From Prison To Palace: The Unknown Details

Two Years of Days

The next section of Joseph’s saga begins at the end of two full years – when Pharaoh dreamed. However, there is a slight difference when read in Hebrew: Miketz Shnataim Yamim (מִקֵּץ שְׁנָתַיִם יָמִים ) – at the end of “two years of days”. The word yamim, days, doesn’t occur in any translations. Translations speak only about “two years,” while the original text speaks about “two years of days”. Why?

The Hebrew text here conveys a very profound truth: for Joseph, these two years in prison consisted of many single days – days full of anguish, pain, new hopes and new disappointments. Every day he had to choose to trust God, no matter how exhausted or disappointed he was. The word “days” here assures us that God saw every single day of Joseph’s imprisonment: He knew the pain and the anguish of each of these days.

Aren’t we all like this?  Even though our life is measured by years, these years consist of days – days full of challenges and choices, hopes and disappointments. Every single day we have to choose to trust Him—very often in spite of our circumstances, and in spite of all the pain, anguish and disappointments we might have. Even today, in Hebrew the word “days” is often added when one speaks of time: a week of days, a month of days. שבוע ימים, חודש ימים . The beauty and the depth of Hebrew convey a clear message: even though our life is measured by years, months and weeks,  these years, months, and weeks consist of days full of challenges and choices, hopes and disappointments – and God sees and knows the pain of every single one of these days.

Joseph’s New Name

Very impressed by Joseph, Pharaoh said unto his servants, “Can we find such a one as this is, a man in whom the Spirit of God is?”  Thus, the same pattern that we saw twice before in this story, is repeated again here:

  • The Lord was with Joseph when he was standing before Pharaoh
  • Pharaoh saw that the Lord was with him Joseph
  • Therefore, Pharaoh gave everything into his hands.

 

As a sign of Joseph’s new identity, “Pharaoh… gave Joseph the name Zaphenath-Paneah.” There is no agreement among Egyptologists as to what this name may actually mean, and to this day there has not been an interpretation accepted by all. The ancient Jewish interpretive tradition, however, derives the name Zapheath-Paneah from Hebrew (and not Egyptian) roots:פִּעְנֵחַ  צפן   (paneah and tsaphan). What are the meanings of these roots?

Tzaphan means, “to hide, treasure or store up”. We find a good example in the well-known words of Ps.119: Thy Word have I hid in mine heart… (In Hebrew it’s:בְּ֭לִבִּי צָפַ֣נְתִּי  Belibi tsaphanti…). Paneach means “to decipher; to figure out, solve; decode, interpret”. Thus, Zaphenath-Pa’neach, the Egyptian name of Joseph, might be rendered as: “He who explains hidden things.” That really could be the name that Pharaoh would give to Joseph – after all, he interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams. Moreover, this name also might be translated as “The Revelation of the Hidden”. Then, it would reflect not only Pharaoh’s understanding of Joseph, but the entire plan of God in this story.

Forget My Father’s House

When, after all Joseph’s suffering and trials, we finally see him being successful and influential, we are struck by a very interesting detail in this narrative. When his first son was born in Egypt, Joseph called him Menashe: “because God has made me forget (nashani -נשני) all my labor and my father’s house.” Forget his father’s house! Didn’t Joseph love his father? Why did he want to forget him? Moreover, why didn’t Joseph contact Jacob during all these years?

Once again, I would like to remind you that Joseph didn’t know what we the readers do—he didn’t know that his brothers had deceived his father and that Jacob thought Joseph was dead. He was probably wondering, especially during his first years of slavery: “Why doesn’t my father look for me?” Egypt is so close to Canaan, Joseph probably expected his father to come and look for him – but since that never happened, Joseph may have decided that Jacob himself was involved in the plot. After all, it was his father who sent him to check on the brothers. Joseph knew that his father loved him, but he also knew the stories of the Fathers: Abraham loved Ishmael – but God chose Isaac; Isaac loved Esau – but God chose Jacob. Joseph knew that if it was God’s will for him to be banished from his family, his father would accept and obey this will.

Only when the brothers came, did Joseph realize that Jacob had known nothing about the crime. Now he became anxious to resolve his misunderstanding, maybe even to ask forgiveness – and that’s why his first question was: “is my father still alive?”[1]

Joseph’s Sons

During the Shabbat celebration on Friday evenings, Jewish fathers bless all their children with the priestly blessing.[2] The introductory lines of this blessing depend on whether the child is a boy or girl. For boys, the introductory line is:

May God make you like Ephraim and Menashe!

Why do Jewish fathers bless their sons by the names of Joseph’s sons? Why are the sons of Joseph chosen for this blessing rather than the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob?

Two sons were born to Joseph in Egypt. First of all, let us try to understand the original Hebrew meaning of their names.  Joseph called the name of the firstborn Manasseh.[3] The name Menashe (Manasseh) is derived from the Hebrew root נָשָׁה: “to cause to forget”. Joseph wanted to forget all the suffering and affliction that he went through. That’s why he called his son Menashe.

The name of the second he called Ephraim.[4] The name Ephraim is derived from the root פָּרָה – “to make fruitful”. Evidently, Joseph was able to forget his suffering and move on: to become fruitful and productive in the foreign land. Moreover, the fact that Ephraim and Menashe are the first brothers in the Torah whose relationship is not marked by jealousy and rivalry, presents a powerful testimony to the peace in Joseph’s heart and Joseph’s home.

And yet, there is something more about these brothers – something that turned them into a paradigm for blessings. These two children grew up in exile, completely separated from their extended family,  – yet,  they obviously remained faithful to Israel and to God of Israel. Therefore, before his death, Jacob selects  Joseph’s two sons for the blessings across the ages. There is a  powerful message in this blessing. When we say to our sons: “May God make you like Ephraim and Menashe,” we wish them to be always spiritually connected to their people and their God, regardless of where they live and grow.

 

[1] Gen.45:3

[2] Num. 6:24-26

[3] Gen. 41:51

[4] Gen. 41:52

 

The insights you read on these pages are typical of what we share with our students during DHB (Discovering the Hebrew Bible) or WTP (Weekly Torah Portion)  classes. If these articles whet your appetite for discovering the hidden treasures of the Hebrew Bible, or studying in-depth Parashat Shavua, along with New Testament insightsI would be happy to provide more information (and also a teacher’s discount for new students) regarding eTeacher courses (juliab@eteachergroup.comAlso, excerpts from my books are included in this article  (and many other posts here), so if you like the articles on this blog, you might enjoy also my books,  you can get them here.

About the author

Julia BlumJulia is a teacher and an author of several books on biblical topics. She teaches two biblical courses at the Israel Institute of Biblical Studies, “Discovering the Hebrew Bible” and “Jewish Background of the New Testament”, and writes Hebrew insights for these courses.

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  1. Robert

    Thank you for your comments on the “2 years of days”. It reminds me of an event in my past where God asked me to do something. About 25 years ago, at home one morning, I decided to make some muffins from scratch. In front of me was my recipe, cups of flour, sugar, some salt, baking soda, and more. In a large bowl I began mixing all the “white” ingredients first. when looking at the mixture, I thought to myself that i could not distinguish the flour from the soda or the sugar from the salt when suddenly a distinct voice behind said, “Yes, but I can”. “I can pick out from that pile every grain of salt, sugar, soda and make 4 new piles. Although, we all know that God is very capable of this, the revelation at the time was a beautiful reminder and blessing of His divine knowledge.

    Skipping to a week later, my Pastor had asked me if I would join an outreach committee that would seek congregants that were “shut-in” or seemed to wane in attendance for whatever reason. I acquiesced and we (5) divided among us the names (25) of those in need. As I wrote down my share of 5 names, I noticed that the first name on my list was glowing yellow as if it had been highlighted, yet all I had was a pencil. I did not mention this to the others as I didn’t want them to think I was crazy.

    The glowing name (let’s call her Mary) was that of a young teen who had become disenchanted with church, religion, God, etc. She was born the eldest of three, six years older than her next sibling. Her next sibling (let’s call her June) was also a daughter who was born with severe Autism. The type of autism that kept her in a wheelchair and made communication very difficult.
    Now imagine Mary at 6 yrs old with an autistic baby sister. Mary in many ways became the main helper in raising that child. “Mary would entertain June while I prepared supper?” “Sorry, you can’t go out tonight, I really need your help with June ?” Mary became her mother’s right arm in the raising of her sister. Many times she must have cried because she missed out on the big sleepover or the weekend youth group trip or many other things that “normal” children do. And when she did have an opportunity to join the youth group, she couldn’t fit in because she just wasn’t part of the clic.

    Back to Muffins
    I decided one day to first pray for this young women, now 20 and living on her own. Father, please bless Mary in whatever she is doing. Give her that special touch of your divine lov….”Tell her about the muffins!” The Father interrupted. I was taken back and replied, “You want me to tell her, that out of a mixture of all white ingredients, you are capable of dividing all the ingredients into 3 neat piles?” “No, no” He said. “Tell her the big bowl with all the mixed ingredients represents her life, and just as I can see every grain of salt and flour and soda, I saw that night when she cried herself to sleep because she missed out on a friendly sleepover or when she shook her fist at me because, once again, she had to babysit her sister and miss out on something major. Tell that EVERY TIME she felt lonely, rejected, despondent or enraged, I WAS THERE WITH HER and shared in her pain. And tell her I LOVE HER. (In her case 13 years of days where God cared and LOVED her)

    Thanks for your time
    I very much enjoyed this post.
    Cheers.

  2. Paul Kristofferson

    Thank you for this encouraging article Julia. I appreciated that in the namIng of Joseph’s sons that God can cause us to forget our past difficulties and then He can cause us to be fruitful. Shalom. Paul.

  3. Nick

    Wow! Two more sons, in between the two sons of Judah and the two sons of Aaron. I love the contrast and comparison here. Nevertheless, all six sons are part of the Whole and Holy story.
    Thanks Julia,
    Nick