Parashat Miketz – Erev Shabbat 27 December
Week of 22-28 December 2019
Torah portion: Gen 41:1-44:17 Haftarah: Zech 2:14-4:7
This week’s parashah begins with Joseph still in jail, being called upon to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams. He soon rises to a position of power within the Egyptian court (Gen 47:1-43) and marries Asenath, daughter of an Egyptian priest, who gives birth to two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim (cf. 47:44-52). Further, Joseph’s interpretations of Pharaoh’s dreams had transpired, with seven years of plenty giving way to seven years of famine. As people began to feel the effects of the famine, they cry out to Pharaoh. He places them in the hands of Joseph, who opens up the grain stores to feed them (43:53-57).
News soon travels to the land of Canaan that there is grain for sale in Egypt and so Jacob instructs his sons: “go down and buy grain for us there, that we may live and not die” (42:2). But conscious that a “deadly mishap might befall him”, Jacob refuses to send his youngest son Benjamin, Rachel’s second son (41:4). And so, just as Abraham and Sarah had done before them, the Children of Israel headed down to Egypt. What follows are a series of encounters that shed light on family relationships and leave us asking if teshuvah is a possibility (Eskenazi, 241). Teshuvah can be described as a “return” to right relationship with God and others through “repentance”, and the recognition of one’s sinful actions (see Green).
An elaborate game of cat and mouse unfolds as Joseph manipulates his brothers’ need, and by extension that of his father, for his own ends. Arriving in Egypt, Joseph’s brothers bow down before him, as they did in the dreams which began this saga (37:5ff.). At first the brothers do not recognize (yakkir) Joseph and indeed he pretends to be a stranger (yitnakker) before them (each of these words share the Hebrew root n-k-r). Echoes of this same linguistic play can be found in last week’s parashah, when the brothers bring Joseph’s blood stained coat to their father (37:32-33) and in the story of Tamar and Judah (38:25-26), “when Tamar confronts Judah with his responsibility for her pregnancy” (Eskenazi, 242).
In the verses that follow, Joseph continues to withhold his identity from his siblings, accuses them of spying and demands that they bring his full brother Benjamin before him, whilst Simeon is held in custody (42:16-20). The brothers connect their current predicament to their treatment of Joseph, even though they still do not recognize him. Reuben’s words even suggest that the brothers might recognize their responsibility for what they believe to have been Joseph’s fate (42:21-22).
Further deception ensues and family tensions are tested again and again as this tale plays itself out to the point where Joseph puts his brothers to one final test, in order to see if they will abandon Benjamin, just as they had abandoned him (44:17). Naomi Steinberg notes: “The parashah concludes with the key question still unanswered: is this family doomed to relive a violent past, or will it show that transformation and growth are possible?” (Eskenazi, 233).
For Reflection and Discussion: As we approach the secular new year, what opportunities for teshuvah leading to “transformation and growth” can I recognize before me? What family tensions am I invited to resolve?
Bibliography: Eskenazi, T., ed., The Torah: A Women’s Commentary (New York: 2008); Green, A., These Are the Words (Woodstock: 2012).