Between Us: Let’s talk about…what’s in a name

Between Us

This week’s parasha, Miketz, contains Pharaoh’s famous dream of seven fat cows and seven lean cows, which Joseph interprets before he is subsequently appointed Egypt’s Prime Minister. Later in the parasha, we read: “Before the years of famine came, Joseph became the father of two sons…. [He] named the first-born Manasseh, meaning “God has made me forget completely my hardship and my parental home.” And the second he named Ephraim, meaning, “God has made me fertile in the land of my affliction.”

At Shabbat tables around the world, sons are blessed with the invocation, “May God make you like Ephraim and Menashe.” (Daughters receive a different blessing, one asking that they be like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah).We know little of these sons of Joseph, except that theirs were not typical Egyptian names. Joseph (who married an Egyptian woman and whose name was changed by Pharaoh to Zaphenath-paneah) was deeply assimilated into Egyptian life, yet chose to make a statement that he intended to raise his sons in the traditions of Jewish heritage. For Jews living in America, the temptation to “join in” with the majority grows stronger with each succeeding generation. As a community, we must ensure that numerous gateways remain open for everyone so each can find relevance and connections – at critical transition points in their lives – to our synagogues, agencies, organizations and most importantly, the community.  

As we prepare to celebrate the arrival of the year 2017, let us remember to offer to our children and our community all that the year 5777 represents of our heritage and our hopes for the future.

Wishing you and yours a healthy, happy and peaceful new year.