Vayigash 2021: From Gentile to Jew Without Conversion

by devadmin | December 9, 2021 8:51 pm

Raboyseyee and Ladies, 

We begin with sincere and heartfelt mazel tov wishes to Simi Flegmann, he, a true ben-Toirah and the outstanding son of Robi, A’H and Suri Flegmann upon his upcoming aufruf this Shabbis and wedding this coming Sunday. The Flegmanns graciously host the regularly scheduled Friday night and Shabbis Mincha minyan on Monroe Street. Simi will be marrying Miri Edelstein, the beautiful daughter of Shaindy and Yoeli Edelstein.

A big mazel tov to the entire extended Felder, Flegmann, Edelstein and Fuchs families. Back in the 1980’s the future Ois enjoyed many a Shabbis meal with Miri’s grandparents and our friends Hannah and Berish Fuchs. The heylige Ois and eishes Chayil look forward to participating in this great simcha.  


From Gentile to Jew Without Conversion:

Welcome to Parshas Vayigash where a 22-year-old missing-person cold case heats up quickly and is solved in a flash. The medrish tells us that a flash it taka was when Yoisef pulled his pants down to prove his Jewish identity to his brothers. Mamish? So says Rashi; want to argue? Medroshim run wild this week, a few will be shared in this expanded review. Why expanded? Because they are amazing! Moreover, it’s the Ois’s bar mitzvah parsha.  Shoin.  Long thought dead or otherwise permanently disposed of, Yoisef is very much alive and is now the viceroy of Egypt. He is second in command. The surprise and long overdue reunions with his brothers and later his father, is described in detail. Now approximately 30 years old and still single –seemingly dateless in over a decade- Paroy himself will introduce and seemingly have Yoisef marry Osnas bas Potiphera, a nice shiksa, the daughter of an Egyptian family. Together, they will have two children. The dynamic duo of Menashe and Ephraim are shouted out several times in the Toirah.

The heylige Toirah (41:45) provides some information into her background and tells us that Osnas was the daughter of “Potifera, priest of Oin.” This last detail will be further discussed below. Bas Potiphera? Who the hec was Potiphera? Back in Parshas Vayeshev we learned that Yoisef was enslaved to a Mr. Potiphar, ober this week the heylige Toirah tells us that his father-in-law was Mr. Potiphera? Were the Potiphars and the Potipheras related? Or, were they the same family or person? This factoid is hotly debated and says the Rashbam, azoy: this man, Potifera, must not be confused with Potiphar, the man whom Yoisef had served until his wife falsely accused him of trying to sexually abuse her. Why not? It’s poshit: the names may have sounded alike but they were in fact different people. Gross is not Grossman and “Potiphar” and “Potifera” too are different. Moreover, they had different titles. The heylige Toirah tells us that Potiphar was the “sar ha-tabochim” (“chief butcher” or “chief executioner” 37:36), whereas Potifera is described as “koihen Oin” – (the priest of Oin.) It is seemingly a case of similar sounding names involving two different people. Settled? Not!  Why not? Because Rashi, and most other commentators, maintain that Yoisef indeed married the daughter of Potiphar, his former master who underwent a name change to better fit the facts below, if you chap, and his new physicality. What new facts below? Medrish will  creatively tell us that Potiphar had become emasculated, his junk, if you chap, removed and as a result, became Potiphera. And long before the term transgender was to become known and then popularized, Potiphar the he, became Poitifera the she. And if that’s how it went down, or off, Potiphar was now more in touch with his feminine side. Has the Ois gone off the reservation with this pshat? Not! Shoin, before we quote sources, let’s first try it one more time in plain English.  Potiphar, previously a real man, was no longer. What’s pshat? He had been castrated and shoin. Who did this and why? For that we go back to the medrish which tells us azoy: aside from being jealous that his wife was terribly attracted Yoisef, was himself also attracted to him and wanted Yoisef for “mishkav zochor” (homosexual relations), say it’s not so. Nu, es farshteytzich (it’s easily understood) that in his ministerial role of chief butcher, he knew good meat when he saw it, if you chap.

Who says this pshat? The heylige Ois? The medrish! Ober, why would the medrish and the Gemora engage in a debate over this very topic? It all goes back to conflicting Rashis; let’s begin with Rashi (shaded box) on 39:19 where we learn this:

19. Now it came about when his master heard his wife’s report that she spoke to him, saying, “Your slave did such things to me,” that his wrath burned. יט. וַיְהִי כִשְׁמֹעַ אֲדֹנָיו אֶת דִּבְרֵי אִשְׁתּוֹ אֲשֶׁר דִּבְּרָה אֵלָיו לֵאמֹר כַּדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה עָשָׂה לִי עַבְדֶּךָ וַיִּחַר אַפּוֹ:
Now it came about when his master heard, etc.: During intercourse she told him this, and that is the meaning of “Your slave did such things to me,” [meaning] such acts of intimacy. [Bereishis  Rabbah 87:9] ויהי כשמוע אדוניו וגו’: בשעת תשמיש אמרה לו כן, וזהו שאמרה כדברים האלה עשה לי עבדך, עניני תשמיש כאלה:

In plain English and as Rashi so eloquently told us, while Mr. & Mrs. Potiphar were pillow talking, engaged in intercourse mamish, Mrs. P told Mr. P that Yoisef did these very acts to, or with her. Of course, it stands to reason that Mr. P was not a happy camper. Ober, let’s read the Rashi from Parshas Miketz (41:45), where -in the shaded box below- Rashi tells us azoy:

45. And Paroy named Yoisef Zaphenath Pa’neach, and he gave him Osnas the daughter of Potiphera, the governor of On, for a wife, and Yoisef went forth over the land of Egypt. מה. וַיִּקְרָא פַרְעֹה שֵׁם יוֹסֵף צָפְנַת פַּעְנֵחַ וַיִּתֶּן לוֹ אֶת אָסְנַת בַּת פּוֹטִי פֶרַע כֹּהֵן אֹן לְאִשָּׁה וַיֵּצֵא יוֹסֵף עַל אֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם:
  Potiphera: He is Potiphar, but he was called Potiphera because he became emasculated since he desired Yoisef for homosexual relations. פוטי פרע: הוא פוטיפר, ונקרא פוטיפרע על שנסתרס מאליו, לפי שלקח את יוסף למשכב זכר:  

In other words: Rashi, quoting the heylige Gemora (Soita 13b) tells us that Potiphar was no longer, perhaps even somewhat shorter, if you chap, and was now Potiphera.  Says the heylige Gemora Soitah 13b. azoy:

‘And Potiphar, an officer of Paroy’s bought him’, Rab said: He bought him for himself (meaning he was physically very attracted to Yoisef), but (the malach) Gavriel came and castrated him, and then Gavriel came and mutilated him [pera’], for originally his name is written Potiphar but afterwards Potiphera.

What’s going on here? Who is Gavriel? Moreover, efsher you’re wondering azoy: If Potiphar had become emasculated, then how could he have engaged in intercourse with his wife?! Says Rav Levi Yitzchak of Berditchiv so gishmak azoy: the incident with his wife was before he was emasculated. So happens that we did read that Rashi two parshas earlier. And the reason he was not yet emasculated was to give opportunity to this wicked man to believe his wife’s words. And Gavriel? He was/is the Malach Hashem (an archangel of the RBSO) who is sent down to earth from time to time to conduct specific tactical missions. Gavriel will be back soon, stay tuned.

Do these two Rashis and quotes from the medrish and Gemora have your head spinning? They should. Efsher we can also ask azoy: we know that Yoisef had been enslaved to Potiphar for quite a while before the incident with Mrs. Potiphar, and yet the assault by the Malach Gavriel was not intended as punishment, but rather as a preventative measure to protect Yoisef? Is it shayich (logical to think) that Potiphar who seemingly bought Yosef in large part to have intercourse with him, would not have taken action once he was so able?  Was Potiphar ever successful in getting Yoisef to engage with him sexually? Did the angel Gavriel come down to punish Potiphar by emasculating him as punishment? Or, did he come down to prevent Yoisef from being violated? And the answer? Ver veyst? One thing is certain: Rashi does quote conflicting events from two different sources.

Let us also check out this Ramban who asks azoy: how could Potiphar’s wife have said that Yoisef did “kadevarim ha’eyleh” (this and that as you’re doing to me now) during actual intercourse? Potiphar -or any other husband- would rightfully have been furious that she hadn’t screamed to scare Yoisef away before he got that far! Ober Raman answers his own question by suggesting that it was merely “mishmush yadayim,” (he used his hands only), if you chap, something that Potiphar was capable of despite his emasculation and which would exonerate her for not screaming earlier. Many are of course familiar with “mishmush yodayim,” if you chap. And if the Ramban’s question and answer didn’t shock you, check this out from the Da’as Zekainim M’Ba’alei HaToisfis who say that Potiphar was emasculated in such a way that prevented him from engaging in sodomy (with Yoisef) but still allowed him to engage in relations with his wife. Well, blow me down! Exactly how or what worked and didn’t ver veyst, but who are we to argue with the Da’as Zikeynim; we must of course respect our elders.

The bottom line: exactly who Potiphera was or wasn’t, and what he or she was capable of, or not in the bedroom, is taka important but not as critical as this next factoid. Osnas was a daughter to one of the families. Which one? Ver veyst.

On the other hand, was she a real daughter? A biological one? More below.  Who was Yoisef’s real father-in-law? Ver Veyst? Shoin, let’s make believe that taka we side with Rashi and that Yoisef then married Potiphar’s daughter and that Potiphar was married to Mrs. Potiphar, she the same person who tried valiantly to seduce Yoisef before accusing him of sexual abuse to efsher include attempted rape. And the shaylo is azoy: why would Yoisef consent to marry Osnas the daughter of his accuser, the very person who had him locked up for over a decade? Taka an excellent question. We must assume that Yoisef had hard feelings, if you chap. Ober the question is not good enough for our sages of the heylige Gemora and medrish who also gave this much thought. And while several answers are proffered, we shall leave those for another day as our topic of interest is Osnas and her background.

Whomever his in-laws were, no one argues that Yoisef married Osnas and had two boys from the union. An no one disputes that both children were well-liked by their grandfather and that both went on to become tribal leaders -shvotim mamish.

So far so good until our sages of the medrish turned ghostly white when they read that Yoisef married a shiksa from an Egyptian family. Yoisef married the shiksa daughter of an Egyptian priest? Say it’s not so! He married a girl who grew up worshipping Egyptian deities? She did! Yikes! Is that what the RBSO had in mind when He allowed Yaakov to appoint Menashe and Ephraim as tribal leaders? Was the RBSO ok with the fact that at least two of the shvotim would be married to shiksas? Let’s recall that Yehudah married a “bas K’nani.” Is the heylige Toirah telling us that Yoisef haTzadik (the righteous), the same person who was able to withstand and rebuff sexual advances from Mrs. Potiphar would then then marry out? Say it’s not so please. Would Yoisef’s two children, born to a shiksa -goyim mamish- have gone on to become the source of the famous brocho we bestow on our children Friday nights? Would Yaakov have declared that Yoisef’s children are considered his and each given his own sheyvet to run were the boys but two shkotzim? Goyim mamish? How did this come about?

And the answer in one word is a big no to all these questions. The heylige Gemora and the medrish could not stomach the thought and therefore banished it. Menashe and Ephraim could not possibly have been born to a non-Jewish shiksa. Ober, what to do when the Toirah itself tells us that Osnas, Yoisef’s wife was the daughter of Potiphera? Was Potiphera Jewish? Not! Is there mention of her conversion? Not!  Ober not to worry because the medrish pondered all these questions and gave the thought of a non-Jewish Osnas, a resounding thumbs down. It could not be! Fartig! But it was so, and so the heylige Toirah tells us befeirush (in the text itself). What to do? How could Osnas the daughter of a shiksa Potiphera be Jewish when her mother clearly wasn’t? Not to worry!

Our sages of the medrish were mamish in a quandary over this issue. They could not change the text of the Toirah heaven forbid, but what they could do, and what they did do, was go back, create a back story, a prequel so to speak, and find a clever way for Yoisef’s kids to have become Jewish without a conversion. In fact, when all was said and done, Osnas and Yoisef’s children were suddenly not just Jewish, but also Jewish from birth. And once Osnas was Jewish from birth, she was suddenly Yaakov’s own granddaughter. And that’s why Raboyseyee, you have to love our sages of the medrish. They were an incredible bunch with unlimited intellect and above all, imagination. Well, blow me down: And that’s how and why those who study the heylige Toirah, Gemora and medrish, have their wits about them, and the wherewithal to mamish rewrite history while never arguing directly with the text. And because it’s the heylige Ois’s bar mitzvah parsha, he will regale you with some beautiful medrish on how Osnas was not only Jewish from birth, but also a key player (notwithstanding her youth) in saving Yoisef’s life from imminent death.

Let’s begin with what we know as factual. The Heylige Toirah tells us when Yoisef was elevated to the very pinnacle of power in Mitzrayim as Paroy’s Viceroy, he married Osnas the daughter of Potiphera, the Minister of Oin. The Heylige Toirah does not explicitly discuss Osnas’s life, beyond marrying Yoisef and bearing Ephraim and Menashe. She appears shrouded in mystery. Given the lack of information -what the Ois typically refers to as a huge lacuna- various medroshim came along and used literary license to fill in the blanks. Says the medrish (Bereishis Rabbah 86:3, Midrash Aggadah, Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer 38:2, Yalkut Shimoni on the Toirah 134:1, Rashi and Chizkuni commentaries on Bereshis 41:45) that Zulycah, Potiphar’s wife was barren. Shoin.  Because she was barren, she and Mr. Potiphar -efsher the first Ohel parents- went out and adopted a nice Jewish girl by the name of Osnas who just happened to be Yaakov’s own granddaughter.  What could be more gishmak? But it gets better: The heylige Gemora (Soitah 13b) notes Potiphera was actually Potiphar, Yoisef’s erstwhile master. Thus, Osnas, a nice Jewish girl from birth, and Yoisef, a nice Jewish young man in his late teens, uncle and niece mamish, lived in the same household, where Yoisef was a slave and Osnas was already considered a royal. Mamish amazing! How did Osnas get there? Hold on, we will address that below.

There’s more: Osnas had Yoisef’s back behind the scenes. Says the medrish (Yalkut Shimoni 146:3), azoy:  in the aftermath of the incident when Potiphar’s wife Zulycah tried to seduce Yoisef, it was Osnas who stood up for Yoisef. (Seemingly he would not stand up for Mrs. Potiphar, if you chap.) Potiphar, upon first learning of the sordid affair, was initially determined to execute Yoisef. However, Osnas intervened and secretly testified to Potiphar, swearing to him that Yoisef was innocent. She was convincing. Moreover, it appears Potiphar did have his doubts, because he ultimately placed Yoisef in the special white-collar prison reserved for royals and ministers. Says who? Check out Sefer HaYoshor (Bereishis, Vayeshev 19) which reports how the priestly court examining the matter wondered why, if Yoisef was the aggressor and Zulycah the victim, was only Yoisef’s garment torn. Excellent detective work!

The medrish notes Osnas’s actions were particularly meritorious. How so? She took real risk becoming personally involved in this matter. She defended Yoisef against the interests of her adoptive mother, who by virtue of her power and position was presumed to be telling the truth. She also argued with her powerful adoptive father, a high government official in defense of a slave.  All this, despite the fact that Potiphar preferred just to execute Yoisef and cover-up the entire embarrassing incident. Her courage and mettle in defending the innocent Yoisef was truly inspirational and because of her Yoisef was spared. The medrish goes on to report that the RBSO took note of her virtuous conduct in saving Yoisef and rewarded her by making her his wife and the progenitor of the two shvotim fated to be born to them. Wait! Adoptive mother and father? Osnas was not a natural born child but instead an adopted daughter? Well, blow me down. Doesn’t the heylige Toirah refer to her as the daughter of Potiphera? It does! Back to that medrish soon, ober listen to this:

Rashi quoting the medrish (Bereishis Rabbah 92:5, Tanchuma, VaYigash 4:9, as well as Rashi commentary on Bereishis 43:34) also tells us that Osnas played a number of important roles in the background. She was present when Yoisef made the feast for his brothers. Says Rashi: חמש ידות FIVE TIMES — His own portion that was due to him alike with his brothers and additional portions given to him by Yoisef, Osnas, Menashe and Ephraim. Says another medrish (Midrash Yelamdenu 29) that Osnas was also there to care for Yaacov. Indeed, as Yaacov’s caregiver, it was Osnas who likely sent word to Yoisef – next week’s parsha- that Yaacov was dying and to come and bring the kids, Ephraim and Menashe to receive final brochis before his passing.

And says the heylige Zoihar in several places (1:88a:3, 2:153b:5, 2:157b:8 and 2:87b:5) that Osnas was present in the room that fateful day, when Yaacov attempted to bless Yoisef and their two sons, Ephraim and Menashe.  It seems that Yaacov balked when he first tried to bless the boys. There appeared to be an interruption in Yaacov’s connection to the Divine Presence, (his Ruach HaKoidesh), which guided his blessings to achieve the appropriate outcome. Yoisef was afraid this occurred because he lacked some merit. He therefore touted Osnas and her merit, as worthy of blessing. Yaacov seemed to acquiesce, but before he applied himself again, he asked that Osnas present her marriage documents. This she did and then Yaacov was able successfully to bless the kids. That entire story and much more medrish on Yoisef’s marriage certificate for another time.

The bottom lines: Osnas’s covert role in a number of seminal events in the heylige Toirah is medrish treasure; gold mamish. It began with her origin. As recorded in the heylige Gemora, Medrish, and Targum, Osnas was an innocent child born to her mother Dinah, a victim of sexual assault by that swine Shechem. So upset were her brothers, they wiped out the entire city. Ober, what to do about little Osnas who was a constant reminder of indignation and illegitimacy? Were the righteous brothers ready to accept her? Listen to this: Says the Chizkuni quoting the medrish in Torah Shilema azoy:  Yaakov hid her because his sons wanted to kill her. The holy shvotim-to be- wanted to do what? Here we go again, oy vey and what to do? Yaakov sent Osnas away because she wasn’t exactly legitimate even though she was a Jewish child from a Jewish mother? Oy vey!  Says Pirkei D’Rebbe Eliezer azoy:  Yaakov sent her away seemingly to save her life, and she hid behind a bush. And if all that’s emes and of course it’s possible, how did Osnas get to Egypt in the first place? Says another medrish azoy: Yaakov tied a locket or medallion around her neck which stated she was his granddaughter. And then? The malach Gavriel was given a new assignment. He came back down and whisked baby Osnas down to Egypt. And then? That very day, Potiphar went out for a stroll with his lads, and as they got to the wall, they heard the sound of a crying newborn. He said to his lads “bring me the child.” He saw the locket and all written on it. Potiphar said to his slaves: “This girl is the daughter of important people, bring her to my home and get a nurse.” Potiphar’s wife took her in and raised her. And since he raised her, she is referred to as his daughter.

The bottom lines:  let us remember that the identification of Osnas bat Potiphera with Dina’s daughter is medrish. Are we compelled to accept this as historical fact any more than we must accept the historicity of any other medrish? Ver veyst? And what the hec does that word mean? Says Webster’s New World College Dictionary, azoy: Historocity is a NOUN and means  the condition of having actually occurred in history; authenticity. The identification of Osnas with Dina’s daughter taka wraps up many loose ends very neatly and especially rectifies the issue of Efraim and Menashe being goyim. It also refutes the impression of Yoisef’s assimilation -marrying out- into Egyptian culture. Our sages set out to emphasize that Yoisef and the family he created in Mitzrayim were Jewish from the get-go despite their membership in Egypt’s ruling elite, and so they did.

Ober is all this emes? Is that how it went down? Can the medrish re-write or re-interpret what the heylige Toirah told us? Says the Maharal MiPrague (Be’er Hagolah, Fourth Be’er p. 51) and we quote, azoy: “most of the words of the Sages were in the form of metaphor and the analogies of the wise… unless they state that a particular story is not a metaphor, it should be assumed that it is a metaphor. Therefore, one should not be surprised to find matters in the words of the Sages that appear to be illogical and distant from the mind.”



A gittin Shabbis-

The Heylige Oisvorfer Ruv

Yitz Grossman

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