We are witness to an era of upheaval. Time-honored norms of appropriate behavior are being challenged.
There are negative aspects to this disruption, such as the re-emergence of overt anti-Semitism on the left and right, after being dormant for so many years. Other aspects are more positive, such as the #MeToo movement’s rejection of the silence that for too long implicitly tolerated and, in effect, protected repugnant conduct. The fact that members in the movement have recently broadened their focus to call out the anti-Semitism of some in the leadership of the Women’s March is also a very positive development.
However, it is hard to shake the feeling that even as victims of abuse are uncovered, new ones are being created. It appears to be one of the unfortunate, but predictable, results of this kind of revolution. Should that be an acceptable consequence? Must innocent lives be sacrificed on the altar of what is perceived to be a just cause?
Shouldn’t we be more interested in healing victims than celebrating them? It’s one thing to seek justice in a time-honored confidential process. It’s another thing to create the additional burden of notoriety, as a part of promoting a cause. Don’t misunderstand, if the victim desires and realizes a measure of comfort by publicizing the harm endured, then so be it. However, it is not at all clear this is the case for everyone. Indeed, the Bible appears to have dealt with two such divergent cases. The treatment afforded the two separate victims was very different. One involved Dinah and in her case the Bible[i] published some, but not all, of the details. The other involved Osnat and the Bible is virtually silent about her situation. Each was comforted and healed in a manner that was most appropriate to her unique needs and circumstances. It is a study in caring about the person, not the cause.
The Talmud[ii], Midrash[iii] and Targum[iv] record Osnat was an innocent child born to her mother Dinah, a victim of sexual assault. The Bible publicizes the wrong done to Dinah. However, it is exceedingly circumspect when it comes to Osnat and does not explicitly describe the circumstances of her origin.
The Bible[v] does record that Dinah’s brothers Simon and Levi summarily dealt with the wrongdoer. Publically redressing this wrong may have been a part of Dinah’s healing process. After that though, the Bible appears to go radio silent concerning Dinah, until we encounter her again, when she is named[vi] as one of the seventy members of the House of Jacob[vii], who go down to Egypt to join Joseph. The Midrash[viii] fills in some of the gaps. It reports Simon took charge of the care of Dinah. The Talmud[ix] reports the view that she ultimately married Job. Whatever the case, she needed and received the warm and non-judgmental embrace of her family. It appears, as noted above, she healed and rejoined the family as a fully functioning member.
However, Osnat was another matter, entirely. Unlike Dinah, Osnat did not need any publicity. Our Patriarch Jacob, her grandfather, recognized the toxic atmosphere Osnat was experiencing at home with the family[x]. He personally intervened to help her heal. Jacob also realized Osnat needed some time apart from the family. Shaking off the unfair image she was tagged with, because of the unfortunate circumstances of her conception, was not an easy achievement. She needed time and space, unfettered by this burden, to realize her wonderful potential. She needed confidentiality and even a measure of anonymity in order to make a fresh start[xi].
At the same time, Jacob knew healing required maintaining some continuing connection to the family. This was not a rejection of Osnat; it was a temporary leave, to enable Osnat to grow up in a new environment where she could blossom. To symbolize the unbreakable and enduring bond of unconditional love and acceptance, Jacob fashioned and gave Osnat a medallion to wear. It was engraved with the name of G-d[xii] and recorded her lineage as the progeny of Israel[xiii]. Osnat wore it wherever she went and it proved to be most useful on that fateful day when she encountered Joseph[xiv] in Egypt.
Joseph was a single Hebrew in Egypt[xv] and he was so alone, until he met Osnat. Imagine how Joseph felt when he discovered Osnat, the daughter of his former master Potiphar, was adopted and she, like Joseph, was a member of the children of Israel. Joseph acutely felt his rejection by his brothers. Meeting Osnat, his kith and kin, was pure drama.
Osnat too was alone in Egypt and had also been rejected by Joseph’s brothers. It was a fateful encounter[xvi]. Imagine how Osnat felt when she met Joseph. The medallion Jacob had given her was proof they shared the same family legacy and destiny.
Both Joseph and Osnat had overcome extreme challenges in their early life to become extraordinary individuals. Their common experiences of prejudice and rejection by family did not pervert their joie de vivre or color their opinion of one another. Instead, they recognized the shared values they each treasured, married and established a home and relationship of trust together.
Osnat and Joseph bore two sons, Ephraim and Menashe[xvii], together. Unusually, the Bible doesn’t only mention this once it mentions both Osnat and Joseph, as the parents of the two boys, twice. This was the kind of noteworthy mention reserved for those of the status of the Matriarchs. In a certain sense though, Osnat shared this exalted status, inasmuch, as her sons were treated as if they were fully sons of Jacob, not just grandchildren. Thus, after Jacob comes to Egypt, he meets and famously blesses Ephraim and Menashe, considering them as if they were his own sons, as noted below.
Interestingly, Osnat is prominently featured in the Bible[xviii] in relation to her position as a member of the Royal court, as the spouse of Joseph and the mother of Ephraim and Menashe. Yet, her membership in the family of Jacob is only hinted at in the Bible.
It is suggested there are a number of possible allusions to her, including in relation to the reference to Dinah being among the daughters of Leah[xix]. The Biblical text only explicitly makes reference to Dinah; no other daughter is named. However, the verse does not use the singular form ‘daughter’, but rather the plural form, ‘daughters’. In this regard, it is important to note that a grandchild is considered the equivalent of a child[xx].
The Talmud[xxi] also notes that the Biblical text used the extra word “es” in reference to Dinah being the daughter. It infers that, therefore, there was an unmentioned other daughter in addition to Dinah. The Talmud describes this person as matching or a twin to Dinah. Perhaps, though, the person was Dinah’s daughter, Osnat, who, in effect matched her. As a granddaughter of Leah, she was also deemed her daughter, like Dinah.
The unmentioned seventieth member of the children of Israel might have been Osnat. This seems to be the simplest answer to the quandary posed by the Talmud[xxii], Midrash[xxiii] and so many commentators[xxiv] on the Bible. Interestingly, the Talmud, Midrash and most commentators suggest a number of other possibilities as to the identity of the unnamed seventieth person. These include, Yocheved, who was a great granddaughter of Leah (through her son Levi). She was reportedly conceived before the Jacob and his family left Israel and born as they entered Egypt.
However, it is suggested the more natural answer appears to be Osnat. Indeed, as the Bible[xxv] notes the family entering Egypt with Jacob was composed of sixty-six named individuals. In the very next verse[xxvi] it goes on to say, that Joseph and his two sons made seventy. However, absent considering Osnat, this only yields a total of sixty-nine people. Given, that the Bible goes out of its way to report elsewhere that the parents of the two sons were Joseph and Osnat, it is suggested that implicit in the count was Osnat, the mother of the two boys.
Interestingly, Targum Yonatan makes reference to Osnat in his translation and commentary on the Biblical verse[xxvii] where Joseph introduces his sons Ephraim and Menashe to be blessed by his father Jacob. Although Osnat is not explicitly mentioned in this verse, the Targum adds that Joseph also told his father about how he married Osnat, the mother of the boys and her lineage, as the daughter of Dina, Jacob’s daughter. Jacob’s response was to ask Joseph to bring the boys near and he would bless them.
It is suggested as the granddaughter and hence daughter of Jacob she was entitled to be a part of the count of the seventy family members. The fact that Jacob explicitly considered her sons as his own[xxviii] also supports this conclusion.
I must say I was more than a little concerned about my suggestion that Osnat was the unnamed seventieth person. I continued to search through the many traditional Biblical commentators to find someone who also reached this conclusion. I am most pleased to report that Rav Yaakov Tzvi Mecklenburg[xxix] in his HaKtav VeHaKabbalah[xxx] commentary on the Bible takes this position.
Osnat achieved so much. She enjoyed much success, had an exalted position and role in Egypt and received warm acceptance by Jacob and the family[xxxi]. She may have preferred an air of mystery and perhaps anonymity about her origin. Why open old wounds? Why expose herself and her family to the possibility of inappropriate and unkind gossip? She moved beyond all these issues. She was no longer a victim; she was healed. A mere allusion instead of an explicit reference to her relationship to the family was sufficient.
As G-d orchestrated and Jacob appreciated so many years ago, the object is to heal people; not use them to promote a cause. Osnat and Joseph each faced extreme challenges and refused to become victims.
They provide us all with the hope that people can heal. We should devote ourselves to helping those in need in the manner best adapted to accomplishing this result. One size does not fit all. Each individual is unique and it is critical to recognize this when trying to help someone. Thus, Jacob provided each of his children with custom tailored blessings[xxxii] to suit their individual needs. May G-d protect each of us from any harm and may we merit G-d’s blessings.
[i] Genesis, Chapter 34.
[ii] Minor Tractate Soferim, at the end of Chapter 21.
[iii] Pirke D’Rebbe Eliezer, Chapter 38 and Yalkut Shimoni, Remez 134.
[iv] Targum Yonatan on Genesis, Verses 41:45, 46:20 and 48:9.
[v] Supra note i.
[vi] Genesis 46:15.
[vii] Genesis 46:6-27.
[viii] See Genesis Rabbah 80. See also Legends of the Jews 2:1:74.
[ix] Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Bava Batra, at page 15b.
[x] Pirke D’Rebbe Eliezar 38.
[xi] See, for example, Chizkuni commentary on Genesis 41:45.
[xii] Pirke D’Rebbe Eliezar 38.
[xiii] See Rabbeinu Bachya commentary on Genesis 41:45. Israel is the name that G-d gave Jacob, as recorded in Genesis 35:10. As a result, we are referred to as the children of Israel.
[xiv] Pirke D’Rebbe Eliezar 38.
[xv] Genesis 41:12.
[xvi] Pirke D’Rebbe Eliezar 36 and Yalkut Shimoni 125.
[xvii] Genesis 41:50 and 46:20.
[xviii] Genesis 41:45, 41:50 and 46:20.
[xix] Genesis 48:15.
[xx] Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Yevamot, page 62b.
[xxi] Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Bava Batra, page 123a.
[xxii] Babylonian Talmud, Tractates Bava Batra, pages 120a and 123a-b, as well as, Sotah, page 12a.
[xxiii] Genesis Rabbah 94:9, Numbers Rabbah 3:8, Midrash Tanchuma 16:1 and Pesikta D’Rav Kahanna 11:12.
[xxiv] See, for example, Rashi, Rabbeinu Bachya, Chizkuni, Radak, Ralbag and Rashbam commentaries on Genesis 46:26 and 46:15, as well as, Ramban commentary on Genesis 46:15. .
[xxv] Genesis 46:26.
[xxvi] Genesis 46:27.
[xxvii] Genesis 48:9.
[xxviii] Genesis 48:5.
[xxix] A 19th Century German Rabbi and scholar.
[xxx] In this commentary on Genesis 46:20, as well as, on Exodus 1:5.
[xxxi] See Genesis Rabbah 92:5 and Midrash Tanchuma, Parshat VaYigash 4:9, as well as, Rashi commentary on Genesis 43:34. Osnat was at the dinner with Joseph and his brothers, including Benjamin. See also Targum Yonatan on Genesis 48:9. See further Otzar Midrashshim, Midrash Yelamdenu 29, which reports it was Osnat who took care of Jacob in Egypt.
[xxxii] Genesis, Chapter 49.