MIKETZ – The Land of My Affliction

Galut is a punishment! No matter how nice it feels, it is still a punishment.

PARASHAT MIKETZ

by Rabbi Moshe D. Lichtman (https://toratzion.com/)

 

In two weeks we will read the blessing that Ya’akov Avinu gave his grandsons, Efrayim
and Menasheh: By you Israel shall bless, saying, “May God make you like Efrayim and
Menasheh” (48:20). Many commentators ask why we bless our children that they should be

like Efrayim and Menasheh? With all due respect, wouldn’t it make more sense to wish that
they turn out like Avraham, Yitzchak, and Ya’akov? The standard answer is that Ya’akov
foresaw that his descendants would spend a lot of time in exile, in an atmosphere foreign to
Jewish values. He, therefore, wanted to give them a blessing that would help preserve their
uniqueness and prevent them from assimilating among the nations. Efrayim and Menasheh
were the first Jews born and raised on foreign soil, yet they managed to safeguard their
traditions and retain their sanctity. Therefore, they are the most fitting role models for us to
emulate.
The only question is how did they manage to stay Jewish in such a decadent place like
Egypt? The answer, I believe, is found in this week’s parashah. The Torah states, Yosef
called the name of the firstborn Menasheh, for [he said], “God has made me forget (נשני) all
my toil and all [the hardships of] my father’s house.” And the name of the second he called
Efrayim, for [he said], “God has made me fruitful (הפרני) in the land of my affliction” (41:51-
52). These last five words seem to be incongruous. Yosef had reached the heights of fame
and fortune in Egypt. How could he call such a land, the land of my affliction? Granted, he
had a rough start, but now he was the second most influential man in the country!
The Abarbanel, R. Zalman Sorotzkin (Oznayim LaTorah), and others answer that despite
all the fame and fortune, Yosef never lost sight of the fact that this was not where he
belonged. He constantly yearned to return to his father’s home in Eretz Yisrael, even though
he knew that his financial and social status would suffer greatly (after all, he would be
returning to his brothers’ jealous wrath). Even though God had made him fruitful in Egypt,
he still saw it as a land of affliction.
This, in my opinion, is how Efrayim and Menasheh were able to withstand the temptations
of galut. We can assume (and there are sources to confirm this) that Yosef instilled this
feeling of “being a stranger in a strange land” into his sons’ psyches. He made sure that they,
too, understood that this was not where they belonged, but in a much holier place not too far
away. With this type of upbringing, it is not surprising that they turned out the way they did.
How many Jews presently living in America, England, Canada, Australia, etc., see their
dwelling-places as lands of affliction? Unfortunately, not enough. If they truly did, they
would return Home at the first possible opportunity, just as Yosef would have done. And
today’s Jews are not viceroys to the king! Oh yeah, one almost was. When that Yosef (Sen.
Joseph Lieberman) was asked about the problem of dual loyalties, he allegedly said, “There is
no problem; I am an American first.” With such an attitude, is it surprising that so many Jews
choose – and I emphasize the word “choose” – to dwell on foreign soil? The original Yosef
would never have said, or even thought, such a thing. His response would have been more
like this: “There is no problem; I have only one loyalty: to my true Homeland, the Land of my forefathers. I am here only because God has sent me to support my father and brothers.
The moment my mission is complete, I will return to where I belong, God willing.”
One last point: Why did Yosef call Egypt the land of my affliction? That was simply no
longer true. There must have been some other way of expressing his longing for Eretz
Yisrael. The message, I believe, is similar to last week’s. No matter how good things seem to
be in the Diaspora, a Jew must understand that “he is closer to death than life” (Parashat
VaYeishev, “Apparent Safety”). Or, as I always tell my students, there are four, very
important words that one must constantly remember when reflecting upon today’s situation in
the Diaspora: Galut is a punishment! No matter how nice it feels, it is still a punishment.

Additional References
 Yosef saw his brothers and recognized them, but he acted like a stranger to them and spoke
to them harshly; he said to them, “From where do you come?” And they said, “From the
Land of Canaan to buy food” (42:7).
Many of the commentators are bothered by the second part of the bothers’ response. After
all, Yosef never asked them why they came, just from where they came. Why, then, did they
volunteer this information and add the words “To buy food”? Rav Zalman Sorotzkin answers:
The sons of Ya’akov were used to apologizing whenever they left Eretz Yisrael.
Therefore, they apologized this time, as well (even though they stood before a “gentile”
minister, to whom leaving Eretz Yisrael is not a sin), saying, “To buy food.” That is,
[they explained] that the famine had worsened in the Land, making it permissible to go
to Chutz LaAretz (see Bava Batra 91). (Oznayim LaTorah)

 They [the brothers] came to Ya’akov their father in the Land of Canaan and told him all
that had happened to them… (42:29).
Why does the Torah feel it necessary to tell us that Ya’akov was in the Land of Canaan? Is
this not common knowledge? The Netziv answers:
THEY CAME TO YA’AKOV THEIR FATHER: The main reason they came was [to see] their
father, but [they] also [came] because it is THE LAND OF CANAAN. See below, 45:25. 1
(Ha’amek Davar)

 Their father Israel said to them, “If it must be so, then do this: Take of the choice [fruits] of
the Land (מזמרת הארץ) in your vessels and bring a gift down to the man – a little balsam, and
a little honey…” (43:11)

We quote the Netziv’s comments on this verse in Parashat VaYigash; see there.

The classic commentators interpret the words מזמרת הארץ as “praiseworthy fruits of the
Land” (Ibn Ezra, Radak) – things about which people sing (זמר) their praises (Rashi). The
Radak adds that “they used to export balsam and honey from Eretz Yisrael to other lands, as it
says explicitly in Yechezkel (27:17)…”
Notwithstanding, Rav Nachman of Breslov adds a chassidic angle to these words,
understanding them in their literal sense:
When Ya’akov Avinu sent the ten tribes to Yosef, he sent along with them the melody
of Eretz Yisrael. This is the deeper meaning of “Take מזמרת הארץ in your vessels,” i.e.
an aspect of song and melody… Accordingly, Rashi explains מזמרת to be an expression
of song (זמר). (Likutei Moharan Tanina, sec. 63)
The author of Parpera’ot LaTorah elaborates:
According to this, Ya’akov said to his sons shortly before their second trip down to
Egypt: “Take with you, at least, a melody of Eretz Yisrael, to avoid losing sight of your
forefathers’ Land while you are distanced from it.”

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