A ‘BISSEL’ OF TORAH Parashat Mikeitz  (Genesis 41:1-44:17)

by Joy Scott, Am Haskalah Congregant

In last week’s Torah Parsha (Vayeishev) the intense jealousy of Joseph, and his father’s ostentatious partiality to Joseph reached a crisis of urgency. Feeling unfairly overlooked, and powerless, they took out their frustrations on Joseph. He was sold as a slave to Egypt; and, after a series of events, as a house slave, found himself  placed in jail, for a crime he did not commit.

In this week’s Parsha (Mikeitz), Egypt’s Pharaoh has a dream: seven cows that are swallowed by seven lean cows; and, of seven fat ears of grain, followed by seven lean ears. Word comes from one of Joseph’s prison mates, that Joseph has a way to interpret dreams. Joseph is called to the Pharaoh, and explains the dreams as seven years of plenty, followed by seven years of famine. He suggests that the Pharaoh tell his people to store their grain during the plentiful years, so that they won’t experience shortages during the years of famine. As Joseph predicted, after seven years, famine spread through the entire region. In the interim, the Pharaoh named Joseph ‘Viceroy’ of Egypt.

As the famine spreads to Canaan, ten of Joseph’s brothers travel to Egypt to obtain food. The youngest, Benjamin, and only other son (aside from Joseph) who was born to Rachel, stays at home. When the brothers arrive, Joseph “recognized them but he pretended to be a stranger, and spoke roughly to them(1). He designed several tests to ensure that they were changed men, from those treated him with evil in their hearts. First,  he insisted on treating them like spies, until they sent someone home to Canaan to bring their youngest brother. Such an act would require defying their father’s wishes, since Jacob feared “a deadly mishap might befall him”(2). Joseph let them ponder this request for three days, and then made a different demand: One brother shall remain confined in Egypt; the rest can return home with food; then, return to Egypt with the youngest brother. Joseph wanted to know if they are “honest men” (3), which would suggest profound growth from the fratricidal betrayers, they had been in their youth. Joseph overhears one brother say to another. “Oh we are being punished on account of Joseph. We saw his soul’s distress; he pleaded with us…and, we did not listen”(4). Joseph, overcome with these words, left them and wept.

The brothers leave Egypt as directed, and return with Joseph’s only full brother, Benjamin. Once again Joseph must leave the room, so the brothers do not see his tears, as he looks at Benjamin. Joseph has one final test.  After a feast at Joseph’s home, he orders a servant to hide his silver goblet inside Benjamin’s bag. Joseph must know whether the brothers will turn on Benjamin to save themselves.  As soon as they leave the feast, the servant catches them ‘red-handed’, with the silver goblet in Benjamin’s bag.  Speaking on behalf of the brothers, is Judah:

“What can we say to my lord? How speak and how justify ourselves? God has found out the iniquity of your servants; here we are, my lord’s slaves- -both we and the one who was caught with the goblet in his possession!”(5).

Judas’ selfless act is proof, that what was once jealousy is now ‘responsibility’. Joseph can “no longer restrain himself”(6), and finally reveals his identy.

(1) Genesis (42:7)
(2) Genesis (42:4)
(3)Genesis (42:12)
(4) Genesis (42:21-22)
(5) Genesis (44:16)
(6) Genesis (45:1)