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Thursday, December 23, 2010

שמות Sh'mot Names, Yes, It's all in a Name

שְׁמוֹת  Sh'mot Names, Chapter 1

א וְאֵלֶּה, שְׁמוֹת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, הַבָּאִים, מִצְרָיְמָה: אֵת יַעֲקֹב, אִישׁ וּבֵיתוֹ בָּאוּ. 1 Now these are the names of the sons of Israel, who came into Egypt with Jacob; every man came with his household:
ב רְאוּבֵן שִׁמְעוֹן, לֵוִי וִיהוּדָה. 2 Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah;
ג יִשָּׂשכָר זְבוּלֻן, וּבִנְיָמִן. 3 Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin;
ד דָּן וְנַפְתָּלִי, גָּד וְאָשֵׁר. 4 Dan and Naphtali, Gad and Asher.
ה וַיְהִי, כָּל-נֶפֶשׁ יֹצְאֵי יֶרֶךְ-יַעֲקֹב--שִׁבְעִים נָפֶשׁ; וְיוֹסֵף, הָיָה בְמִצְרָיִם. 5 And all the souls that came out of the loins of Jacob were seventy souls; and Joseph was in Egypt already.
ו וַיָּמָת יוֹסֵף וְכָל-אֶחָיו, וְכֹל הַדּוֹר הַהוּא. 6 And Joseph died, and all his brethren, and all that generation.
ז וּבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, פָּרוּ וַיִּשְׁרְצוּ וַיִּרְבּוּ וַיַּעַצְמוּ--בִּמְאֹד מְאֹד; וַתִּמָּלֵא הָאָרֶץ, אֹתָם. {פ} 7 And the children of Israel were fruitful, and increased abundantly, and multiplied, and waxed exceeding mighty; and the land was filled with them. {P}
ח וַיָּקָם מֶלֶךְ-חָדָשׁ, עַל-מִצְרָיִם, אֲשֶׁר לֹא-יָדַע, אֶת-יוֹסֵף. 8 Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who knew not Joseph.

As I read this for the (who knows how many) time it suddenly occurred to me that maybe the significance of that first line is that "those were the names when they went down to Egypt."  In Egypt they were known by other names.  And maybe if you change the vowels in the word שִׁבְעִים "shiv'im" to "shvu'im," (I couldn't find vowed Hebrew to copy) which has the same letters.  That would mean that Ya'akov expected bad things to happen there, so he had them "shvu'im nefesh," swear their souls to him.

And of course it was obvious that Yosef's identity was secret out of the halls of power, or his family would have discovered news of him when they arrived the first time.  Or probably they would have heard about this amazing "immigrant" to Egypt running the food inventory when they had first about it.

And of course there can be a very different reason...  the new young Pharaoh could have resented Yosef's power and as soon as he died he changed how the brothers were treated.  The Ten older Tribes needed to rescue their brother, but as soon as they saw what a "good life" they could have during the famine, they stayed in Egypt.  And then their "good life" became slavery.  Nothing's new.  When will world Jewry understand?

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