The Illegitimate Daughter – Mikeitz
וַיִּקְרָא פַרְעֹה שֵׁם יוֹסֵף צָפְנַת פַּעְנֵחַ וַיִּתֶּן לוֹ אֶת אָסְנַת בַּת פּוֹטִי פֶרַע כֹּהֵן אֹן לְאִשָּׁה וַיֵּצֵא יוֹסֵף עַל אֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם (בראשית מא, מה).
In a previous shiur on parshat Vayeitzei, I discussed the principle that almost everything connected to Mashiach and the Geulah is camouflaged to confuse the ס"מ. Today I would like to add another name to that list and devote this shiur to discussing another iconic figure that most of us know very little about. I am referring to Osnat, wife of Yosef.
There is a machloket as to Osnat’s origins. According to the Midrash Shmuel ("בובר", פרשה כח) and Yalkut Shimoni (וישב, רמז קמו, אוצר המדרשים "אייזנשטיין", עמוד תעד), Osnat was a giyoret. However, the vast consensus amongst Chazal and the Mefarshim is that Osnat was the illegitimate daughter of Dina.
Everyone is familiar with the episode from parshat Vayishlach (בראשית לד) when Schem son of Chamor kidnaps Dina, daughter of Leah and rapes her. Dina was 6 years old at the time (Masechet Sofrim פרק יא, ט). From this union a daughter was born, Osnat.
When she was born, the sons of Yaakov wanted to kill Osnat, ואמרו בני יעקב להרגה, אמרו - יאמרו בכל הארץ שיש בת זנות באהלי יעקב (ילקוט שמעוני, בראשית לד, קלד). It doesn’t mention which sons, but very likely they were Shimon and Levi.
To understand this (and also the parsha of selling Yosef), we need to briefly analyze the personalities of Shimon and Levi.
To understand the greatness of the tribes of Shimon and Levi, we need to examine not their origins, but their outcome - to look a few generations ahead to see how they ended up. We know how Levi ended up – Moshe Rabbeinu, Aharon Hakohen, the Kohanim and Levi’im, serving HKB”H in the Mikdash. The tribe of Shimon ended up as a tribe of Sofrim and Melamdei Tinnokot in Am Yisrael.
Another important thing we know about how these two tribes ended up, is that they were not given their own consecutive נחלה in Eretz Yisrael. The tribe of Levi was dispersed throughout the country in 48 ערי לויים. The tribe of Shimon was dispersed in 13 cities within the southern part of the נחלה of Yehuda, in the region of the Negev.
This allocation was dictated by Yaakov Avinu when he blessed the Twelve Tribes. In his bracha to Shimon and Levi he said אֲחַלְּקֵם בְּיַעֲקֹב, וַאֲפִיצֵם בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל (בראשית מט, ז). The reason for this was twofold. On the one hand, these two tribes had something special to contribute to Am Yisrael and in order for them to accomplish their purpose they needed a wide dispersion in the population. On the other hand, these two tribes possessed a character trait that was potentially dangerous.
Shimon and Levi were zealots, not in the negative sense, but in the holiest sense. They possessed an absolute sense of אמת ומשפט, which is one of HKB”H’s attributes, they were absolute in their devotion to HKB”H. Chazal say that in Olam Haba there are no sentiments, only absolutes - absolute justice, absolute truth, no grey areas whatsoever.
When HKB”H originally created this world, He did so במידת הדין, but when He saw that this world could not exist on דין alone, He added מידת הרחמים. To understand this on a practical level, think of Beit Shamai and Beit Hillel. Beit Shamai’s approach was absolute and Chazal say that the halacha according to them is structured around how it is in Olam Habah, עולם האמת. However, we know that, in this world, the halacha goes according to Beit Hillel, which is not totally black and white, but also allows for grey areas, מידת הרחמים.
Here are a few examples that illustrate this zealous character trait of Shimon and Levi -.
When they heard that Schem had kidnapped and raped their sister Dina, they killed Schem, his father Chamor and 24,000 other males in the town. How old were they at the time? According to the Mefarshim (Seder Hadorot) Shimon was 13 years old and Levi a few months younger. Did all these people deserve to die? According to most opinions in the Mefarshim – yes! Halachically they deserved the death sentence. Despite this, Yaakov reprimands them and curses their anger אָרוּר אַפָּם כִּי עָז וְעֶבְרָתָם כִּי קָשָׁתָה.
In last week’s parsha Yosef relates his dreams to his brothers. In the dreams the brothers are bowing down to him. Shimon and Levi are incensed by this dream. Their brother Yehuda is destined to be the tribe with the monarchy in Am Yisrael. They charge Yosef with מרידה במלכות, convene the remaining brothers into a Beit Din and sentence Yosef to death. Absolutely speaking, someone who is מורד במלכות deserves the death penalty, but this world cannot exist only on absolutes. They are not aware that Yosef is not planning to usurp Yehuda’s right to the monarchy, but that HKB”H has a different plan for Yosef. Yosef himself is not sure how things are going to turn out, until they do – he simply has faith that his prophecies are from HKB”H and are true. The result of this is that Yosef escapes death by a hair’s breadth and is instead sold into slavery in Egypt.
Similarly here in the case of Osnat, Shimon and Levi want her put to death. Yaakov, however, sees by Ruach Hakodesh that she has a different purpose. He takes a pendant (ציץ) and engraves on it a “holy word” and hangs it around baby Osnat’s neck. Yaakov spirits her away and hides her under a bush (סנה) – which is where she gets her name אסנת from.
The Midrash Aggadah (בובר, בראשית פרק מא) says that Potiphar, Pharaoh’s chief Executioner, went on a trip with his נעריו (Potiphar “liked boys”, the Midrash tells us he later tried to sleep with Yosef), and suddenly he heard sounds of a crying baby. When his servants extricate Osnat from the bush and present her to Potiphar, he notices the pendant around her neck. “She must be from an important family” and he takes her back to his home and raises her as his daughter.
The Pirkei de’Rebi Eliezer (38a) has a slightly different take on this and fills in a few missing details. He says that the pendant was made of gold and that Yaakov wrote Hashem’s name on it (like the ציץ of the Kohen Gadol) and sent Osnat away. The angel Michael took her down to Egypt to the house of Potiphar, whose wife was barren, and she raised Osnat as her own daughter.
From the description given in the Midrash, we get a sneak preview of what life must have been like for her in Potiphar’s house, the “typical” Egyptian style aristocratic home at the time, a den of licentiousness and avodah zarah.
Rabbeinu Bachyei (בראשית מא ,מה) explains why he was called פוטיפר - על שם שפיטם פרים ועגלים לעבודה זרה, וזהו לשון פוטי-פר, מפטם פר
When Yosef was first sold to Potiphar, his master was שר הטבחים. That doesn’t mean he was in charge of the kitchen. Potiphar was the Chief Executioner. You can just imagine what kind of resume you need to get a job like that. Potiphar bought Yosef as a slave because Yosef was very good looking and as we said, Potiphar “liked boys”. The Ramban (בראשית מא ,מה) says that to protect Yosef, HKB”H caused Potiphar to castrate himself. From the shame of it he left his post as Chief Executioner and became a priest for avodah zarah. This is why in this week’s parsha he is titled כֹּהֵן אֹן. Nice guy!
And if you think Potiphar was a מותק, you ain’t heard nothing yet! Potiphar’s wife, whose name, according to Sefer Hayashar (וישב), was Zelicha, was an even bigger מותק. She was an extremely attractive woman, a supermodel and she also lusted after Yosef for his good looks and his talents at almost everything. With a eunuch for a husband, her needs were obviously not being met, so she tried to tempt Yosef to sleep with her. She tried wooing him with words. When that didn’t work, she began switching clothes three times a day, one set in the morning, a second at lunch time and a third in the evening (Midrash Tanchuma, וישב, סימן ה'). Yosef wouldn’t even look at her. So she had a metal shoulder harness constructed that they fixed to his head and forced him to look at her (Yalkut Shimoni, בראשית, פרק לט, רמז קמו). Yosef at the time was only 17 years old and you can just imagine what kind of נסיון this was for him, but he held steadfast.
This was the kind of home Osnat grew up in.
Yalkut Shimoni continues. One day, out of desperation, Zelicha, instead of joining the rest of her household going to pray to their avodah zara, feigned feeling ill. When everyone had left, she flung herself on Yosef and forcibly tried to sleep with him. Yosef wriggled free from her clutches and managed to flee, but not before she grabbed hold of his garment, which remained behind. Later her friends returned to find her ashen faced. “What happened?” they asked. “Yosef tried to rape me” was her reply, “I struggled and he fled, but not before I grabbed hold of his jacket!” Her friends advised her to tell Potiphar and have Yosef thrown into prison. Zelicha told them “Go to your husbands and say that Yosef also tried to seduce you”, and they agreed. Later all the indignant husbands gathered in Potiphar’s courtyard and demanded “justice”. Potiphar wanted to kill Yosef. Zelicha implored him (she thought she still might be able to get her way) “Don’t kill him, imprison him!”, but Potiphar was unrelenting.
All the while this was going on, Osnat, who was also at home that day, saw and heard everything and she went to her father Potiphar and told him the truth. Potiphar then decided to imprison Yosef - he could not allow himself to embarrass his wife over a slave. HKB”H said to Osnat - חייך, הואיל ואת לומדת עליו זכות, שבטים שאני מעמיד ממנו, על ידך הם באים.
Like Rivka growing up in the house of לבן הרשע, so too was Osnat able to transcend her surroundings and become a צדקת. (Psikta Rabati, פרשה ג').
After Pharaoh appointed Yosef as viceroy of Egypt, he paraded him through the streets of the city. All the women threw their valuables at Yosef. Osnat threw the pendant that Yaakov had tied around her neck. When Yosef saw it, he recognized the Hebrew writing and the name of Hashem on it and thus he discovered Osnat who, in addition to being a צדקת, was also beautiful. When Yosef discovered who she was, he asked Pharaoh for permission to marry her. Pharaoh, who knew nothing of the blood link between them, thought it was a fitting marriage for someone of Yosef’s stature, the daughter of aristocracy.
And thus it came about that Yosef married his niece (from his father, not his mother), the daughter of Dina. Unlike his brothers (the remaining eleven tribes) who were all born with a twin sister, Yosef was not, because it was preordained that he would marry the daughter of Dina (Pirkei de’Rebi Eliezer). Yosef kept Osnat’s true identity a secret until just before Yaakov’s death.
Osnat, although she knew who Yosef was and who his family was, kept his identity a secret. When his brothers descended to Egypt she did not expose him. Yosef revealed himself to his brothers.
Osnat was extremely kind and when Yaakov descended to Egypt, it was she who looked after him in his old age. As Yaakov approached death, Osnat suggested to Yosef to take their two sons to Yaakov for a bracha. Yaakov, unaware who she was, thinking she was an Egyptian, was reluctant to bless the two sons, וַיַּרְא יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶת בְּנֵי יוֹסֵף וַיֹּאמֶר מִי אֵלֶּה. Yosef then showed Yaakov the pendant וַיֹּאמֶר יוֹסֵף אֶל אָבִיו בָּנַי הֵם אֲשֶׁר נָתַן לִי אֱ-לֹקִים בָּזֶה. Yaakov recognized her as the daughter of Dina and then said קָחֶם נָא אֵלַי וַאֲבָרֲכֵם.
As a tribute to Osnat’s (and Yosef’s) character, their two sons were totally devoid of sibling rivalry. Even when Yaakov switched hands and blessed the younger Ephraim before the firstborn Menashe, this did not diminish their brotherly love. It is for this reason that we bless our sons every Friday night that they should be like Ephraim and Menashe. Ephraim and Menashe, although they were a generation younger, merited the status of the Twelve Tribes and each (separately) received an inheritance in Eretz Yisrael (and over the Jordan).
As we know, the descendants of Yosef and Osnat’s sons were destined for greatness. Yehoshua, leader of Am Yisrael following Moshe, was descended from Ephraim. Prominent descendants of Menashe were the Shoftim - Yair HaGil’adi, Gideon ben Yoash and Yiftach HaGil’adi. In the time of the Geulah, the first Mashiach to arrive will be descended from Osnat (and Yosef).
Once again, we have another “diamond in the rough” story, that out of bleak circumstances, when everything seems dark and hopeless, arises an unexpected figure that carves a path which defines the Geulah.