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Parashat Hashavuah: Mikketz

“Pharaoh then gave Joseph the name Zaphenath-paneah; and he gave him for a wife Asenath, daughter of Potiphera, priest of On” Genesis 41:45

    Joseph and Asenath (Mosaic in Basilica di San Marco) (Wikimeida Commons)
    Joseph and Asenath (Mosaic in Basilica di San Marco) (Wikimeida Commons)

    If you remember the story of Joseph, or even the Andrew Lloyd-Webber version, Joseph — young and good looking — is coveted by the wife of his master, Lady Potiphar. For the indiscretion of not submitting to Lady Potiphar’s seduction, Joseph finds himself in jail where much dream analysis takes place, resulting in Joseph being awarded status. But also, as prime poetic justice, the daughter of the house of Potiphar, Asenath, is given to him as a bride. 

    Together, they have two sons and until today, on a Friday night, we bless our sons that God should make them like Joseph’s children — Ephraim and Manasseh. 

    Are we to understand that Joseph married a non-Hebrew? Perhaps he had to in order to keep up his disguise in Pharaoh’s court. But if that were the case, surely we wouldn’t be blessing our children to be like Ephraim and Manasseh. 

    In the apocryphal narrative of Joseph and Aseneth, she falls in love with our hero but is rejected for being pagan. She locks herself in a tower and rejects her pagan gods. She is visited by an angel who accepts her conversion and she is then covered by bees, who sting her lips to remove the prayers to the pagan gods. 

    For a more traditional view, we turn to the midrashic interpretation of Pirkei de Rabbi Eliezer. Asenath was not the biological daughter of the Potiphars. She was, in fact, the resulting child of the rape of Dinah by Shechem (Genesis 34). Knowing that she would always carry the stigma, her grandfather Jacob sends her down to Egypt with an amulet around her neck that bears God’s name. She is subsequently adopted by the Potiphars, who were barren. 

    Joseph, legend has it, was the most eligible of bachelors. As he walked down the road, women would throw their jewels at him in the hope that he would return them, leading ultimately to a commitment. The jewels remained unreturned, but Joseph recognised the amulet with God’s name that was unique to Jacob and with it he was able to identify that Asenath was one of the clan and was more than happy to be given Asenath as his bride. 

    Poetic justice or the hand of God? Either way, it would seem, a happy ending.
     

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