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Genesis 41:1 – 44:17


Blessing Our Children

We find ourselves, this week, at a junction in Joseph’s life. After what had seemed like an ongoing downward spiral which began with his brothers throwing him into a pit, and that came to a head with his incarceration in Egyptian jails, Joseph appears to have turn a corner. Things are looking up. A few paragraphs into our reading and we find him freed from jail after having successfully interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams. This lands him a new job—second-in-command over all of Egypt—and a new Egyptian name. Next thing you know, Joseph marries Asenath, daughter of the Egyptian High Priest of On; and, together, they have two children: Efraim and Manasseh, after whom we now bless our children on Shabbat eve.

Reading Joseph’s story at a deeper level, we understand this “downward spiral” to rather be an inward spiral. Through the vicissitudes of his life, Joseph goes deeper and deeper within; until his ego finally succumbs, liberating him from its clutches. And he awakens. We know this because by the time he is brought up from jail to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams, he declares: “Without me; God will explain [these disturbing dreams] to make Pharaoh whole again.” [Gen. 41:16] Joseph’s separate sense of “me,” has vanished. He knows himself to be an empty instrument—the conduit through which God “will explain.” Pharaoh bestows upon him new titles and riches, and gives him the Egyptian nameZaphenath-Paneah; translated by Rabbi Hirsch as: “He with whom the hidden things are kept; he who holds the key to the most hidden secrets.” (Hirsch Chumash; p.766) Or, as the Targum (the ancient Aramaic translation of the Torah) would have it: “He to whom hidden matters are revealed.” In our day we call such persons: “the Enlightened One.”

Yet, his is not the only name that reveals a deeper spiritual teaching concealed beneath the literal reading of the story. Take Asenath, for example. As she is the daughter of a High Priest, we learn that her essence is bound up in the spiritual realms. Her name itself means: “Expression of the Goddess Neith.” In other words, she is the expression of the Divine Feminine. But what is born of the union of the Enlightened One and the Divine Feminine? It is the teaching issued forth from this fusion, hidden in the names Ephraim and Manasseh.

Manasseh is the first born. The Torah states: “Joseph called the name of the firstborn Manasseh for, ‘God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s household.’” [Gen. 41:51] Rabbi Hirsch strongly reacts to this common yet nonsensical translation: “But who would not shudder at reading such a sentence? Yosef gives his firstborn a name signifying that God has made him forget his aged father and all his father’s family! …we would be forced to conclude that Yosef was simply a man without a heart!” (ibid, p.770) Instead, he explains that the Hebrew root of the name Manasseh, nasseh, “denotes giving voluntarily, submitting…without opposition… Nasseh does not denote forgetting but, rather, forgoing…it means…submission and powerlessness.” (ibid, p.667) The voice of the Enlightened One within calls us to surrender our ego, to abdicate our illusory sense of self, and accept our lack of control and powerlessness. These are the veils, the klippot, that prevent not only our knowing the Truth of our being, but also the Divine Shefa, the Flow of the Divine Feminine, to stream through us unencumbered.

Ephraim means “doubly fruitful.” Joseph names him such saying: “God has made me doubly fruitful in the land of my affliction.” [Gen. 45:52] The awakened consciousness allows for life-giving energies to emerge and create from this place of not-wanting, of no-self. One simply acts upon whatever the Universe is calling forth in that moment; moved from within, empty, yet fully in the flow. In Genesis: The Beginning of Desire (p.289), Aviva Zornberg writes in disbelief: “It is, apparently, possible to be fruitful, to create life, even in that place, that no-place…” In fact, it is the only place one ever can.

Each Shabbat eve we bless our children to be like Ephraim and Manasseh. In doing so we set as an affirmation their own spiritual awakening. May this blessing, this affirmation, become manifest for each of us.