By Rabbi Avraham
Fischer. A publication of the Orthodox Union in cooperation with the Seymour
J. Abrams Orthodox Union Jerusalem World Center
December 15, 2001
Yosef's transformation from imprisoned Hebrew slave to vizier is sudden and dizzying. Based on his initiative and his abilities as a dream-interpreter and adviser, he is taken from the dungeon of Pharaoh's prison and placed at Pharaoh's side as second-in-command. Pharaoh says:
You shall be over my house, and according to your word shall all my people be sustained; only by the throne will I be greater than you (Bereishit 41:40).
During this critical period in Yosef's life, the "master of dreams" (37:19) becomes the center of a world of public action. Pharaoh appoints him as supervisor of the national food collection and distribution project, and endows him with all the trappings of service to the king:
And Pharaoh removed his ring from his hand and put it on Yosef's hand, and clothed him in garments of fine linen, and put the golden medallion on his neck. And he made him ride in his second chariot and they cried before him, "I command,
kneel (AVRECH)", placing him over the whole land of Egypt (41:42-43).
Yosef is thoroughly successful in discharging his commission, and he rises to the highest position possible under the Pharaoh. But, whereas before, while he was in his father's house and in the prison, as well as later, in the presence of his brothers, we have an insight into Yosef's frame of mind, during this period Yosef is either acting or acted-upon. The Torah shares almost none of his thoughts with us.
How does Yosef the man - as distinct from Yosef the public figure - feel about his metamorphosis?
The only glimpse we have into Yosef's inner life is in connection with the birth of his two children:
And to Yosef were born two sons, before the years of the famine came, which Asenat the daughter of Poti-Fera priest of On, bore him. And Yosef called the name of the first-born Menasheh, for "G-d made me forget (NASHANI) all my toil and all my father's house." And the name of the second he called Ephrayim, for "G-d has made me fruitful (HIFRANI) in the land of my affliction" (41:50-52).
Menashe, from NASHANI, is derived either from the rare root
N-SH-SH, or the more familiar root N-SH-H, meaning "to forget," or "to weaken." Haketav V'hakabbalah (R. Yaakov Tzvi Mecklenburg, 1785-1865) defines this verb as "the leaving [of a thought] that precedes forgetting"; it is the opposite of concentrating. Hashem has helped Yosef "get his mind off" all my toil and all my father's house.
Forgetting his toil is understandable. But, forgetting Yaakov's house seems to reflect badly on Yosef, whom the Sages call "the Tzaddik - the righteous one." It might have been acceptable had Yosef said he succeeded in forgetting his brothers, for that would mean that he no longer bears them any ill will; he has other matters on his mind and has "moved on with his life."
But, to speak of forgetting Yaakov's house seems, at the least, disrespectful and ungrateful; at the worst, it suggests that Yosef may be rejecting Yaakov's value-system and may be assimilating comfortably into Egypt!
But, argues Haketav V'hakabbalah, Yosef is driven to fulfill the will of Hashem, as communicated in his dreams (37:5-11), that his brothers and father would bow to him. This will begin the process of redemption
predicted in Avraham's vision at the Covenant Between the Pieces (chapter 15). But, this could only happen if his father did not know he was alive and vizier of Egypt. Hashem would make Yosef's dreams come true, but Yosef would have to be patient. During
the many years ahead - Yosef could not know how many - Yosef would naturally be tormented by the memories of his family, and especially the
thoughts of how his father must be suffering. And so Hashem granted Yosef the gift of distraction (NASHANI), thus enabling Yosef to fulfill Hashem's
will and his own mission.
Ephrayim - G-d has made me fruitful (HIFRANI) in the land of my affliction. Quoting Abravanel (Don Yitzchak Abravanel, 1437-1508), Haketav V'hakabbalah says of the naming of this second son:
With all the greatness and the glory and the honor that he had, and with the wealth of the produce that was in his hand, nevertheless Egypt was in his eyes "the land of my affliction", being distanced from his father's house and separated from the land of sanctity.
In this way, Yosef shows his true values.
In the naming of his sons, Yosef demonstrates that he recognizes Hashem's role in the events of his life. Hashem is the Source of memory, of success and of contentment. Yosef may rule in Egypt, but Hashem is in control of all reality. Yosef is no more than a vehicle for Hashem's will.
It is easy to read the events leading up to Chanukah as a clash between human forces alone. Antiochus Epiphanes, emperor of the Syrian-Greek empire, stood at the head of a civilization bent on bringing the world to adopt its value system. Many Jews agreed; in the name of progress they became less and less identified with those values of Torah that distinguished them from Hellenism. These Hellenized Jews joined with the forces of Antiochus and fought against the Chasidim, the Pious, who may have been familiar with some elements of Greek culture but knew where to draw the line. Eventually, the war was won by the Chasidim, led by the Chashmonaim family, who rededicated the defiled Temple to the worship of the One G-d.
The Chashmonaim, especially Yehudah Maccabee, were brilliant military strategists. But, like Yosef, they attributed their bittersweet success against the Greeks and their assimilated brethren to Hashem. And they did not celebrate their victories until they witnessed a sign - the oil that burned for eight days - that Hashem approved of their deeds.
In the arena of historic events, then as now, Hashem will determine the outcome. May we be granted success, and may we have the perceptiveness to acknowledge Hashem's Presence.