Osnat and Joseph were the power couple of ancient Biblical Egypt.
The Bible does not explicitly discuss Osnat’s life, beyond marrying Joseph and bearing Ephraim and Menashe[iv]. She appears shrouded in mystery. Pharaoh named Joseph Tzafnat Paneach, which is interpreted[v] to mean the explainer or revealer of secrets or hidden things. In contrast, Osnat might fairly be referred to as the trusted keeper of secrets.
The Midrash records Osnat was really the adopted daughter[vi] of Potiphera. The Talmud[vii] notes Potiphera was actually Potiphar, Joseph’s erstwhile master[viii]. Thus, Osnat and Joseph lived in the same household, where Joseph was a slave and Osnat was already considered a royal.
Even then, Osnat was there for Joseph, behind the scenes. The Midrash[ix] reports, in the aftermath of the incident[x] when Potiphar’s wife Zulycah[xi] tried to seduce Joseph, it was Osnat who stood up for Joseph. Potiphar, upon first learning of the sordid affair, was initially determined to execute Joseph. However, Osnat intervened and secretly testified to Potiphar, swearing to him as to the truth of Joseph’s innocence. It appears Potiphar did have his doubts[xii], because he ultimately placed Joseph in the special prison reserved for royals[xiii].
The Midrash notes Osnat’s actions were particularly meritorious. Consider, she was taking a real risk becoming personally involved in this matter. She was defending Joseph against the interests of her adoptive mother, who by virtue of her power and position was presumed to be telling the truth. She was also arguing with her powerful adoptive father, a high government official, in defense of a slave. This was despite the fact that Potiphar preferred just to execute Joseph and cover-up the entire embarrassing incident. Her courage and mettle in defending the innocent Joseph is truly inspirational and because of her Joseph was spared. The Midrash goes on to report that G-d took note of her virtuous conduct in saving Joseph and rewarded her by making her the progenitor of the two Tribes fated to be born to Joseph.
Osnat played a number of important roles in the background. She was present[xiv] when Joseph made the feast for his brothers[xv]. She was also there to care for Jacob[xvi]. Indeed, as Jacob’s caregiver, it was Osnat[xvii] who likely sent word to Joseph that Jacob was dying and to come and bring the kids, Ephraim and Menashe, along to be blessed.
Osnat was also present[xviii] in the room that fateful day, when Jacob attempted to bless Joseph and their two sons, Ephraim and Menashe. The Midrash[xix] goes on to discuss her essential role in achieving the blessing. It seems that Jacob balked when he first tried to bless the boys. There appeared to be an interruption in Jacob’s connection to the Divine Presence[xx], known as Ruach HaKodesh, which guided his blessings to achieve the appropriate outcome. Joseph was afraid this occurred because he lacked some merit. He, therefore, touted Osnat and her merit[xxi], as worthy of blessing. Jacob seemed to acquiesce, but before he applied himself again, he asked that Osnat present her marriage documents[xxii]. This she did and then Jacob was able successfully to bless the kids.
The scene depicted in the Midrashic sources is surreal. Jacob had no problem[xxiii] blessing the other brothers[xxiv]; why did he experience so profound a problem here? Moreover, Joseph was known as the saintly one[xxv], what additional quality did Osnat bring to the table that enabled the blessing to occur? Indeed, if her role was so essential, why is she not explicitly mentioned in the Biblical text? Furthermore, why the sudden concern about a Ketubah[xxvi]? Indeed, why mention this detail at all, unless it satisfied some critical requirement to facilitate the granting of the blessing; and, if so, then what was it?
It is submitted that there is a science to the process of granting blessings, as prescribed by the Talmud[xxvii] and Zohar[xxviii]. Thus, the granting of blessings are not some abstract exercise, they must be anchored on something tangible to be effective. Moreover, they are not typically effectuated in a public spectacle; rather they are a private matter, hidden from public view[xxix].
The Talmud[xxx] reports that one indication of blessing is the confluence of a home, spouse and children. It is suggested that their tangible presence together might also serve as the fulcrum upon which to lever a flow of blessings from on high. Jacob, at the time, no longer had a spouse; both Rachel and Leah having passed on long before his descent to Egypt[xxxi]. He was also not in his own home in the Land of Israel. By the time he took ill, he was likely residing in Joseph’s home, under the tender loving care of his granddaughter Osnat, Joseph’s spouse. Therefore, it was Joseph’s home and together with his spouse and children, who were then before Jacob, which enabled Jacob to be divinely inspired to bless Ephraim and Menashe. He only had to confirm one more salient fact; to wit: that Joseph and Osnat were legally married, in accordance with Halacha, with a proper Ketubah[xxxii]. The proverbial table was set to receive blessings. The fact that Osnat’s role is not overtly mentioned in the Bible provides cover for her critical role in this process. She was the hidden source of blessing.
Osnat’s covert role in a number of seminal events in the Bible is a treasure of Midrashic lore. It began with her origin. As the Talmud[xxxiii], Midrash[xxxiv] and Targum[xxxv] 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[xxxvi]. Publicity served no positive benefit in her case, especially given the risk of generating notoriety, instead. She was already experiencing a toxic atmosphere at home with the family[xxxvii]. Jacob, her grandfather, recognized the problem and personally intervened to help her heal. She needed some time apart from the family to shake off the unfair image she was tagged with, because of the unfortunate circumstances of her conception. She also needed time and space, unfettered by this burden, to realize her wonderful potential. This included confidentiality and even a measure of anonymity in order to make a fresh start[xxxviii].
This was not a rejection of Osnat; it was a temporary leave. Jacob made provision for her to travel to Egypt and be cared for in Potiphar’s house[xxxix]. 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[xl] and recorded her lineage as the progeny of Israel[xli]. Osnat wore it wherever she went and it proved to be most useful on that momentous day when she encountered Joseph[xlii], in his new role as Viceroy of Egypt.
Joseph was a single Hebrew in Egypt[xliii] and he was so alone, until he married 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[xliv] by Joseph’s brothers. It was a fateful encounter[xlv]. Imagine how Osnat felt when she met Joseph. The medallion Jacob had given her was proof they both had the same family legacy and destiny.
Joseph and Osnat had each 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.
As noted above, Osnat and Joseph bore two sons, Ephraim and Menashe[xlvi]. Unusually, the Bible doesn’t only state this once it references both Osnat and Joseph, as the parents of the two boys, twice. This is the kind of noteworthy mention reserved for those of the status of the Matriarchs. In a certain sense, Osnat shared this exalted status, inasmuch, as Jacob declared her sons would be treated as if they were fully his own sons[xlvii], not just his grandchildren.
It is also suggested that Osnat was the seemingly[xlviii] unmentioned seventieth member of the children of Israel[xlix] who went down to Egypt[l]. This appears to be the simplest answer to the quandary posed by the Talmud[li], Midrash[lii] and so many commentators[liii] on the Bible, who suggest other solutions[liv]. However, the more natural answer is Osnat. Indeed, as the Bible[lv] notes, the family entering Egypt with Jacob was composed of sixty-six named individuals. In the very next verse[lvi] 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 name both Joseph and Osnat, as the parents of Ephraim and Menashe, in this Biblical text[lvii], it is submitted that Osnat was an implicit part of the count. As the granddaughter and, hence by tradition, the equivalent of a daughter of Jacob, she, like her mother Dinah[lviii], was entitled to be counted as a part of the seventy family members.
Osnat did much good during her life and enjoyed genuine success. She also had great merit and enabled an abundance of blessings for her family.
When it comes to blessings, 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[lix] to suit their individual needs.
Don’t underestimate the hidden role many play in what is sometimes mistakenly viewed as the individual success of one prominent figure. In any partnership or enterprise, there are often one or more unsung heroes, who play a more circumspect, yet vital, role. Who knows who is the actual source of blessing that powers the success of the venture? It may be some otherwise non-descript individual hiding in plain sight.
The truly wise recognize the critical nature of everyone’s contribution in a team effort; and marriage is no exception. Joseph wisely recognized Osnat was the hidden source of blessing and the result was one of the most endearing and fortunate partnerships in history. May we all merit G-d’s blessings.
[i] Genesis 41:38-45.
[ii] Genesis 41:45.
[iii] Ibid, Targum Yonatan, which records Potiphera was also the Prince of Tanis.
[iv] Genesis 41:50 and 46:20.
[v] Rashi, Ramban and Rabbeinu Bachya commentaries on Genesis 41:45.
[vi] See Genesis Rabbah 86:3 and Midrash Aggadah. Zulycah, Potihar’s wife was barren, according to the Pirke D’Rabbi Eliezar 38:2 and Yalkut Shimoni on the Torah 134:1. See also Rashi and Chizkuni commentaries on Genesis 41:45.
[vii] BT Sota 13b, which reports Potiphar’s name was feminized to Potiphera, after he was emasculated.
[viii] Genesis 39:1
[ix] Yalkut Shimoni on the Torah 146:3.
[x] Genesis, Chapter 39.
[xi] Her name is set forth in the description of the incident in Sefer HaYashar, Genesis, Vayeshev 17-20.
[xii] Sefer HaYashar (Genesis, Vayeshev 19) reports the priestly court examining the matter wondered why, if Joseph was the aggressor and Zulycah the victim, was only Joseph’s garment torn.
[xiii] See Genesis 39:20 and Ralbag commentary thereon, as well as, the most interesting analysis by the Chizkuni and in Sefer HaYashar, Genesis, Vayeshev 19 regarding the exculpatory evidence in favor of Joseph. See also Midrash Aggadah, Genesis 39:20. Cf. Radak, on Genesis 39:20.
[xiv] See Genesis Rabbah 92:5 and Midrash Tanchuma, Parshat VaYigash 4:9, as well as, Rashi commentary on Genesis 43:34.
[xv] Genesis, Chapter 43.
[xvi] Otzar Midrashim, Midrash Yelamdenu 29.
[xviii] Targum Yonatan on Genesis 48:9 and Midrash Aggadah, Genesis 48:8.
[xix] Midrash Aggadah, Genesis 48:8
[xx] Midrash Tanchuma 6:7.
[xxi] See Pesikta Rabbati 3:1 and note Zohar 167b:7.
[xxii] Midrash Aggadah, Genesis 48:8. See also Rashi commentary on Genesis 48:9.
[xxiii] Although, he was frustrated in his attempt to reveal to his sons when the end of the days (Genesis 49:1) and ultimate redemption would occur, because his connection to the Divine Presence was interrupted to prevent him from doing so (See BT Pesachim 56a, Genesis Rabbah 99:5, Midrash Tanchuma, Vayechi 8:1 and Midrash Aggadah 49:1).
[xxiv] Genesis, Chapter 49.
[xxv] In Hebrew, Yosef HaTzaddik.
[xxvi] A Halachically required marriage document, which specifies the support and other duties and obligations of a husband to a wife.
[xxvii] See BT Sanhedrin 92a and Rashi commentary thereon. See also Yalkut Shimoni on Torah 938:59. See further Derashot HaRan 8:14; Abarbanel and Malbim commentaries on II Kings 4:2; Tur HaAruch on Exodus 25:23 and Recanati on the Torah, Terumah 8.
[xxviii] Zohar 3:34a:10, 1:88a:3, 2:153b:5, 2:157b:8 and 2:87b:5.
[xxix] BT Ta’anit 8b and Bava Metzia 42a. See also Maharal of Prague, Gevurot Hashem 20:6.
[xxx] BT Chulin 95b.
[xxxi] Rachel died in childbirth, as Benjamin, Joseph’s younger brother, was born (Genesis 35:17-18) and Leah died before Joseph was sold (See Seder Olam Rabbah Chapter 2).
[xxxii] See Rabbeinu Bachya commentary on Numbers 6:23. See also Midrash Aggadah 48:8, which relates the Ketubah to the legitimacy of the children to be blessed as the product of a Halachically proper marriage.
[xxxiii] Minor Tractate Soferim, at the end of Chapter 21.
[xxxiv] Pirke D’Rabbi Eliezer, Chapter 38 and Yalkut Shimoni, Remez 134.
[xxxv] Targum Yonatan on Genesis, Verses 41:45, 46:20 and 48:9.
[xxxvi] It is suggested there are a number of possible allusions to Osnat, including in relation to the reference to Dinah being among the daughters of Leah (Genesis 48:15). 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 (BT Yevamot 62b). The Talmud (BT Bava Batra 123a) also notes that the Biblical text used the extra word “et” in reference to Dinah being the daughter. It infers that, therefore, there was an unmentioned other daughter in addition to Dinah. However, see Pirke D’Rabbi Eliezer 36:12, which notes that Dinah and Joseph were not born with twins, as were the other children of Jacob. The Talmud describes this person as matching or a twin to Dinah. Perhaps, 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.
[xxxvii] Pirke D’Rabbi Eliezer 38.
[xxxviii] See, for example, Chizkuni commentary on Genesis 41:45.
[xxxix] Pirke D’Rabbi Eliezer 38.
[xli] 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.
[xlii] Pirke D’Rabbi Eliezer 38.
[xliii] Genesis 41:12.
[xliv] Pirke D’Rabbi Eliezer 38.
[xlv] Pirke D’Rabbi Eliezer 36 and Yalkut Shimoni 125.
[xlvi] Genesis 41:50 and 46:20.
[xlvii] Genesis 48:5.
[xlviii] She actually is mentioned in Genesis 46:20.
[xlix] Genesis 46:6-27.
[l] HaKtav VeHaKabbalah commentary on Genesis 46:20, as well as, on Exodus 1:5, by Rav Yaakov Tzvi Mecklenburg (a noted 19th century German Rabbi and scholar).
[li] Babylonian Talmud, Tractates Bava Batra, pages 120a and 123a-b, as well as, Sotah, page 12a.
[lii] Genesis Rabbah 94:9, Numbers Rabbah 3:8, Midrash Tanchuma 16:1 and Pesikta D’Rav Kahanna 11:12.
[liii] 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. .
[liv] The Talmud, Midrash and most commentators, noted above, 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 Jacob and his family left Israel and born as they entered Egypt.
[lv] Genesis 46:26.
[lvi] Genesis 46:27.
[lvii] Genesis 46:20.
[lviii] Genesis 46:15.
[lix] Genesis, Chapter 49.