The Deeper Meaning Of A Name

In naming his sons, Joseph communicates his thoughts on living in Egypt, alone and distant from his family.

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But, to speak of forgetting Jacob's house seems, at the least, disrespectful and ungrateful; at the worst, it suggests that Joseph may be rejecting Jacob's value-system and may be assimilating comfortably into Egypt!

The Gift of Distraction

But, argues Haketav V'hakabbalah, Joseph 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 Abraham'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.

God would make Joseph's dreams come true, but Joseph would have to be patient. During the many years ahead--Joseph could not know how many--Joseph would naturally be tormented by the memories of his family, and especially the thoughts of how his father must be suffering. And so God granted Joseph the gift of distraction (nashani), thus enabling Joseph to fulfill God's will and his own mission.

Ephrayim - God 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, Joseph shows his true values.

In the naming of his sons, Joseph demonstrates that he recognizes God's role in the events of his life. God is the Source of memory, of success and of contentment. Joseph may rule in Egypt, but God is in control of all reality. Joseph is no more than a vehicle for God's will.

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Rabbi Avraham Fischer

Avraham Fischer is a rabbi at Darche Noam Institutions.