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The Ability to Let Go - A Great Blessing

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

One can only imagine the trauma Joseph experienced at the hands of his brothers. Joseph, merely seventeen years of age endures hatred, a plot to kill him, being thrown into a pit filled with snakes and scorpions, being sold into slavery and separation from his beloved father.

He is later imprisoned in Egypt under false accusations and finally becomes the viceroy of the mighty Egyptian empire. Joseph marries and calls his first son Menashe. The verse states ‘Joseph called his firstborn Menashe, because God has assisted me to forget (the Hebrew word used here is Nashani, which means to forget, from where the name Menashe is derived) all my misfortune and all my father’s house.’ Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch has difficulty with this verse. Could Joseph have been so callous as to forget his beloved father, and to then proudly name his son in honor of this ‘accomplishment’?

Rabbi Hirsch therefore reinterprets the verse as follows: ‘Joseph called his firstborn Menashe, because God made all my misfortune and all my father’s house into creditors (the Hebrew word used here is Nashani, which can also mean creditor, from where the name Menashe is derived).’ This means that Joseph came to the profound realization that his troubles and mishandling had become the means for attaining profound joy and blessing. He felt indebted to his suffering, which resulted in him becoming the viceroy of Egypt, marrying his wife and having this particular child. Often in life what we perceive as disastrous turns into a situation of blessing and vice versa.

I once saw a different answer to Rabbi Hirsch’s question, one that maintains the original interpretation of the verse. Joseph called his son Menashe and thanked God for giving him the gift of forgetting his troubles and his father’s home. Had Joseph’s traumatic past and idyllic relationship with his father remained vividly at the forefront on his mind, he would have lived in a constant state of anxiety, depression and complete dysfunction. He would not have had the ability to lead a country, have a loving relationship or enjoy his own children. I have no doubt that Joseph had his moments of sadness and difficulty and that he was sensitive to the pain of his father. However, God gave him the ability to shift his life focus away from his traumatic past and focus on his rich present and bright future. Yes, one must sometimes forget and even pray to God to leave behind ones past and to focus on the beautiful present moment, which is all that really exists.