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Parashat Miketz (Genesis 41:1 – 44:17)

“The earth produced during the seven years of abundance by the handfuls.” (Genesis 41:47)

Names play a subtle, but significant role in Parashat Miketz. When Pharaoh appoints Joseph his second-in-command over all of Egypt, Pharaoh gives him an Egyptian wife and an Egyptian name: Tsaf’nat Panei-ach (Gen. 41:45). Now Joseph has two names, reflecting his dual cultural heritage. When he names his first born Menashe, “…ki nashani elohim, for God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s household.” (Gen. 41:50-52), Joseph appears to leave his Israelite identity for his Egyptian identity. While this is the simplest interpretation, it troubles many commentators: can someone known as Joseph the Tzaddik, Joseph the Righteous, really forget about his father?

Rabbi Yitzchak Arama (1420-1494; 15th Century Spanish rabbi and philosopher) says by naming his son Menashe, Joseph recognizes God’s hand in history, and expresses thanks for allowing him to not carry a grudge against his brothers. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888; German rabbi considered the father of modern Orthodox Judaism) builds on this by noting the verb N-SH-H also can mean creditor. Joseph credits all his past experiences for contributing to his identity. Joseph is grateful for both the good and the bad. Joseph knows who he is—and how he became who he is.

So, it’s no accident Miketz continues the story with, “So b’nei yisrael, the Children of Israel, came to buy provisions among the arrivals, for the famine was in the land of Canaan.” (Gen. 42:5) This is the first time Joseph’s brothers are named b’nei yisrael, foreshadowing the challenge of much of Jewish history to this day: the struggle to remain a distinct people within a larger society and culture.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom
A Freiliche Chanike/Chag Sameach/Happy Chanukkah

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