Shabbat Greetings

This week’s Torah portion, Vayigash (Genesis 44:18-47:27), Joseph finally reveals himself to his brothers, and secures a place and a future for the family in Egypt in the province of Goshen. The Torah then recounts the 70 individuals that arrive with Jacob.  However, the Torah has a little glitch when it counts the people.  In one place, it’s 70.  In another place, it’s one short.  The discussion ranges on and on with medieval commentators, Ibn Ezra on one side and Rashi on the other.  Some feel that the verse says that “Now, these are the names of the children of Israel who were coming to Egypt.” (46:8), and the number that gets put forward changes only because it doesn’t consider the people already there.  But really, nobody gets left out, as the actual names of the entourage are listed.

But there is a mystery woman in the story that complicates the count a bit.  It’s Joseph’s wife, Asenat. There are two takes on Asenat, and some consternation over whether she was Jewish or not.  To review our story, Asenat is presented to Joseph in appreciation for what he was about to do for the nation of Egypt.  Some sources tell us that Asenat was the daughter of “Potiphar”.  The name may sound a wee bit familiar –  remember the man Joseph worked for when he first arrived in Egypt, and whose wife had Joseph thrown into prison because he refused her advances. (41:45) Others say that this Potiphar, listed as “Chief of On” (41:45, 46:20) was NOT the same guy.  The thought among the Sages is that, when Asenat saw all that Joseph (whom she knew as Zaphenat-Parnaia) was accomplishing, she converted to Judaism, making their sons Ephraim and Menashe Jewish themselves.

The other explanation comes from Midrash and is a little more esoteric.  As background, back in chapter 34, Jacob’s and Leah’s only daughter, Dinah, was either seduced or raped by Shechem, the son of the “King” of the area, Hamor. (34:2)  The Torah records that the kid fell desperately in love with her and wanted to marry her.  The tribes of Levi and Simeon convinced Hamor that before this could happen, all his men needed to be circumcised.  While the men were recovering, Levi and Simeon rode into town and massacred the entire population, “rescuing” their sister.  Here, the Midrash (Pirkei d’Rebbe Eliezer, 38;21) takes over.  It relates that Dinah became pregnant from her liaison with Shechem, and produced a daughter named Asenat.  The brothers, after their “success” at selling Joseph into slavery in Egypt, maintained that Asenat should be killed, because her presence put the taint of prostitution on the House of Jacob.  Dinah rode to the rescue, and, long story short, Asenat was adopted by Potiphar – the same guy who “bought” Joseph – and THIS is the girl Pharaoh gave to Joseph to be his wife.  At this point, she is described as a beautiful, stately, sophisticated, and well educated woman of the Egyptian upper-class – certainly a match for the Viceroy of Pharaoh.  Perhaps, what the Pharaoh did NOT know was that the girl was “Jewish,” making the match even more perfect.  Personally, I think that Potifar DID know and his finagling facilitated the match. I hope you appreciated another look at this ancient text.