By Joy Scott, Am Haskalah Congregant
Twelve years pass, with Joseph still languishing in an Egyptian jail. Suddenly, he finds himself not only free, but also the ‘Viceroy’ of Egypt. The swiftness with which this change occurred was nothing short of a miracle. One night, the Pharaoh of Egypt had two highly disquieting and haunting dreams. He sent for all the ‘necromancers’ within the area. Each conceptualized a different interpretation of the dreams, none of which satisfied the Pharaoh.
Surprisingly, one of Joseph’s former inmates, the Pharaoh’s ‘cup-bearer’, remembered “a Hebrew who had correctly interpreted his dream, and that of the former baker” (1). Joseph was cleaned, dressed, and rushed from the dungeon into the Pharaoh’s ‘Oval Office’. The two dreams were described in detail. All savvy ‘executive consultants’ are aware that their value is perceived in not only identifying a problem, but also in providing a solution. Joseph was a ‘man with a plan’. He told the Pharaoh that the dreams suggest “seven years are coming, with great plenty throughout all the land; these will be followed by seven years of famine” (2).
Joseph quickly followed his dream interpretation with a recommendation: “Let Pharaoh seek an understanding and wise man, and appoint him to manage all the land in Egypt” (3). The Pharaoh was both astonished and encouraged by this thirty year old ‘Hebrew’. Joseph was immediately appointed Viceroy over the entire land of Egypt.
When the seven years of plenty ended, famine spread throughout the neighboring nations. Jacob told his sons to go to Egypt, where they still had grain. Joseph recognized his brothers immediately, but they saw only an aristocratic Egyptian. The conversation was both harsh and obscure. Joseph remembered his childhood dreams and accused them of being ‘spies’.
Abravanel believed that Joseph’s goal was to bring his brothers towards proper ‘teshuvah’ (repentance) for selling him to the Ishmaelites, to become a slave in Egypt(4). Nachmanides wrote that “his actions were motivated by his aspirations to fulfill his dreams and become the family leader”(5). Most modern rabbinical scholars tend to accept this interpretation. Their thinking is based on the concept that the practice of ‘teshuvah’ is between God and an individual(6).
After a series of strange negotiations and reversals of fortune, the men have procured food, brought young Benjamin to meet the ‘Viceroy’, as they were commanded, and are finally united and on their way home. However, without their knowledge, Joseph had told his staff to put money in their sacks, and a silver goblet in the bag of the youngest.
Before the brothers leave the city, they are overtaken by one of Joseph’s henchmen. Each is told to open his sack to be searched. The silver goblet was found in the bag being carried by Benjamin. They all returned to the office of Joseph and prostrated before him. In an eloquent and passionate speech, Judah (one of Leah’s six sons) pleaded for mercy, trembling with fear, lest any malevolence befall Benjamin. The parsha ends, leaving us with an enigma, as Joseph replied: “The person found with the goblet will be my slave” (7).
(1) GENESIS (41:12)
(2) GENESIS (41:29-30)
(3) GENESIS (41:33)
(4) (Abravanal) Isaac ben Judah (1437-1508) Venice, Italy
(5) Nachmonides (1194-1270)
(7) GENESIS (43:17)