ובני יוסף אשר ילד לו במצרים נפש שנים כל הנפש לבית יעקב הבאה מצרימה שבעים.
“And the children of Yosef who were born to him in Egypt were two souls; the souls of the house of Yakov who came to Egypt were seventy in all.” (Bereishis 46:27)
The commentators point out that if Yakov’s descendents that are mentioned in the Torah are actually counted, we arrive at a total of 69, instead of 70. There are several ways to explain this discrepancy. One opinion holds that Yocheved, who was born between the gates of Egypt, was the seventieth soul. A different opinion maintains that Hashem included Himself in the count, and He brought the total to seventy.
How can we count Hashem as the seventieth, when the verse specifies that there were seventy “souls” who came to Egypt? Hashem is G-d, not a soul. But there is a third view that the seventieth was Osnas, the daughter of Dinah (M. Sofrim ch. 21). If Osnas is counted, then we have seventy even without counting Hashem’s presence, and without including Yocheved.
According to Jewish law (Shulchan Aruch E. H. 7) a captive woman may not marry a Kohen. The question arises, how Hashem was able to take the Jewish people as His “bride” after we were captives in Egypt. Hashem is like a Kohen, as it says (Sandhedrin 39a), “Your G-d is a Kohen.” If so, the Jewish people would have been forbidden from becoming betrothed to Hashem, because of their status as captives. However, the law is that if the Kohen was together with her in captivity and “he did not let go of her hand,” then they are permitted to marry each other.
The first letters of the words: “ואלה שמות בני ישראל - and these are the names of the Jewish people,” spell the word שבוי, which according to the Binyan Dovid means that Hashem came along with the Jewish people when they descended to Egypt. Therefore, since Hashem accompanied the Jewish people in their captivity, and never let go of their hand, He was permitted to take them as His bride.
This is how both opinions regarding the seventy souls are reconciled. If we want to count Dinah’s daughter Osnas among the seventy, we must first face the fact that she was all alone in the defiled land of Egypt, giving her the status of a captive. However, since Hashem was with her and “He never let go of her hand,” she can be counted among the Jewish people. This is how we arrive at the total of seventy souls, by including both Osnas and Hashem in the count.
Rabbi Shmuel Unsdarfer zt”l (Rav in Montreal, and then Rav of Petach Tikvah) relayed the following insightful explanation:
The brothers returned from Egypt with wonderful news and told Yakov: “Yosef is still alive and he is the ruler of all of Egypt!” The Torah tells us that Yakov’s heart passed out, because he was torn by doubts. But when he saw the wagons, then “Yakov’s spirit was revived.” On the surface, it is puzzling why Yakov would be reassured by the sight of the wagons. Why was he doubtful about the news and what did the wagons mean to him?
Rabbi Unsdorfer explained this passage with the following story: A young lad once traveled to Berlin for business purposes, but unfortunately, he left his frum lifestyle. He married a non-observant girl, changed his religious garb for modern attire, and strayed further and further from the Torah. Naturally, he raised his children in a secular manner.
His father would write letters, asking him how he is doing. The young man would answer these letters by writing that everything is fine; he is running his household and raising his family according to the ways in which he himself was raised. The father would keep on asking him to come for a visit, but the young man always found different excuses. “After winter passes,” he would write, or “after the summer…” Many years passed, until the son no longer had any excuses for not visiting his parents. But how could he visit his hometown, looking the way he does, he wondered. So he let his beard and peyos grow, bought himself a set of religious clothing, and traveled to see his father. He left his wife and children at home, because there was no way he could transform their appearance for his parents.
When he arrived at his parents’ home, his father’s joy knew no bounds. He was happy to see his son in full religious garb, with beard and peyos, looking just as he looked before he left. Finally, the father asked: “Where are your wife and children?” The son started hemming and hawing, and gave several lame excuses. When the father saw this, he was beside himself with anguish. He now realized that his son only put up a front of being religious, because he was obviously uncomfortable about his father meeting his family.
The same was with Yakov, Rabbi Unsdorfer concluded. His children told him that Yosef was alive, but Yakov was not consoled. Who knows if he is still on the level of observance of his father’s home? But when he saw the wagons he was reassured. He realized that Yosef did not come to visit him in order to put up a show of being religious. Instead, he sent wagons and invited his father to come to him in Egypt to be near his family. When Yakov saw that Yosef is not ashamed of the family he established and wants his father near him, his spirit was revived. That is when Yakov understood that Yosef was indeed alive – fully alive, spiritually as well as physically.