Sent: Friday, December 30, 2005 2:16 AM
Subject: Netvort : parshas Mikeitz, 5766

                                                     Rumor Has It….
                        By Rabbi Joshua (reputedly known as The Hoffer) Hoffman

  In this week’s parsha, Yosef interprets Pharaoh’s dreams as foretelling a period of seven years of plenty in Egypt, to be followed by seven years of famine. Yosef tells Pharaoh to store up food during the first seven years in preparation for the following seven, and to appoint a man of wisdom and understanding over Egypt to oversee the nation’s economy during these years. Pharaoh decides that Yosef is the best person for the job, and appoints him as the second-in-command over the country. He then changes his name to Tzofnas Paneach, gives him Osnas, the daughter of Potiphar, as a wife. This choice of a bride for Yosef is interesting, because Potiphar’s wife had accused Yosef, twelve years earlier, of trying to violate her, and it was because of that accusation that he was imprisoned. Why, then, would Pharaoh have Yosef marry the daughter of the very woman whom he had been accused of violating? Moreover, why would Yosef agree to such a marriage? The medieval commentators Da’as Zekeinim miBa’alei Tosafos and Chizkuni deal with these issues, and, in the course of their answers, cite an intriguing midrash, which gives us a different view of who Osnas actually was, and what role she was supposed to play in Yosef’s life.

  One explanation these commentators give is that both Yosef and Pharaoh wanted to avoid a scenario in which Potiphar would claim that Yosef’s children belong to him, since he had originally purchased Yosef as a slave. If Yosef’s children would actually be his own grandchildren, however, he would certainly make such an argument. Rabbi Meir Simcha of Dvinsk, without citing the medieval commentators, gives a variation of this explanation, saying that Pharaoh wanted the Egyptians to respect and give honor to Yosef. Since it was the household of Potiphar, where Yosef had served as a slave, that was most likely  be jealous of him and therefore try to disgrace him, Pharaoh neutralized this threat by giving Yosef his former master’s daughter in marriage. Another explanation, given by Chizkuni, is that Yosef wished to quell the rumors that Potiphar’s wife has spread, that Yosef had  violated her. If Yosef married her daughter, he assumed, no one would give any credence to such rumors. We may note, as an aside, that in popular American culture, such an assumption is, sadly, not a given, and even the sense of uneasiness over such a scenario that was  widespread less than forty years ago no longer exists. Whether what passes in popular culture reflects social reality in this country is a question that is discussed by Michael Medved in his astute work, Hollywood vs. America. In any case, the possibility that America’s moral sense has sunk lower than that of the ancient Egyptians is something that must give us pause.

  The explanations we have seen until now still do not answer another question, which is, how could Yosef, the son of Ya’akov, who displayed such moral strength when he refused the advances of Potiphar’s wife, marry an Egyptian woman? Da’as Zekeinim answers this question by citing a tradition that Osnas was, in fact, not the daughter of Potiphar and his wife, but, rather, the daughter of Dinah and Shechem. This midrash can be found in Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer, chapter 31, but there are some variations in detail between the way the midrash is brought there, and the way it is brought in the various medieval commentators. The basic account is that Ya’akov had Osnas removed from his home, deeming it a disgrace for the offspring of the union between Dinah and Shechem to be living among the rest of his children. However, Ya’akov placed a sign around her neck, saying that she came from the seed of Ya’akov. She was then led, through the workings of a heavenly angel, to Egypt, where Potiphar and his wife adopted and raised her. Thus, when Yosef married Osnas, he was actually marrying somebody who stemmed from the family of his father Ya’akov.What is intriguing about this, to my mind, more than the identity of   Osnas herself, is the identity of the angel who guided the process along.

  According to the Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer, it was the angel Michoel who brought Osnas to Egypt. However, according to the version of the midrash cited by Chizkuni, it was the angel Gavriel who was involved. We noted, last week, that it was this same angel, Gavriel, who the midrash identifies as the ‘man’ who guided Yosef to his brothers in Dosan, from where he was sold into slavery in Egypt. Thus, it was the same angel, or, in a broader sense, the same force, that was working behind the scenes during the entire process of Yosef’s odyssey. We explained last week that Gavriel represents the trait of gevurah, or perseverance in the face of adversity. To expand on this idea, gevurah is a trait which is necessary when confronting the challenges of life within a wider society. In order for Yosef to fulfill his purpose in Egypt, which, according to Rav Kook, was to exhibit a moral and holy lifestyle within the context of a fully functioning state, he needed to develop this trait, which he learned from his father. If we follow the midrash and identify Osnas as the daughter of Dinah and Shechem, she was perhaps the person who was best equipped to serve as Yosef’s wife and helpmate. The rabbis tell us that when Ya’akov went to meet Eisav, he hid Dinah in a box, fearing that Eisav would want to marry her. However, the rabbis criticized him for doing this, because Dinah, given her nature as one who liked to explore the outside world, may have been able to influence Eisav to change for the better. I believe that the idea being expressed here is that Dinah may have been able to help Eisav direct his trait of gevurah in the right direction. Because Ya’akov hid Dinah, he prevented this from occurring, and, moreover, suppressed the proper development of Dinah’s outgoing character. As a result, when she left her environs and explored the outside world, she was unprepared for the challenge, and was taken advantage of by Shechem. The offspring of that union, Osnas, was now being given the chance, denied her mother, to channel the trait of gevurah for the purposes of holiness. Thus, it was the angel Gavriel, representing the trait of gevurah, who was behind the process that led Osnas to Egypt to become the wife of Yosef.

  Please address all correspondence to the author (Rabbi Hoffman) with the following address - JoshHoff @

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