Friday, November 18, 2011

The Hebrew Name Joseph

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Joseph, whose name means “He will add,” was the first son of Rachel and Jacob. The idea of “adding on” is prominent throughout Joseph’s life. Whatever occurs to him, seems to occur in superlatives. Not only did his brothers dislike him, they came to hate him. They hated him enough to want to kill him, although they settled for selling him to be a slave in a foreign country. And being a slave wasn’t the end of his spiral to the bottom, he was later falsely accused and convicted of rape and imprisoned.

But just as Joseph’s downward spiral went as far as it could go, when the circle turned, blessings rained upon him one after another. He was released from jail, employed by Pharaoh, and appointed Viceroy of Egypt.

One might expect that someone who is able to rise from convicted slave to Viceroy of Egypt would be completely taken about his own self-value. Joseph, however, recognized that everything that had occurred to him was part of a much larger Divine plan.

But Joseph was not always so “righteous.” Before he was sold to Egypt, the Torah describes him as “seventeen years old...a youth...(Genesis 37:2),” who was “of beautiful form, and fair to look upon” (Genesis 39:6). In fact, tradition informs us that he was quite vain: “He acted like a youth, adorning his eyes, lifting his heels, and dressing his hair” (Genesis Rabbah 84:7).

Additionally, Jacob “loved Joseph more than all his children” (Genesis 37:4), adding to the youth’s inflated sense of self.

Youth often has a skewed view of the world, and Joseph was no exception. Genesis 37:3 notes that “Joseph brought evil reports of [his brothers] to their father.” The sages provided examples: He would see his brothers cutting the limbs off live animals, in order to heal the animals, and he told his father’s that they were eating the limb of a live animal (an act prohibited even by the seven Noahide laws).

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