Pharaoh then gave Joseph the name Zaphenath-paneah; and he gave him for a wife Asenath daughter of Poti-phera, priest of On. … Before the years of famine came, Joseph became the father of two sons … Joseph named the first-born Manasseh, meaning, “God has made me forget completely my hardship and my parental home.” And the second he named Ephraim, meaning, “God has made me fertile in the land of my affliction.”
What is the significance of the namings that occur here? How might you understand Joseph’s self-understanding in the light of how he names his sons? What is being forgotten? What is being celebrated?
If you are anticipating a great famine, can you celebrate the time of plenty?
Bereishit Rabbah 91:1
Jacob saw that there were food rations [shever] to be had in Egypt” (42:1): “Happy is he … whose hope [sever] is in the Lord his God” (Psalms 146:5). “Whatever He tears down cannot be rebuilt” (Job 12:14) When God destroyed the plan of the tribes, it was not rebuilt. “Whomever He imprisons cannot be set free” — these are the ten tribes, who traveled to and from Egypt, and did not know that Joseph was alive. But to Jacob it was revealed that Joseph was alive, as it is said, “Jacob saw that there was shever in Egypt.” “There was shever [brokenness]” — that is famine; “there was sever [hope]”–that is plenty. “There was shever [brokenness]” — “Joseph was taken down to Egypt” (39:1); “there was sever [hope]”–“Joseph became the ruler” (42:6). “There was shever [brokenness]–“They shall enslave and afflict them” (15:13); “there was sever [hope]” — “in the end they shall go free with great wealth” (15:14).
In the midrashic imagination, Jacob is given a vision of brokenness and hope. Somehow there is a deep relationship between seeing and brokenness and seeing hope.
What is required to see hope in the midst of brokenness?
Avivah Zornberg says that it requires trust and imagination: Trust in God, in a greater purpose, and the imagination to envision a future that is whole.
She also argues (citing the Talmud) that awareness of loss is necessary for this act of trust and imagination. Quoting Wallace Stevens, she says, “loss is the beginning of desire.”
How do you understand this? Can you relate it to experiences in your life? Do you agree or disagree with the idea that an awareness of loss is necessary for spurring us to seek wholeness?