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Torah Portion

Weekly Torah Portion: What’s in a Name?

Giza Pyramids in Egypt. (Photo: Ricardo Liberato/ Wiki Commons)

Giza Pyramids in Egypt. (Photo: Ricardo Liberato/ Wiki Commons)

The following is a taste of our Israel Bible Reading Plan. Follow the weekly portion with summaries, insights and lively conversation. To register, click here.

Pharaoh awakens one night from a terrifying dream, but none of the interpretations of his advisors satisfies him. His butler recalls a Hebrew youth from prison who successfully interpreted his own dream two years earlier, and Joseph is cleaned up and brought before Pharaoh. Pharaoh tells of seven fat cows devoured by seven skinny cows, and seven healthy ears of grain consumed by their sickly counterparts. Joseph determines that God has chosen to warn Pharaoh that He is sending seven years of unprecedented bounty followed by seven years of unprecedented famine. A wise man, he tells the king, would heed the warning and use the years of plenty to prepare for the famine ahead. Impressed by the youth’s wisdom, Pharaoh appoints him viceroy over Egypt, second in command only to himself. He gives Joseph a royal moniker — Tzafnat Paneach — and the hand of Asenath the daughter of Poti-phera in marriage. She bears him two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim.

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Joseph implements a taxation plan over the people, collecting produce to save for the lean years. When the famine hits, the people cry out to Pharaoh for food, and he sends them to Joseph, who sells it to them. Word spreads, and people from the surrounding region begin to pour into Egypt seeking food.

The Israel Bible discusses the names Joseph gives his children. While Manasseh’s name indicates Joseph has finally been comforted for the suffering he experienced, Ephraim’s name underscores Joseph’s realization that Egypt is still the land of his affliction. According to Don Isaac Abarbanel, despite his status in Egypt, Joseph knows it is not where he truly belongs. He still longs to return to his father’s house in the Land of Israel.

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