In Parshat Miketz, after his rise to power in Egypt, we see Yosef beginning to form his own family. When his son Menashe is born, Yosef speaks about the reason he gives his son this name. In Perek מא, pasuk נא, the Torah says:
וַיִּקְרָא יוֹסֵף אֶת-שֵׁם הַבְּכוֹר, מְנַשֶּׁה: כִּי-נַשַּׁנִי אֱלֹקים אֶת-כָּל-עֲמָלִי, וְאֵת כָּל-בֵּית אָבִי
And Yoseph called the name of the first-born Menashe: 'for Hashem has made me forget all my toil, and all my father's house.'
Many Torah commentators have attempted to justify this description upon the birth of Yosef's eldest son. It appears as if Yosef would like to forget his place of origin, his home. He named his son after the word "Nashani," meaning, "has made me forget." This is truly an odd formulation. Yosef is in a sense expressing appreciation to Hashem for having helped him forget his family. The questions and concerns which arise are: How could Yosef, while expressing gratitude to Hashem, at the same time, ask to forget his family. Has Yosef given up on his family and now desiring to root himself in Egypt?
Rav Saadia Gaon finds a positive interpretation in that Nashani, means "made me forget". He explains that the word nashani modifies the clause את כל עמלי ואת כל בית אבי - my parental home. Therefore, the name can be interpreted as Hashem made me forget the hardships of my parental home, but I never forgot my home. Yosef did not forget his past, He did, however, forget the troubles and difficulties suffered on account of the friction between him and his brothers. He expresses his appreciation for being able to forget the troubles of the past, though clearly retaining his emotional bond to his past in general.
However, Rav Shimshon Refael Hirsch disagrees. He explains that the word Nashani, is not "has made me forget." Rather, Nashani,comes from the word creditor or "Nosheh." Yosef is acknowledging, therefore, that his troubles and difficult childhood, which seemed so tragic at the time, actually played a critical role in his ultimate good fortune. As a result, Yosef owes a debt of gratitude to his past for laying the foundation for his prosperous present. According to Rav Hirsch, Nashani, is the opposite of forgetting, it is the memory and appreciation of what one has experienced which allowed him to reach this place in his life - when he is blessed with his first born child.
This message of hakarat haTov, of appreciation, is necessary. We often offer our gratitude when our instant gratification has been satisfied. After emerging from struggle with success and gain, however, we may feel "magiah li" - I deserve it. Perhaps one can offer thanks for the positives in one's life. Yet, it is prudent that we understand that what makes the person and facilitates his or her success and fulfillment involves his or her entire narrative from that past as well as the present. This appreciation serves a person well and enables him or her to truly journey forward.
This week, as we have been celebrating Chanukah, we read the "al Hanissim" - this is an additional recitation recalling the difficulties we needed to overcome in order to rise to the victory we experienced. We do not forget the harsh treatment and oppression of the Greeks towards the Jewish people. While there is no doubt that the miracles from Hashem allowed our success, the strength and conviction of our people catapulted us forward despite the oppressive conditions. We have a debt of gratitude to HaKadosh Baruch Hu for our reaching the place we have in the life of the Jewish people. May we continue to rise up against all our challenges, recall where we came from, offer the hakarat haTov that we emerged stronger and never lose sight of the possibilities for productivity and future successes. As we continue to light our Chanukah menorah, adding a candle each night, may we continue to ascend in our learning, commitment to Hashem and mitzvot and in our relationships with each other. This will allow us to be "maalin baKodesh" - ascend higher and higher each day while recalling where we emerged from.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Urim Sameach!