As Yosef rises to power in Egypt, he gets married, and he begins to raise a family. And as he does so we are introduced to his two sons, and the Torah tells us not only their names, but the REASONS behind the names they are given.
“וַיִּקְרָא יוֹסֵף אֶת שֵׁם הַבְּכוֹר מְנַשֶּׁה כִּי נַשַּׁנִי אֱלֹקים אֶת כָּל עֲמָלִי וְאֵת כָּל בֵּית אָבִי”
And Yosef named the eldest one Menashe, for Hashem has helped me to FORGET all of my hardships and the house of my father.
This is the translation offered by Rabbeinu Bechayei, and a number of other rishonim, and seems to be the simple explanation.
And it is difficult to understand. Why would Yosef thank Hashem for allowing him to FORGET BEIS AVI, his father’s home?
And the question is even stronger for two more reasons:
1) It’s not true. This is Yosef haTzadik. He’s not a person who forgot the teachings of his father’s house!
2) It is only because of the teachings of Yaakov Avinu that Yosef had found success in the first place?! The thing that stands out to Pharaoh is that Yosef is a person who has RUACH ELOKIM BO, who is a man of Gd! These ARE the lessons of his home!
What are we to make of this name that Yosef gives to his oldest son?
Rav Moshe Shternbuch in his sefer Chochma V’Daas, argues that the FORGETTING that Yosef is talking about is something very different.
When Rashi talks about the special treatment Yosef received from Yaakov, he writes that everything Yaakov learned from his father he taught to Yosef. Yaakov didn’t simply favor Yosef because he liked him more. He saw in him the potential to be the spiritual leader of his family. And, therefore, he carved out an image of Yosef as the next Yaakov, another Ish Tam Yosheiv Ohalim, who would sit in the Beis Medrash day after day, learning and sharpening himself so that he could be the next line in the lineage of the avos.
And when Yosef is sent to Egypt, he realizes that dream has been shattered. How would he be able to continue learning and growing and continuing on this path of greatness? How would his experiences in Potiphar’s house and in an Egyptian jail, living for years in Egyptian society, prepare him to fulfill that dream his father had for him?
But eventually, as Yosef emerges from jail and rises to political power in Egypt, he begins to realize that maybe the plan his father had for him – and that he believed was his plan – was actually not the plan Hashem had in store for him at all. He begins to see that maybe just maybe, all of the experiences he had were sending him in a different direction. Not to be a spiritual leader among his brothers, but to be a financial leader in Egypt! It would be a position that would be essential in setting up the next stage in the history of Am Yisrael. It would allow the Bnei Yaakov to come to Egypt and eventually experience Yetzias Mitzrayim, Matan Torah, and the entry into Eretz Yisrael. But nevertheless, it was not the plan his father had envisioned for him, and, therefore, not the plan he had envisioned for himself.
So, as he begins to build his own family in Egypt, far from his father’s home, he names his first son, Menashe. Why? “Ki Nashani Elokim Es Kol Amali V’Es Kol Beis Avi” – Because Hashem has finally allowed me to let go of the vision I had of myself, the vision of what I thought I had to be – and of course couldn’t be – and to allow me to see how I could use my unique skill set, to do something my father never would have planned for me, but a path that I now realize is the reason Hashem has placed me on this Earth!
And what is fascinating is that Yaakov had this same experience. He was the Ish Tam Yosheiv Ohalim. His father Yitzchak thought that was going to be his only role. Yaakov would take care of the spiritual matters and Esav would be out in the world. And yet, Yaakov slowly came to realize he needed to be a person who could handle both.
And yet, even though he had lived a life where he had to break out of the mold his father had created for him, he still tries to fashion Yosef in a specific mold too! And it isn’t until Yosef has experienced so much in his life that he realizes he isn’t a failure if he doesn’t take the exact path his father had planned for him. In fact, that’s when he finally begins to feel good about himself! And he even names his son after that realization. I finally learned to be myself.
Parenting is an extremely difficult job. The longer I do it, the more I learn just how difficult it is and just how little I know about it. But if there is one message that comes out of this story that I think we can all use as a reminder it is this: As our children get older, it is not our job to set them on a path that we want for them. Of course, when they are younger, we need to model for them the values that we live. But, as they grow older and more independent, it is our job to help them figure out what their skill sets are, how they can develop their own interests and desires, and to support them and guide them to make healthy, balanced decisions for themselves.
This is true as they make all kinds of decisions in their lives, be it religious, in the area of relationships, and a myriad of others. But I would like to focus on one specific area that I have been thinking a lot about recently.
In my role as a Mashgiach Ruchani at Yeshiva University, I have the opportunity to spend my days talking with students and helping to guide them as they make decisions about their life’s trajectory. And I can tell you that these young people feel a remarkable amount of pressure to choose a profession that will make a large salary. We have gone from a time 10 or 15 years ago where young men and women were choosing their professions, of course from a slimmer group of jobs because a frum life is more expensive than a secular one. But even then, young people felt they could choose from a larger group of professions: medicine, law, dentistry, psychology, finance, accounting, chinuch, and the rabbinate, to name a few. Today, I hear it daily from students who say things like “I can’t consider that job. My parents would never allow it.” And I have had multiple conversations with parents who say things like “I would never allow my son to go into that field”, or “I would never allow my daughter to date a guy going into chinuch”.
And I think this approach is dangerous. As I tell my students every day, “You will spend the next 40-50 years in this job for most of your day. And you have to ask yourself, what will make you happier: A nicer house and more elaborate vacations or feeling like you are maximizing your potential and contributing to the world?” Now, don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of opportunities for people to do both. And if that works for someone that’s wonderful. BUT that kind of lifestyle is not for everyone.
For many young people this is a choice they have to make because their passion is not in a field that will offer them a life of financial ease. And I believe that as parents it is our job to put that reality in front of them. All of it. A recognition that every person has to make choices about the costs and benefits of every type of lifestyle.
To be clear, I’m not advocating that we tell our children to go into professions where we, as parents, will have to support them. I’m not advocating that we shelter our children from the realities of what it means to go into professions that make less, what it costs to live a frum life, and what they will have to be willing to sacrifice. What I am arguing is that we put all the information in front of them and support them to make the decision that is best for them. And I think we have to be honest with ourselves and recognize that our children may not choose the same lifestyle we have chosen, and that’s ok.
Many of us worry that our children should choose a profession that will leave them financially stable. I think we should be equally concerned about whether that job will leave them fulfilled and happy. Because the research has shown that if an individual can find joy and satisfaction in their professional life, they will be more likely to find it in every other area of their life as well. Yes, their bank accounts may not be quite as robust, but they will be living a life they have chosen for themselves, and a life that makes them feel fulfilled. What else could we possibly want for them?
Yosef finally finds a sense of solace when he realizes that he has been able to find his own path. Of course, he hasn’t left his father’s values. His father’s values were the foundation for all of his future success. But when he could learn to find his own path which he built on top of that solid foundation, then he could be his best self.
We would all do well to learn this lesson for ourselves, as we do our best to guide our children to figure out how they can be their best selves too.