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Shabbat Parashat Shemot | 5770

Parashat Hashavuah: Yosef The Father of Twelve (Almost)

Harav Yosef Carmel

Our parasha opens with an introduction to the Jewish presence in Egypt that confirms that Yosef’s dreams, so central to the end of Bereishit, had indeed been fulfilled. All the brothers came down to Egypt, bowed down to him, and lived under his leadership. Last week, we made the claim that the special connection between full brothers, Yosef and Binyamin, were not only personal but historic.

Yosef’s two sons, Menashe and Ephrayim, carried with their names, testimony to Yosef’s experiences. Menashe’s name indicated the difficulties of distance from family in a foreign land, and Ephrayim’s hints at Yosef’s eventual success. Binyamin begot ten children, and, the midrash (Rabba 94:21) says, all of their names described Yosef and things Binyamin foresaw happening to him. (Some examples include: Na’aman – his actions were very pleasant; Chupim – I did not see his chupa and he did not see mine.) The Yalkut Shimoni (Vayeishev 146) describes how Yosef resisted Potiphar’s wife, telling her that he had to protect his special standing within the holy family/nation. The midrash continues that Yosef was worthy to have had twelve children like his father, as it says “These are the generations of Yaakov, Yosef”. In any case, it says, there were twelve sons who were born between him and his brother, Binyamin.

We also find that leaders who came out of the Tribe of Binyamin were counted as if they belonged to the household of Yosef. We find, for example, that Shimi ben Geira, who came from Bachurim and from the Tribe of Binyamin, declared to David when the latter returned from the failed revolt of Avshalom: “For indeed I have come first from all of the household of Yosef to come down before my master, the king” (Shmuel II, 19:21).

One should realize, though, that with all the great potential that finds expression in the idea that Yosef was worthy to have twelve children, a danger is also hidden within it. Having a nation-building number of children could have caused Yosef to believe that he did not need his brothers to form a nation that would “follow the path of Hashem to do charity and justice” (Bereishit 18:19). That is why, as we explained last week, the berachot of Yosef and Binyamin are part and parcel of the berachot of the whole nation, both in those of Yaakov and those of Moshe. Only when the children of Rachel and Leah are united, as the people of Beit Lechem proclaimed to Ruth (Ruth 4:11) can we meet the challenges that stand before us.

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R' Meir ben
Yechezkel Shraga 


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