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Friday, December 18, 2009

Forget It!

בראשית פרק מא

(נא) וַיִּקְרָא יוֹסֵף אֶת שֵׁם הַבְּכוֹר מְנַשֶּׁה כִּי נַשַּׁנִי אֱלֹהִים אֶת כָּל עֲמָלִי וְאֵת כָּל בֵּית אָבִי

Genesis 41

(51) And Yosef called his first born Menashe for "God has made me to forget all of my toil and all of the house of my father."

This word "nashani" (made me to forget) is quite striking to me. It seems the word does not mean forget in the sense of erasing from memory for if it did, the whole passage doesn't make sense. After all, if Yosef really forgot the house of his father, why mention it at all? 

Rather, it seems to mean to forget more in the sense of something that is no longer on his mind. Yosef's circumstances at this point are so dramatically transformed that his former tribulations are no longer troubling him. 

What is interesting, then, is that he includes forgetting the house of his father. There is a question about why Yosef did not contact Yaakov once he was elevated to his position as viceroy of Egypt. Clearly until that time he was not in a position to do so. But now that he had all that power why not call home? 

I have heard it suggested that Yosef thought that his father was in collusion with the brothers plot to sell him as a slave. If that was the case, perhaps Yosef felt no reason to contact his father as he felt unwanted. In support of that is the fact that Yaakov sent Yosef to check on his brothers. 

However, this seems unlikely for a couple of reasons. One is that Yosef likely heard the brothers plotting to kill him and then changing their minds to sell him as a slave. He would have gathered that their plans were made on the spot and not something they had cooked up prior to his coming to meet them. 

Another point is that when Yosef finally sees Yaakov (in next week's parsha) he makes no mention at all of this plot in contrast to how he addresses the brothers when he reveals himself to them. 

So it is not entirely clear why in fact Yosef does not contact his father at this point and even thanks God for making him forget the house of his father. 

Any suggestions? 

Chag sameach :)


  1. shalom shell
    perhaps like avraham yosef needed to make a fresh start
    the brothers behavior indicates some failure in educating them to be more humane
    perhaps there is a need for someone who had been hurt by family matters to forget the past and move on
    understandably so
    thanks shell
    you are as usual sharp to the point and communicative!
    kol tuv

  2. Hi Sigal,

    I think you make some valid points. Certainly we see a certain amount of what we would nowadays call dysfunction in the families of the Avot. At the same time, while it is tempting to project those modern notions onto the text, I am not always convinced they are really there, despite my own comments!

    However, I do think it is possible that Yosef was not anxious to get back in touch given what had transpired to bring him to Egypt. That said, watch my comments for Parshat Vayigash and we'll continue the conversation.

  3. I have an idea that's probably a little more tachlis and a little less psycho-spiritual than you're going for here, and I could be completely wrong, but I'm going to throw it out anyway. They had no means of long-distance communication back then. They didn't have much if anything in the way of maps or roads, either. Joseph was a captive when he was taken to Egypt, so it's quite possible that he was in a position where he couldn't see well if at all. So isn't it possible that the reason he didn't try to contact his father once he became viceroy was simply because there was no practical means of doing so? He didn't know how to tell someone to get there because he didn't know the way?

  4. Batsheva--Your answer seems unlikely. After all, we know the brothers manage to find their way to Egypt. Yaakov was a major landholder and well known in Canaan. Roads were well known and routes through Canaan were certainly well traveled as a crossroads between Africa, Asia and the routes to Europe. Things were not quite as primitive as you may think.