Mikeitz: No Forgetting

April 15, 2011 at 10:29 pm | Posted in Mikeitz | Leave a comment

(This blog was first published on December 12, 2009.)

And Joseph called the name of the firstborn Menasheh because “Elohim made me forget all my distress and all the household of my father”.  (Genesis/Bereishit 44:51)

Menasheh—Joseph’s first son

nashah—forget (or lend)

nasheh—sciatic nerve

After Joseph’s brothers dump him in a pit and then sell him into slavery, and after his master’s wife lies and gets him sent to prison (which the Torah also calls a pit), Joseph finally comes up on top in this week’s Torah portion, Mikeitz (“At the end”).  His dream interpretation and advice to Pharoah result in Joseph becoming the governor of Egypt, second only to Pharoah.  Among other benefits, he acquires a wife, who bears him two sons.

Many characters in the Torah choose a name for a son, then explain it with a sentence related to either an awesome event in their lives, or an event they hope will happen.  (The first such parent was Eve, who said she named her first son Cain (Kayin) because she acquired (kaniti) him with God.)

But why does Joseph choose the name “Menasheh” for his firstborn son?  At first his explanation seems to be an oxymoron.  If God really had made Joseph forget all his distress, including the distress caused by the household of his father (in other words, his own brothers), then he would not be able to give his son a name that memorialized it.

Joseph must not be using the word “forget” literally.  When we say, “Oh, forget it,” we’re not talking about literally forgetting something; we’re talking about disregarding it, paying no more attention to it.  So Joseph is saying that his current good fortune is such a blessing from God that he can now disregard the terrible thing his brothers did to him.

Yet by naming his first son “Menashe”, Joseph makes sure he will continue to remember his personal disaster.  And when his brothers do arrive in Egypt, he clearly remembers their deed and does not greet them with open arms.

“Menasheh” could also come from the verb “to lend”.  Though the connection is not as direct as with the verb “to forget”, the name Menasheh might mean that the boy is on loan from God.  Joseph credits God with his dream interpretations and with current prosperity; now he reminds himself to thank God for his firstborn son.

But wait, there’s more!  It may be no accident that the root of the verbs “forget” and “lend”, the Hebrew letters nun-shin-heh, is also the root of the word for “sciatic nerve”.  In Genesis 32:33 Joseph’s father, Jacob, wrestles with someone at the ford of the Yabbok River, and holds on until the unknown being dislocates Jacob’s hip and blesses him with a new name, Israel/Yisrael.  Like other characters in the Torah, even the being gives an explanation for the name Yisrael, saying “for you have wrestled with Elohim and with with men, and have prevailed”.  After that, Jacob a.k.a. Israel limps on his hip because of the injury to his gid ha-nasheh, the sinew of the sciatic nerve.  His son Joseph is a boy at the time, but he is old enough to notice his father limping, and find out why.

The name Menasheh could mean  “from a sciatic nerve”.

All Joseph says when he names his first son Menasheh is that God has made him forget the misery his brothers inflicted on him (thus making sure he will never forget it).  But the name Menasheh also makes sure he will not forget the time his father wrestled with Elohim and prevailed.

Jacob managed to hold onto his wrestling opponent until dawn.  Joseph managed to hold onto his faith in God and in his own exalted future until he was brought up from the pit of the prison into the daylight.

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