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By: Rabbi Pablo Berman,

Israelita do Parana

, Curitiba, Brazil

Bat Potifera: An Unknown Woman

Yalkut Shimoni

, a compendium of the ancient Midrashim (collected circa
12th century), tells us that: “

Yesh Nashim Giyorot Chasidot

”, there were
pious – and I would add, righteous – women who chose to belong to the People of
Israel. Their names are:

Hagar, Osnat, Tzipora, Shifra, Pua, Bat Paroh,
Rachav, Ruth,


Yael wife of Cheber Hakeini

(Midrash Yalkut
Shimoni, Sefer Joshua 247/ 90)

These nine women are mentioned in the Midrash
not only for choosing to be part of the People of Israel, but also because they
did something that was determining to their lives and the lives of their
people. We have no doubts about that; all we have to do is see the list:
Tziporah, wife of Moshe, or Shifra and Pua who saved the lives of newborns from
a sure death; Bat Paroh who cared for Moshe during his first childhood; Ruth,
who made a significant choice in the story that we all know and who many years
later will become King David’s great grandmother. It is interesting to see how
these women who chose by own conviction to become part of the People of Israel
were later transformed and became key figures within the destiny of their own

As we have found in some of the texts, in our
list we see the name of Osnat Bat Potifera – Osnat, or Asenat, who then became
the wife of Joseph. “

Vaikra Paroh shem Yosef Tzafnat Paneach vayiten lo et
Asenat bat Potifera Cohen On leisha – And the Pharaoh called on Yosef Tzafnat
Paneach and gave unto him his wife Asenat, daughter of Potifera, priest from On

(Bereshit 41: 45). In other words, Joseph’s wife will be none other than the
daughter of Potifera, whom many sages relate to Potifar (the same person who
buys Joseph as a slave to take care of his house, who is subsequently seduced
by his wife and when Joseph declines such dangerous pleasures he ends up in
jail accused of having tried to rape the wife of Potifar).

However, what interests us the most today, is
to learn a bit more about Osnat. She is none other than Efraim and Menashe’s
mother; names and stories that we remember every Shabbat in our homes with our
families when we bless our children. For our sages, it is complex to accept
some of the biblical characters who arrive with no history, not knowing where
they come from and who they are. Suddenly, they become wives of our main heroes
from the Torah. This is the case of Osnat.

Literally, she is Potifera’s daughter. The
Pharaoh gives her to Joseph as his wife. Now,

Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer

us a very different story. According to the Midrash, Joseph is married to a
niece on his father’s side (

Pirkei de Rabbi Eliezer Perek 37

). When
Dina, Yaakov’s daughter, goes to observe what is beyond her home, the text tells
us the story of Shchem son of Chamor, who takes Dina, and rapes her (Genesis
34: 1). Osnat is born as a result of this rape and is rejected by the sons of
Yaakov (her own uncles), and descends to Egypt. She ends up not knowing what
happened to Dina (her mother) for the rest of her life.

However, Yaakov will help his granddaughter,
by placing a golden amulet around her neck with the name of God which will
protect her throughout her life. Potifar will listen to Osnat’s cry, alone and
lost, and will take her as a daughter, and care for her all of her life. These
are the words of the Midrash which raise some questions.

The Midrash

Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer

very significant. On the one hand, it is easier to accept the idea that Osnat
is the daughter of an Egyptian priest from the city of On (according to some
scholars this was the city of Heliopolis, an important cult center of Re the
solar god), which embraced the traditions of the People of Israel and the
belief in one God, than it is to accept the Midrash as a possibility (see

El Origen de Las Diferencias (Genesis: The Origin of the Differences

Daniel Colodenco, Lilmod 2006, Page 275).

However, if we accept this possibility, then
the question must be different. Why did the sons of Yaakov abandon Osnat? The
Midrash itself responds: that they should not now say that there is a house of
prostitution in Yaakov’s tents. But this is not a dignified way of responding
to the problem. Osnat was not responsible for her situation and was not
responsible for what happened to Dina, her mother. Rivka Lubitch imagines a
different Midrash regarding the fate that Dina ran. (

Dirshuni: Israeli Women
Writing Midrash

. Edited by Tamar Biala and Nechama Weingarten, 2009, page

Dina was very quiet and had no voice. Nobody
heard her; nobody in her house paid any attention to her, and as the sages say,
“do not prolong your discourse with women”. This is why she went to “see” the
daughters of the land. It was as though Dina was mute. This is why she went to
“see” and not to listen. Can you then imagine why she did not shout when she
was being raped? She was like a mute and that is why, in spite of her pain and
her shame, she kept quiet forever.

Dina’s solitude, Osnat’s solitude. Mother and
daughter. Despite her uncles, Osnat was able to rebuild her life and build a
family by marrying Joseph; she had two children – it is with the names of these
children that we, throughout the generations, have blessed our own children.
This speaks well for Osnat and of how she understood that in life, things are
not easy, but one can obtain things with love and wisdom. On the other hand,
Potifera or Potifar – who knew that the girl he had found was very special.

Lastly, the text tells us, “

Bat Potifera
Cohen On

”. Osnat is daughter of Potifera. Why then does the Midrash bring
us such a complex story, when the text talks about her being his daughter? The
Midrash itself responds to this question: Potifera raised her, and he who
raises and did not conceive is called father (

Midrash Hagada Bereshit

Perek 41). It is love, affection, respect and the care we give our children
that gives us the title of father and mother even without having conceived them

Bat Potifera, una mujer desconocida // Parashat Miketz (Genesis 41:1-44:17)

El Ialkut Shimoni, compendio de Midrashim
antiguos, reunidos aproximadamente en el SXII nos dice lo siguiente: “

Nashim Guiurot Chasidot1

”, hay mujeres que optaron por pertenecer al Pueblo
de Israel, piadosas,

yo agregaría, justas. Y estos son sus nombres:
Agar, Osnat, Tzipora, Shifra, Pua, Bat Paroh, Rachav, Rut, e Yael esposa de
Cheber Hakeini


Nueve mujeres que el texto del Midrash nos
plantea que no solo escogieron ser parte del pueblo de Israel, sino también que
hicieron algo que fue determinante en sus vidas y en la vida de todo el pueblo.
Y de eso no tenemos dudas, solo ver la lista, Tzipora, esposa de Moshe, o
Shifra y Pua que salvan a los niños recién nacidos de una muerte segura, o Bat
Paroh que cuida de Moshe desde sus primeros años, o Rut, historia que todos
conocemos que será años después la bisabuela del Rey David. Resulta muy
interesante ver como mujeres que escogen por decisión propia unirse a un pueblo,
se transforman para ese pueblo, en personajes claves dentro del destino del
propio pueblo.

Ahora bien, esta presente en nuestra lista,
Osnat Bat Porifera. Osnat, o Asenat, como encontramos en algunos textos, que
será la esposa de Iosef.

Vaikra Paroh shem Iosef Tzafnat Paneach vaiten
lo et Asenat bat Potifera Cohen On leisha


Y el Faron llamo a
Iosef Tzafnat Paneach y le entrego como esposa a Asenat, hija de Poti-fera,
sacerdote de On

. Es decir que la esposa de Iosef no será otra que la hija
del propio Poti-fera, que muchos sabios relacionan con Potifar, el mismo que
compra a Iosef como esclavo para atender su casa, donde será seducido por su
esposa, y al negarse Iosef a tan peligrosos placeres terminara en la cárcel
acusado de haber intentado violar a la esposa de Potifar.

Sin embargo lo que más nos interesa hoy es
conocer un poco más a Osnat. Es nada menos que la madre de Efraim y Menashe,
nombres e historias que recordamos cada noche de Shabat en nuestras familias al
bendecir a nuestros hijos. Para nuestros sabios, es complejo aceptar que
algunos personajes bíblicos no tengan historia, no saber de donde vienen, o
quienes son. Y de pronto se transforman en esposas de nuestros principales
héroes de la Tora. Este es el caso de Osnat.

Literalmente es hija de Potifera. El Faraon
la entrega como esposa a Iosef. Ahora Pirkei de Rabbi Eliezer3 nos cuenta otra
historia bastante diferente. Iosef según el Midrash, se casa con una sobrina
por parte de padre. Cuando Dina la hija de Yaakov sale a observar que hay mas
allá de su hogar, el texto nos relata la historia de Shchem hijo de Chamor, que
toma a Dina, se acuesta con ella, y la viola4. De esa violación nacerá Osnat,
que desciende a Egipto, rechazada por los hijos de Yaakov (sus propios tíos),
mas allá de tampoco conocer que suerte corrió Dina el resto de su vida.

Sin embargo Yaakov ayudara a su nieta,
colocándole un objeto de oro en su cuello con el nombre de Di-s que habría de
proteger a ella en todo su trayecto. Potifar escuchara el llanto de Osnat sola
y perdida y la tomara como hija para cuidarla toda la vida. Hasta aquí el
Midrash. Y ahora comienzan las preguntas.

El Midrash de Pirkei de Rabbi Eliezer es muy
significativo. Por un lado es mas sencillo aceptar la idea que Osnat es hija de
un egipcio sacerdote de On,  según algunos autores5 seria la ciudad de
Heliopolis, que aceptar este Midrash como posible. Sin embargo si aceptamos
esta posibilidad, entonces aquí la pregunta debe ser otra. Porque los hijos de
Yaakov abandonaron a Osnat? El mismo Midrash responde: que no digan que ahora
hay una casa de prostitucion en las tiendas de Yaakov. Pero esa no es una forma
digna de responder al problema. Osnat no era responsable de su situación, y
tampoco lo que aconteció con Dina, su mama. Rivka Lobitz 6 imagina un Midrash
diferente acerca del destino que corrió Dina.

Dina era muy callada, y no tenía voz. Nadie
la escuchaba, nadie en su casa le prestaba atención, como dicen los propios
sabios, “no prolongues tu discurso con mujeres”. Por eso salio a “ver” las hijas
de la tierra. Dina era como si estuviera muda. Por eso salio a “ver” y no a
escuchar. Acaso imaginas que no grito al ser violada? Era como muda, y por eso
desde su dolor, y desde su vergüenza, callo para siempre.

La soledad de Dina, la soledad de Osnat.
Madre e hija. Osnat a pesar de sus tíos conseguirá rehacer su vida y formar una
familia, casarse con Iosef, y tener dos hijos con los cuales bendecimos a todos
nuestros hijos a través de las generaciones. Eso habla muy bien de Osnat, y
como entendio que en la vida las cosas no son faciles, pero con sabiduria y
amor las cosas se consiguen. Por otro lado, la bondad de Potifera, o de
Potifar, que sabia que esa niña que el había encontrado era muy especial.

Y por ultimo, el texto nos dice “Bat Potifera
Cohen On”. Osnat es hija de Potifera. Porque el Midrash entonces nos trae una
historia tan compleja? si el propio texto nos habla que es su hija? El propio
Midrash7 se encarga de responder: Potifera la crío, y el que cría y no el que
concibe, se llama padre. Es el amor, el afecto, el respeto y el cuidado que
tenemos por nuestros hijos lo que no da el titulo de padres y madres, y no el
haberlos concebido.

Shabat Shalom Umeborach

Rabbi Pablo Berman

1 Midrash Yalkut Shimoni Sefer Joshua 247/ 9

2 Bereshit 41/45

3 Pirkei de Rabbi Eliezer Perek 37

4 Bereshit 34/1

5 Heliopolis, importante centro de culto del
dios solar Re. Ver Génesis: el origen de las diferencias. Daniel Colodenco.
Lilmod. Pag. 275

6 Dirshuni. Israeli Women Writing Midrash.
Nehama Weingarten-Mintz/ Tamar Biala. Pag 67

7 Midrash Hagada Bereshit (Buber) Perek 41

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