October 17, 2021 |

Parshat Miketz: Walkthrough

Loyalty to the literal text, with a modern voice [All editorializing in brackets]

And so here we are, two years later, and now Pharaoh is also having dreams.

He’s standing on the banks of the Nile, and seven healthy cows come up out of the water. They are followed by seven sick-looking cows, who join them on the banks of the Nile. Then the sick cows consume the healthy cows, and Pharaoh wakes up.

Pharaoh fell back asleep and had another dream. This time, seven healthy sheaves of grain were standing together, but then another seven thin sheaves swallowed up the full, healthy ones, and Pharaoh woke up again, realizing it was only a dream.

In the morning he was pretty disturbed, so he called on all of his regular interpreters, but they were at a loss.

Just then, the Chief Butler spoke up: “Remember back when you threw both the Chief Baker and myself in jail? There was one night when each had these dreams, and there was this Jewish kid there who had been the Chief Cook’s slave. We told him our dreams, and his interpretations came true.”

Pharaoh brought Joseph out of jail, had him cleaned up, and told him: “I had a dream that no one has any idea how to interpret, and I heard you can just hear a dream and know what it means.”

Joseph demurred, saying that it was God who would solve the riddle, but Pharaoh continued to go over his two dreams.

Joseph replied, “Your two dreams are in fact one – God has shared his plans with you. The seven healthy cows/sheaves represent seven good years, and the seven sick cows/sheaves represent seven years of famine. Seven years of plenty are coming, but they will be followed by seven years of famine which will be so severe that people will forget that there had ever been good years. The message was repeated in two separate dreams to emphasize to you that these are imminent. If I were you, I’d appoint someone to manage the surplus during the good years, so that you have stores when the bad years come.”

Pharaoh approved of Joseph’s interpretation, and considering he was the only one able to pull it off, wondered if anyone was better suited than him to manage the process. “You will be in charge,” Pharaoh told Joseph, “with authority second only to mine.” Pharaoh gave Joseph his ring, dressed him up, and paraded him around the city [reminds one of Mordechai’s treatment in the story of Purim]. He called him “Tzafnat Paneach”, or “Revealer of the Hidden”, and gave him a wife named Osnat.

And so Joseph at 30 [recall he was 17 when he was sold] goes out to oversee collection of an immense quantity of wheat during the good years. He also has two sons during the good years:

Menasseh: God has done good for me on behalf of my hard work and my father’s house.
Ephraim: God has let me procreate in the land of my suffering.

And so the seven good years were up, and the bad years began. The entire region had a terrible famine, but in Egypt there was food. When the Egyptians clamored to Pharaoh for food, he sent them right to Joseph, who distributed food from the storehouses. And so it was that people from the whole area started going to Egypt to find food.

Jacob too [20+ years after Joseph disappeared] had heard that there was food in Egypt, and sent ten of Joseph’s brothers down to find it. (Benjamin he kept home, lest a tragedy befall him.)

And so the ten brothers came down to Egypt and bowed before Joseph. Joseph recognized them, but pretended not to know them and gave them a hard time. “Where are you from?” he asked.

“Canaan, looking for food.”

And then Joseph remembered the dreams that he told them about, and said, “You are spies, looking for the country’s weaknesses.”

“No sir, we are not! We’re all brothers, and honest, we’re not spies.”

“I don’t believe you. You’ve come to look for the country’s weaknesses,” Joseph persisted.

The brothers replied, “We are 12 brothers – the youngest is with our father, and another is missing.”

Joseph: “About my accusation that you are spies: So help me Pharaoh if you’re gonna get out of this, unless your youngest brother comes as well. Send one of you home to get your brother, and you can wait in jail, and we’ll see if your story checks out.”

And Joseph threw them in jail for three days.

After the third day, Joseph pulled them out and said, “Let’s do this so that you all can live, I am afraid of God. Just leave one behind in jail, and the rest of you can go home with food. If you return with your younger brother, I’ll believe your story.”

And so the brothers spoke among themselves [in their native language]: “We brought this on ourselves, since we saw our brother’s anguish as he begged us to let him go and we ignored him.” Then Reuven chimed in, “I told you not to hurt him, and you didn’t listen, and now it’s all come around.”

(They, however, didn’t know that Joseph understood, as he had been talking to them through a translator.)

Joseph turned away and cried, and then returned and took Shimon to wait in jail for their return. He sent them away with full bags of food, but put the money at the tops of the sacks. After they left, they opened the bags of food and saw the money, and they panicked, saying “What has God done to us?”

They got home and told Jacob the whole story, and by the time they got to showing him the money that was returned they were all quite scared. Jacob said, “What have you done to me? Joseph is missing, Shimon is missing, and now you’re going to take Benjamin?”

Reuven stepped up and offered to let Jacob kill his two children if he can’t bring Benjamin back safely, but Jacob refused, saying “My son will not go with you – his brother is dead and he alone is left, and if tragedy befalls him it will be the death of me.” [Interestingly, Jacob seems to accept the loss of Shimon over even the potential loss of Benjamin.]

But meanwhile, the famine had worsened, and when the food ran out Jacob told them to go find some more. Judah told him that Joseph had expressly forbidden them from returning without their brother, and so they cannot return alone.

Jacob demanded, “Why on earth would you tell him that you had another brother?”

Judah: “In all fairness, he started asking questions about where we were from, was our father alive, did we have a brother – how were we supposed to know he was going to turn around and tell us to bring him?”

Judah continued: “Let me take the boy, so that we don’t all die in this famine. I will take personal responsibility for him, and stand him up right here in front of you when we get back.”

Israel [Jacob] sighed, “In that case, here’s what you’re going to do: Take the best food from the land [interestingly, the same things that the Ishmaelites were bringing to Egypt when they stopped to buy Joseph], as well as double the money, to return what you found in your sacks, maybe there was some mistake. Then you can take your brother as well and go back to this guy. And God have mercy on you, and send you back with your other brother and Benjamin, and as for me, if I lose my children, so be it.

And so the brothers did just that, as they returned to Egypt and stood before Joseph.

When the brothers arrived, Joseph saw Benjamin with them, and he immediately invited them for dinner. The brothers reacted with fear, thinking that Joseph intended to get them in private and enslave them over the money that they unwittingly took out of Egypt on their last trip.

They approached the man in charge of Joseph’s household, and told him their side of the story of the returned money. He told them not to worry – their god and their father’s god had given them a bonus in their sacks, but the payment had been received. And then he brought in Shimon [who had been waiting in jail all this time].

Finally Joseph came, and they gave him the gifts they had brought from Canaan and bowed before him. Joseph asked how they were doing, and how their aging father was faring, was he still alive? “Our father is OK, he’s still alive.”

Then Joseph looked up and saw Benjamin, and asked if this was the younger brother they had mentioned, and the brothers said that in fact it was. “May God favor you, my son,” Joseph blessed him.

At this point Joseph can barely contain himself, as it’s getting increasingly difficult to maintain this tough exterior. He excuses himself and cries in private, washes his face, and resumes the charade.

As they sit down to eat, Joseph is brought food separately from the brothers, as it was viewed as an abomination to Egypt for Egyptians to eat with Hebrews. Joseph seated the brothers in age order, which astounds the brothers. He gives Benjamin 5 times what the others get, and they all get drunk.

Joseph then requests that their bags be filled, and the money returned as last time, and that his silver goblet be placed in Benjamin’s bag.

Morning came, and the men were sent on their way. They were barely outside the city limits when Joseph sent his household chief of staff running after them, to ask them why they repaid his kindness with wrongdoing. “This is my master’s cup, did you think he wouldn’t notice?” he asked the brothers when he caught up with them.

The brothers protested: “Why would you make such an accusation against us? Last time we found money in our sacks we brought it back, why would we steal from you now? The person in whose bag you find the cup shall be killed [remember Jacob’s similar pronouncement against Rachel when Lavan accuses him of stealing the idols], and we will all be your slaves.

He replied, “No need to go that far – the person with the cup in his bag will be a slave, but the rest of you can go free.” [Thus completing the setup of the test: First Benjamin is favored by getting 5 times what his brothers get, and then they are put in a situation where they can get off scot free by turning their backs on the favored child. If they would all be slaves, they would have some self-interest in protecting Benjamin.]

And so he searched in each bag, starting with the eldest and eventually getting to the youngest [again, remember Lavan searching each tent one at a time], and he found the cup in Benjamin’s bag.

Judah and his brothers return to Egypt in anguish, and fall at Joseph’s feet. “Did you think someone like me wouldn’t notice this kind of theft?” Joseph asked.

Judah replied, “What can we say? We have no excuse – God has seized upon our wrongdoing. We – all of us – will remain here as your slaves.

Joseph said he would never do such a thing. “The one who in whose possession the cup was found will be my slave. The rest of you return in peace to your father.”

[And what a cliffhanger... Are the brothers redeemed? Do they step up? Does Joseph reveal himself? Do they pass his test? Does Joseph ever get reunited with his father whom he keeps asking about? Tune in next week…]


Jack Kustanowitz

Joined: July 15, 2007

Jack is an Internet professional living in Silver Spring, MD. He is a proud alum of the Frisch School in Paramus, NJ as well as Boston University, where he was active at BU Hillel.

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Zev-Hayyim Feyer

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Jewish Renewal Rabbi. Smicha in 1977 from Rebbes Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, HJoseph Gelberman, and Shlomo Carlebach. Retired hospital chaplain, with specialties in mental health and AIDS/HIV chaplaincy.

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