This week’s parsha describes בני ישראל's travel down to Egypt, including the names of the “שבעים נפש”:
There are three obvious questions: if you count the total names of Yaakov’s descendants, they only add up to 69 . Where does the שבעים come from? Second, why exclude Yaakov’s daughters-in-law? Are they not part of כל הנפש לבית יעקב? Third, only two girls are listed: דינה and שרח. Where are all the girls? Did Yaakov really only have one daughter and one granddaughter?
We discussed this last year in the context of understanding שרח בת אשר.
Rashi addresses only the first question, with the aggadah that יוכבד בת לוי was born on the trip to Egypt:
The Netziv says that the שבעים נפש are the ones who would have an impact on the future of the Jewish people:
That would explain why נשי בני יעקב are not part of the list; they are “בטל” to their husbands. That was the social reality of the time. And that would explain the absence of girls in the list; the social reality was that women moved into their husband’s homes. Any daughters or granddaughters would be lost to the Jewish people.
I would read the text a little differently. The נפש in כל הנפש לבית יעקב הבאה מצרימה שבעים doesn’t mean individuals; it means families, households. The list of names is the list of בתי אב (the times were androcentric enough that the family name, the “head of household” was the father). It is a list of households within the larger family of בני ישראל. That is the meaning of מלבד נשי בני יעקב; not that they weren’t counted but that they weren’t counted separately. דינה was her own household; we know her tragic story. And we discussed last year the implications of שרח being the head of her household.
And that explains the sum of seventy: while Yaakov’s descendants formed 69 households, Yaakov should still be counted:
And there is textual evidence that I am right; in ספר שמות the people are explicitly described as coming איש וביתו:
Hirsch says this was the secret to their survival in גלות מצרים:
This “spirit of the family” (in Hirsch’s words, Familiengeist), is the נפש of כל הנפש לבית יעקב הבאה מצרימה.
The midrash notes that נפש throughout the story is always in the singular. You might argue that this is a grammatical rule: quantities over ten take the singular (think about counting the Omer: היום ששה ימים לעומר as opposed to היום ששה עשר יום…לעומר). But that’s not right:
So the midrash that this was a religious “נפש”:
This came up because there is one other place where we use the expression “איש וביתו”:
And it has the same implication: it was the family that made the miracle of חנוכה possible:
And that has been the secret of Jewish survival; the כל הנפש לבית יעקב that was איש וביתו that transmitted the values through the generations: