Parashat Miketz, Genesis 41.1 – 44.17,[i] is part two of the three-part narrative of Joseph’s life. There have been six dreams so far – two Hashem sent to Joseph when he was but a teen, with no immediate fulfilment. Then there were two in prison, one to the cup bearer and one to the baker. This time however, Joseph had matured a bit, and offered to assist the two bewildered men, “Don’t interpretations belong to God? Please tell me.” (Gen. 40:8) They do! Hashem gave Joseph the interpretation, and it happened as he said. This week’s sidra begins with the final two dreams given to Pharaoh by Hashem (Genesis 41.16 & 25). Because of the fulfilment of the two dreams in prison, Joseph could with confidence, interpret Pharaoh’s dreams. Little did he know however, that soon, most aspects of his original dreams would be fulfilled in a manner his seventeen-year-old self could never have imagined.
After interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams, Joseph was elevated well beyond his station – from prisoner to vizier, second only to Pharaoh in importance and power. Apparently, Joseph liked his new status, so much so that he accepted his new Egyptian name, Zaphenath-Paneah (God speaks, and He lives) and an Egyptian wife – Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera, priest of On (not a god but a geographic area in lower Egypt near to the border of Goshen). So much at home was Joseph that his first son was named Manasseh, “God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household,” and his second son, Ephraim, “God has made me fruitful in the land of my oppression” (Genesis 41.51-52). According to Rabbi Pinchas Peli, “Joseph does not think, indeed does not want to think, of the past, of the old country and the folks back home. His assimilation into Egyptian society is complete, flawless. He has no qualms about it.”[ii] Then suddenly his past caught up with him, in the form of his brothers seeking deliverance and salvation (Genesis 42.5-7). There are numerous ideas of why Joseph’s brothers did not recognize him. Perhaps it was that they could not imagine the brother they sold into slavery could be the prince who now stood before them. Or perhaps, Joseph’s assimilation was so complete that he lost all family resemblance. Rashi comments that “he behaved toward them like a stranger verbally, by speaking harshly.”[iii] Whatever the reason, they did not recognize him, but he did recognize them. Suddenly, the years melted away and though he was not ready to reveal himself yet, he was going to take care of his family – more than that, he was going to test his brothers to see if they had changed from the ones who through jealousy and hatred sold him into slavery.
The story is very familiar. Joseph not only provided the required grain but returns the brothers silver as well. When they discovered the silver in their sacks, they understandably freaked out, knowing for sure that Hashem was bringing their past back upon them (42.21 & 28), especially since Simeon had to remain in Egypt as guarantor that they would return with their youngest brother Benjamin. The famine continued, and the sons of Jacob had to return to Egypt if they were to survive. First Reuven then Judah gave oaths to their father concerning Benjamin’s safety, and Jacob finally relented.
Second trip, and Joseph was no more forthcoming. After providing a feast for his brothers, which he did not join (43.32), he sent them on their way with their provisions and once again their silver, as well as his divining cup in Benjamin’s bags. Caught, and returned to Joseph, Judah speaks for the brothers, “What can we say to my lord? What can we speak? How can we justify ourselves? [Or how can we be cleared of our guilt since…] God has exposed your servants’ guilt. …” (44.6). This speaks of Judah’s relationship with Hashem, quite like Jonah who, when he knew he was wrong, responded to his frightened shipmates in the storm, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea, … then the sea will become calm for you. For I know it is because of me that this great storm is upon you” (Jonah 1.12). Judah, as well as Jonah, knew Hashem and knew that He was just, holding men accountable for their actions. In Jonah’s case, he knew if he was thrown into the sea, it would appease ADONAI and the ship would be saved. Whether the LORD saved him or not was up to Hashem. We won’t see it until next week, but as Judah pled for Benjamin’s life, Joseph’s façade finally breaks, and restoration can finally begin.
Looking back on this narrative, Stephen recounts, “The patriarchs became jealous of Joseph and sold him into Egypt. Yet God was with him. He rescued him out of all his troubles and granted him favor and wisdom before Pharaoh, king of Egypt, who made him governor over Egypt and all his household” (Acts 7.9-10). It is amazing how hindsight is often 20/20 but when going through life’s tough situations we often are wearing blinders that allow us to only see the situation in from of us.
The Haftarah, Zachariah 2.14 – 4.7 is particularly apropos considering the recent proclamation by President Trump concerning Jerusalem. Hashem, through the prophet states plainly,
“Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion! For behold, I am coming and I will live among you”— it is a declaration of Adonai. “In that day many nations will join themselves to Adonai and they will be My people and I will dwell among you.’ Then you will know that ADONAI-Tzva’ot has sent me to you. ADONAI will inherit Judah as His portion in the holy land and will once again choose Jerusalem. Be silent before Adonai, all flesh, for He has aroused Himself from His holy dwelling.” (Zachariah 2.14-17)
The reading then ends with an affirmation of who will do the work of reestablishing Israel and Jerusalem, “This is the word of ADONAI to Zerubbabel saying: ‘Not by might, nor by power, but by My Ruach!’ says ADONAI-Tzva’ot” (4.6). The nations may rage, and there may be “days of rage” but the power and presence of the Ruach of Hashem will ultimately be victorious.
[i] Unless otherwise noted, all Scriptures are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.
[ii] Peli, Pinchas H., Torah Today: A Renewed Encounter with Scripture, Washington DC: B’nai B’rith Books, 1987, p 44.