Like A Rock

Thursday, December 15th, 2011

And Yaakov lived in the lands in which his father sojourned, the land of Canaan. – Bereishis 37:1

Rashi tells us that after the Torah described the life of Eisav in an abbreviated manner, it then told over the events of the life of Yaakov in full detail. The reason for this is that Yaakov and what occurred to him are important in the eyes of Hashem, whereas Eisav and his life aren’t. So too, Rashi explains, we find with the ten generations from Adam to Noach. Each individual gets a mere mention until we get to the life of Noach. Then the Torah elaborates in full detail.

The same pattern is repeated with the ten generations from Noach until Avraham. We are told in condensed form – “so and so gave birth to so and so” – until we get to the life of Avraham. Then the Torah again goes into great detail because the life and activities of a tzaddik are important in the eyes of Hashem, while those a rasha aren’t.

Rashi continues with a mashol to help explain this concept. Imagine a man has lost a precious stone in the sand. He takes a sieve and begins combing through the sand to find it. The sieve picks up many small rocks along with the gem that he is searching for. Once he finds the gem, he takes it out and throws the rocks away.

This Rashi becomes difficult to understand when we focus on the purpose of a mashol. Chazal use parables to help bridge a gap. When we are dealing with concepts that are outside our frame of reference, our sages often use examples and metaphors to bring difficult ideas into terms that we can understand. For instance, if you were given the task to describe the color purple to a color-blind person, how would you portray it? Well, it isn’t blue and it’s not red. The problem is that since this person sees all colors in the grey spectrum, neither point of reference has any meaning. So you might revert to a mashol. The purpose of the mashol is to capture the essence of a distant concept and bring it closer.

Why does Rashi feel we need a mashol to understand this concept? It seems rather straightforward. Eisav wasn’t important, so the Torah told over his life quickly, whereas Yaakov and what he accomplished are significant, so the Torah went into the details. That seems like an elementary concept, not one that needs repeating or a mashol to help clarify it.

The Value of a Person

The answer to this question is that Rashi is explaining a concept that isn’t obvious at all – namely, the true value of a person. If you were to ask a chemist the value of a human being, he might say, “Well, let’s see…So much potassium…so much magnesium…I would estimate his value at about 60 cents.” That would be accurate in one dimension. If we were measuring the value of a human from the perspective of the chemicals that make up his body, we would find him rather inexpensive. However, from a different perspective, the human is the most precious entity on the face of the planet – something so precious that it was worthwhile to create an entire cosmos for just one person.

The difference in the value systems manifests itself in the way a person lives his life. If a person leads his life like any other occupant of this planet, as just another member of the animal kingdom, then he has the value of whatever his physical being represents – a couple of pounds of rotting meat. However, if a person recognizes the reason Hashem put us on the planet and leads the life of a great person, his value is incalculable.

Living Like a Rock

That is what Rashi seems to be telling us. If the Torah only mentioned Eisav quickly and then elaborated about the life of Yaakov, you would never quite understand the difference in their values. Let me give you a mashol: When a man is looking for a pearl in the sand and he picks up some rocks along with it, they are utterly, totally and completely valueless to him. He throws them back down. The Torah is using this mashol to give us the perspective of the stark difference in value. It wasn’t that Eisav wasn’t as important as Yaakov – he was valueless, something to be discarded. He was a rock. When he left this planet, that is all that was left – the body to decay into the ground.

This concept is very relevant to us because we tend to get very busy at this thing called life. Working, doing, going, taking care of this, taking care of that. But a person has to ask himself, “What is it that I am so busy with? Granted I have to make a living, agreed that I must take care of many basic physical needs, but has that taken over the focus of my life? Do I spend so much time focused on the mundane issues of survival that it has become the epicenter of my existence? If it does, then I am no different than a beast of burden; I am a rock.”

Rabbi Ben Tzion Shafier

Dinah’s Daughter: A Vital Link

Thursday, December 8th, 2011

This week’s parsha, Vayislach, relates a shocking episode that causes genuine outrage in the Israelite camp — the Canaanite Prince Shechem’s brutal assault of Yaakov’s daughter Dinah. “And Yaakov’s sons came in from the field when they heard it; and the men were grieved and agonized in fury because he had committed a despicable deed against Israel by laying Yaakov’s daughter – a thing not to be done” (Bereshit 34:7).  The Torah then depicts the aggressive revenge of Yaakov’s sons against the Canaanite tribe, and the narrative flows on to additional future events, but of Dinah’s fate there is no further mention.

Two parshiyot later (Miketz) we learn of Yosef’s amazing rise to power in Egypt. Paraoh, in elevating Yosef to an exalted position, makes two ceremonial gestures. One: he grants Yosef a new name: “And Pharaoh called Yosef Tzafenat Paneah” (Bereshit 41:45) — and the second: he arranges a prestigious marriage for Yosef:  “…he gave him for a wife Asenat the daughter of Potiphera, the priest of On…”(Ibid.)

These two official gestures by Paraoh seem linked: a prominent Egyptian name and a prominent Egyptian wife were designed to launch Yosef’s illustrious governmental career in Egypt. Egyptologists tell us that in the language of ancient Egypt Tzafenat translates as “supplier of food,” and Paneah as “vital.” From the connotation of the name given to Yosef it is apparent that it was a title denoting his job as Chief Steward, a preeminent and powerful governmental position further enhanced by his marriage to a woman hand-picked by Paraoh. By taking an Egyptian name and marrying a highborn Egyptian woman, Yosef acquired great prestige and, most importantly, an Egyptian identity.

When he married the daughter of Potiphera, the priest of On, Yosef became a member of a socially and politically prominent family. On, the equivalent of the Greek Heliopolis, neighboring the Eastern Delta or Goshen, later the site of the Hebrews’ settlement, was the center of sun worship. During the reign of Akhenaton when sun worship was the official religion in Egypt, the chief sanctuary to Ra, the Sun God, was erected in On, rendering the Priest of On the Supreme Clerical Authority.

Asenat, the daughter of the Supreme Clerical Authority, eventually became the mother of Menashe and Efraim. On his deathbed Yaakov raised Menashe and Efrayim to become Israel’s tribal fathers, on par with Yaakov’s own sons. Asenat, who, according to the Midrash, was the adopted daughter of Potiphera (whom Rashi identifies with Potiphar) thus became one of the eemahos of Bnei Yisrael, sharing that honor equally with Rachel, Leah, Bilhah and Zilpah.

Who was Asenat if not the natural daughter of Potiphera? Where did she come from? Rabbinic literature picks up the thread that the Torah text did not continue to weave. Midrash Esther reveals that Asenath was in fact Dinah’s daughter, born of Dinah’s disastrous encounter with the Canaanite prince Shechem. How did the tale evolve? How did Dinah’s daughter become the adopted child of the Egyptian potentate? What miraculous coincidence helped the beautiful young girl to reach Potiphera’s home?

“And Dinah gave birth to a daughter and named her Asenat, saying, `To my woe did I bear her for Shechem the son of Chamor who had taken me by force to his house'” (Midrash Esther). The same Midrash discloses that when “Yaakov saw that his sons regard Asenat with hostility, he took a gold medal and wrote upon it the Holy Name and placed on her neck.”  With that Asenat left Yaakov’s household and the Almighty guided her to the house of Seleikha, wife of Potiphar.

“And Seleikha was barren of child, and she saw the lovely girl who came to her house, and she gathered her to her house, and she became her daughter” (Ibid.)

Years later, when Asenat was presented to him by Pharaoh, Yosef instantaneously noticed the medallion with the Holy Name on Asenat’s neck, and understood that it was the Divine Hand, which guided Asenat to him.

This Midrash solves several problems with one stroke. First, the brutality of Dinah’s fate is mitigated by this sequel. We are updated on Dinah’s story: the child born of the unhappy Shechem episode is redeemed from the stigma of her birth by eventually serving an essential role in the Divine plan. Secondly, through Asenat, Dinah’s rightful inheritance is restored, as she becomes a tribal ancestress on equal footing with her brothers. Thirdly, it allays fears about Yosef’s potential assimilation, marriage to a foreign woman being its ultimate element.

Not only did Yosef not marry an Egyptian, Chazal teach, on the contrary, he married a young woman provided by the Almighty Himself, a wife from the house of Yaakov to serve as a vital link to the next generation.

Prof. Livia Bitton-Jackson

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/jewess-press/impact-women-history/dinah%e2%80%99s-daughter-a-vital-link/2011/12/08/

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