In the middle of this week’s Parsha, after the Pharaoh appointed Yosef as the viceroy over Egypt, the Pharaoh changed Yosef’s name to Tzafnas Paneach – interpreter of the hidden matters – and married him off to Asnas, the daughter of Potifera. Who were these people?
Rashi teaches us that Potifera was none other than Potifar – Yosef’s master in Egypt. He desired Yosef for a forbidden relationship but Yosef resisted him. But, Potifar had a daughter – Asnas – who married Yosef. Who was this Asnas?
The Rabbis teach us in the Midrash that Asnas was the daughter of Dina – Yosef’s half-sister - and Shechem. She was conceived when Shechem raped Dina. The Midrash continues that the sons of Ya’akov wanted to kill Asnas because the entire world would say that there is immorality in the house of Ya’akov. Ya’akov objected to the zealotry of his sons. He took a metal plate, wrote the name of G-d on that plate and hung it around the neck of Asnas. Ya’akov then sent her away for her own protection. The angel Michael came and brought her to Egypt to the house of Potifar, so Yosef would be able to marry a woman who was fit for the house of Ya’akov – his niece.
Rabbi Chaim Dov Keller – the Rosh Yeshiva of Telshe, Chicago – writes that this Midrash is teaching us how little we understand the ways of G-d. Specifically, this child – who was born from the rape of Dina – was fit to be the wife of Yosef Hatzadik – the Righteous Joseph – so named because he was the symbol of morality among the Jewish people. Yosef lived in Egypt – the epitome of immorality – and resisted the advances of Potifar’s wife because of his moral conscious.
G-d has arranged that the redemption of the Jewish people will come about in a strange manner – not in any way that we would write it. In Jewish tradition there is a Mashiach descended from Yosef and Mashiach descended from King David. The Mashiach ben Yosef will begin the redemption process for the Jewish people. He will be descended from Yosef and Asnas – the daughter of a rape. Mashiach ben David – who will complete the redemption process for the Jewish people - will be descended from the daughter of Lot and her relationship with her father. He will also be descended from Yehuda and Tamar – another relationship that at first glance seems not so kosher – from Ruth and Boaz – another highly unlikely union, and King David and Bas-Sheva – also a difficult relationship to understand.
In our minds, we would never picture the redemption of the Jewish people coming about in this fashion. But, throughout the history of the Jewish people, our leadership and outstanding personalities have often come from unlikely sources.
Avraham’s father, Terach, was an idolater. Rivka was raised in a house of evil people – her father Besuel and her brother Lavan. Yosef was the hated brother, was thrown into the dungeon and miraculously made it to the top to save civilization. Moshe survived the Nile River as an infant and then was raised in the palace of the Pharaoh. Shemaya and Avtalyon – the teachers of Hillel and Shammai – were descended from Sancheiriv – the Assyrian king who destroyed the Northern Kingdom of Israel and threatened Jerusalem. Esther was the last person in the world who would have expected to become the queen of the Persian Empire. Rabbi Meir and Unkelos were from the family of the Roman Emperor. The Maccabees would not have been our odds-on favorite to take on the powerful Syrian-Greek army. They were Kohanim – known for their skills in the Bais Hamikdash and not known for their military skills. They were badly outnumbered. Yet, G-d saved the day through them. In our time, Leon Trotsky has religious descendants as do several high ranking nazis.
And all we must do to see the hand of G-d is to look at the State of Israel – the most unlikely success story of our time. It is a Jewish state. Several of its founders were anti-religious Jews. Yet, G-d brought about the Jewish state through them. Could we ever have imagined such a story? That is too far-fetched to have entered our minds.
But, all of this happened. We should never count ourselves out. We should never think to ourselves, “I don’t have the Yichus, how will I succeed for the Jewish people?” Jewish history shows us that when it comes to helping and saving the Jewish people, it is often not dependent upon yichus. It is often the least likely to succeed who does succeed in saving the day. The Jewish people will eventually come out on top. How? Only G-d knows. The ways of G-d our mysterious, but – as in the story of Yosef and Asnas – it might not come about as we expect it would, but there will be a happy ending as G-d has promised us.