The Undoing of Captivity

Double Mitzvah Jewrotica Parsha

Written by Sender Rozesz. Sender Rozesz is a practicing attorney with a background in Jewish pluralistic education for adults. The views reflected in his columns represent his own personal views, and are not intended to reflect the views of any organizations, institutes or associations with whom he may be affiliated. For more Double Mitzvahs by Sender Rozesz, check out A Woman’s Vow, Sexual Motive, Choose Your Own Spouse, The Post-Honeymoon Journey, A Wise and Understanding People, The Blessing of Fertility, Abominations, Coitus Interruptus, Sexual Struggles,The Unspeakable Language of Passion, Cut vs. Uncut, The Silence of Bitterness, Sex and the Holiest Day of the Year, Shifting Beds and Sex in the Sukkah,Sex…In the Beginning, A Sexual Reboot, She’s My Beautiful Sister,Kosher Incest?, How They Met, Male-Female Intercourse, The First Kiss, The Power to Transform, Onanism, Daughters-in-Law and Moshiach, and Issues with the In-Laws?.

Rated PG-13

Last week, we talked about some of the interesting features that characterized Joseph’s relationship with his in-laws.

His in-laws, however, were not the only ones that fancied Joseph. In next week’s Torah portion, in blessing Joseph, Jacob describes him as follows: “A charming son is Joseph, a son charming to the eye; the women strode along to see him.” Genesis, 49:29. Rashi explains that, when Joseph would pass through the city, “the women of Egypt strode out on the wall to gaze upon his beauty. Of the women, each one strode to a place from which she could catch a glimpse of him.”

But then who was this lucky girl, Osnat, who, from all of the women of Egypt – and despite the unfulfilled fantasies of her parents – became Joseph’s one and only?

According to the Midrash, the answer to this question reaches back to a story that we discussed several weeks ago: the rape of Dinah. Somehow, during the brief period that Shechem had Dinah in his clutches, Dinah became pregnant with his child. Nine months later, long after Dinah was safely ensconced among her family, she gave birth to a girl.

Jacob’s specific motives are not disclosed, but he apparently made the decision that the child could not and would not be raised by Dinah as part of the family. Thus, he took the baby girl and left her in a bush along the road. However, because she was, after all, his granddaughter, sharing his blood, he placed an amulet around her neck with the following inscription: “Whoever connects with you, connects with the seed of Jacob.”

The little girl was picked up by a passing caravan, and brought to Egypt, where she was adopted by Potiphar and his wife, and raised as their daughter. They called her Osnat, which derives from the bush in which she was found. The amulet never left her neck.

Until one day, when the newly-appointed and devastatingly handsome Grand Viceroy of Egypt rode through the the city. All of the women thronged to catch a glimpse of the new prince. As Joseph passed by, the more daring of them would throw some favor or piece of jewelry, each vying to capture his attention. As he passed by Osnat, she too grabbed the only thing that she had to throw: her amulet. For the first time in her life, she removed the amulet from her neck, and threw it in Joseph’s direction — and she hit her mark. Joseph picked up the amulet, and immediately spotted the familiar Hebrew writing of the inscription. Upon closer inspection, he may even have recognized his own father’s hand. Once he read the inscription, however, he knew exactly who it was that had thrown the amulet — and that divine providence had clearly brought them together in a strange land to be husband and wife.

It is said that Joseph kept the amulet hidden, and it seems that – perhaps out of deference to the obvious wishes of his father – he never revealed to Osnat the amulet’s significance. Later, after Jacob arrived in Egypt, Joseph introduced his two sons, Menasheh and Ephraim, saying: “They are my sons, whom G-d gave me with this.” And Joseph took out the amulet, showing Jacob how G-d had orchestrated the full-circle return of his own.


And whatever happened to Osnat’s real mother, Dinah?

After the incident with Shechem, Dinah is mentioned only twice more, in passing – both in this week’s Parshah.

Dinah is explicitly mentioned among the 70 members of Jacob’s family who descended to Egypt. Genesis, 46:15. However, the non-explicit reference to Dinah’s name is far more intriguing.

Also listed among the 70, among the sons of Simeon, is “Shaul ben HaCanaanit” — “Shaul the son of the Canaanite woman.” Genesis, 46:10. The commentaries are perplexed by this: this is the only of Jacob’s grandchildren for whom the Torah identifies the mother. For all of the others, only the father – one of Jacob’s sons – is identified. Indeed, Shaul himself is listed as Simeon’s son. Why then is he additionally identified as the son of a Canaanite woman?

Rashi explains that the “Canaanite woman” was none other than “Dinah, who had been possessed by a Canaanite.” He goes on to state, based on the Midrash, that: “When they killed Shechem, Dinah did not want to leave until Simeon swore to her that he would marry her.”

How did that work? After all, Simeon and Dinah were full brothers and sisters! How could they marry? And what does that have to do with her being called a Canaanite woman? And why would Dinah be called a Canaanite woman, merely because she was possessed by a Canaanite man?

Essentially, the explanation of this Rashi is as follows:

A servant is endowed with a completely different status as a result of his or her servitude. Indeed, a servant has such a oneness of identity with his or her master, that the Torah recognizes no familial ties; the servant’s only tie is to his or her owner.

This is the reason that Jacob was permitted to marry Bilhah and Zilpah – even though the Midrash states that they, too, were sisters – both to each other, as well as to Rachel and Leah (from another mother). However, because they were maidservants, they were divested of their familial relationships, and Jacob was permitted to marry them. In fact, even when Jacob took them as full wives, ending their servitude and elevating them beyond their servant status, their sisterhood was not “resurrected”; once gone, the legal existence of those ties was never to be reinstated.

This is true not only of servants, but also of captives, who are endowed with the same legal status as servants. (Which is why, when the Torah relates in Numbers 21:1 that the King of Arad attacked the Israelites and “took a captive,” Rashi states that it was “only a single maidservant.” How did he know that it was a “maidservant” and not a regular woman? He didn’t; it is just that once any woman because a captive, she is effectively a “maidservant”.)

Thus, when Dinah became Shechem’s captive – and a raped captive at that – she lost her identity as “Dinah, daughter of Jacob and Leah, sister of the twelve tribes,” and became the “Dinah the captive,” or “Dinah the maidservant.”

She was so humiliated, and felt so disconnected, that she could not bear to return to her family…unless she could return as something different. She could not live with being “the captive” or “the rape victim”; she could only face her family once again if she returned as Simeon’s betrothed. Simeon, who came after her with all of his zealotry. Simeon, who saw her not as Dinah the victim, but as Dinah whose weighty honor required vengeance on an entire city. Simeon, who saw her not as damaged goods, but as a prize worth going to war to liberate.

Yet she was concerned that once she left Shechem, her status as Simeon’s sister might be restored, and the prohibition against incest would once more apply — and the only return path to her family that she could conceive of would be barred.

So she made Simeon swear to her before she left Shechem that he would marry her. By conditioning her leaving upon his oath and promise of marriage, she ensured that her liberation from Shechem would not undo the legal effect of her captivity, and that she would remain a “Canaanite woman” whom Simeon was permitted to marry.

So what are the lessons that we may take from all this?

An insight into the devastated and tormented mind of Torah‘s first recorded rape victim, and the type of treatment that is likely to be the most helpful in restoring a sense of dignity?

The compassion and love of a brother for his sister, which – when legally permitted – transcended the boundaries of biology, and permitted him to save his sister – first from captivity, and then from despondence and humiliation?

Perhaps we even have an insight into the significance and effect of G-d’s act of claiming the Jewish people as his servants – knowing that by becoming His servants, we are undoing all of our other natural ties to the world, and binding ourselves exclusively to Him?

Perhaps they are all worth a thought.

But we definitely now have greater insight as to why, of all the tribes, Joseph is buried in Shechem – the city in which his wife was conceived.