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In this week’s Torah portion of Miketz, Yosef marries Osnas bas Potiphar. There are two sons born to them, Menashe and Ephraim. The Torah, when talking about Yosef naming Ephraim, says: “And the second one he named Ephraim, for ‘God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction’” וְאֵ֛ת שֵׁ֥ם הַשֵּׁנִ֖י קָרָ֣א אֶפְרָ֑יִם כִּֽי־הִפְרַ֥נִי אֱלֹהִ֖ים בְּאֶ֥רֶץ עָנְיִֽי: (Breishis 41:52).
However the Daas Zekeinim adds that Yosef also named Ephraim after his grandfather and great grandfather, Avraham and Yitzchok. For they were referred to as ashes, אפר. Avraham, as it says “…although I am dust and ashes” (Breishis 18:27). Yitzchok was like ashes on the alter [by the Binding of Isaac (Akeidas Yitzchok)]. For Ephraim sounds like two [sets] of ashes (plural). This is why the Jews are referred to as Ephraim, as it says, “Is Ephraim a son who is dear to Me” (Yirmiyahu 31:19). (Click here for Hebrew text.)
This pasuk in Yirmiyahu has not only become a famous kumzitz song, but we say it every year in our mussaf shemone esray on Rosh Hashana. It is also the last pasuk of one the haftorahs recited on Rosh Hashana:
|“Is Ephraim a son who is dear to Me? Is he a child who is dandled? For whenever I speak of him, I still remember him: therefore, My very innards are agitated for him; I will surely have compassion on him,” says the Lord.||יטהֲבֵן֩ יַקִּ֨יר לִ֜י אֶפְרַ֗יִם אִם יֶ֣לֶד שַֽׁעֲשׁוּעִ֔ים כִּֽי־מִדֵּ֚י דַבְּרִי֙ בּ֔וֹ זָכֹ֥ר אֶזְכְּרֶ֖נּוּ ע֑וֹד עַל־כֵּ֗ן הָמ֚וּ מֵעַי֙ ל֔וֹ רַחֵ֥ם אֲרַֽחֲמֶ֖נּוּ נְאֻם־יְהֹוָֽה:|
The Radak on this pasuk in Yirmiyahu says that Hashem is saying: “The fact that I remember him constantly is as if he is a dear son to me who never sinned in my life just like a father who delights in his beloved son. At all times when I speak to the prophets I mention my love that precedes me [and so when they leave and they pass by He takes their affairs with Him at all times.] Therefore when I remember the earlier love My ‘innards’ are agitated for him in his terrible state in exile. I will have mercy upon him and I will take him out of exile.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
Yirmiyahu is telling us how Hashem still loves his children even though they sinned, including the 3 cardinal sins of idolatry, adultery, and murder. For this they deserved to be exiled from their land and the first Beis Hamikdash destroyed. Indeed, they even intermarried in exile. Still, in all, Hashem did not stop loving them and eventually out of His own abundance of mercy redeemed them from exile into Israel and built the second Beis Hamikdash. However, in order to keep the abundance of love flowing, the Radak says that Hashem would frequently remind Himself of the early years, when the Jewish People were a delight, like a beloved son that didn’t do anything wrong. According to the Daas Zekeinim quoted above, this refers to the Jewish people in their infancy, in the times of Avraham and Yitzchok, which is why the Jewish people here are referred to as Ephraim.
But if Hashem is that naturally loving father, why does He need the reminder of the early years? His compassion and mercy for his precious son should always be there no matter what wrong the son does? It must be that because the son betrayed his father and did grievous sins which warranted a reprimand, or in this case a severe punishment, then a reminder of the early years is needed to arouse the original love for the child when they were just freshly born into this world; cute and innocent. For the love now is tainted by the fact that the son, Klal Yisrael, has betrayed and been sinful to Hashem.
Based on the fact that we should emulate Hashem, there is a very important lesson that comes from this pasuk. There are times when our children do things which are wrong and can get the parents upset, and which have repercussions, sometimes severe repercussions. An extreme example is if a child decides to intermarry. We see from here that we are not supposed to be overwhelmed by our natural love of our children and overlook the wrong they have done. Rather, steps must be taken to show your dislike towards their decisions. Yet, once that happens, it might become hard for the parents to love them the same way again, and, in severe circumstances like intermarriage, they might want to disown them. However we also see from here that it is fitting for the parents to look back on the early years, when their son or daughter was nice, cute, and innocent, beloved and cherished by their parents. The parents should constantly be reminding themselves of yesteryear, to arouse love and mercy upon their wayward children, as if they never sinned, while still punishing them for the wrong they have done. In this way they won’t completely disown them and are ready to invite them back, and even possibly try to help them back at any moment in order that they have the potential to return on the positive path of serving Hashem just as Hashem treated the Jewish people in Babylonian exile.