Parashat Mikeitz – Erev Shabbat 15 December 2023 (5784)
Week of 10-16 December 2023
Torah portion: Genesis 41:1 – 44:17 Haftarah: 1Kgs. 3:15 – 4:1
Theme: Endings and beginnings.
This week’s Torah portion is almost always read during the week of Hanukkah. Though this is by coincidence, there are similar themes. The Torah reading begins with Joseph in prison and ends with him as a powerful, free man. The story of Hanukkah, on the other hand, begins with Israel being oppressed and ends with Israel being victorious and independent.
The main lesson of this week’s reading according to Etz Hayim (2001) is life is cyclical: “Good years are followed by lean years, adversity is followed by success, rejection yields to connection, winter gives way to spring and summer, only to return again.” And endings could be beginnings or vice-versa.
In the reading, Joseph got his freedom after 13 years of being a slave and a prisoner. This came after he was able to interpret the dreams of the Pharaoh. He predicted seven years of prosperity followed by seven years of famine (Gen.41:1-32). He told Pharaoh that what was needed to be done was to save up during the good years so that during the bad years, Pharaoh and all of Egypt would be prepared to weather the difficulties. Pharaoh appointed Joseph the overseer tasked to gather and store food all over Egypt.
As Zaphenath-paneah, he did a good job. When famine came after seven years, he was the “vizier” (the most powerful man next to the Pharaoh), who could dispense rations. He was married and was at a time in his life when he no longer wished to be reminded of his past. He even named his first born-son Manasseh, meaning, “God has made me forget completely my hardship and my personal home.”
But suddenly, he found himself once again face to face with his brothers who had betrayed him and sold him as a slave. They came to Egypt to buy food as the famine had spread to the land of their father. When Joseph saw his brothers, he recognized them. But he acted like a stranger, spoke harshly to them and tested them. He schemed to first accuse them of spying and then of theft.
Was Joseph trying to get revenge? Etz Hayim says his ruse was not to embarrass or torment his brothers but to test if they have indeed changed. Would they leave Simon, or let Benjamin languish in prison as they once abandoned him? The reading ends with this dilemma for the brothers: they can save their own lives but that would be an act of disloyalty to Benjamin and a disaster to their father.
Fast forward to the next reading portion, where Judah in his moving speech said the word “father” 14 times. Joseph was moved to tears and realized that keeping Benjamin in prison would be doing to his brother what the brothers had done to him and their father years ago. It must have been a very painful realization. “His sobs were so loud that the Egyptians could hear” (Gen. 45:3).
His reconciliation with his brothers, with the words, “I am Joseph your brother, he whom you sold into Egypt” has been considered one of the great scenes in all literature. It has led to a new beginning for the sons of Israel with their migration with their father Jacob into Egypt.
For Reflection and Discussion: 1. What have you stored for the“lean years”, when it is not easy to be holy or keep the faith? 2. Did you have an experience when it was hard to forgive or to ask for forgiveness?
Bibliography: ETZ Hayim: Torah and Commentary (New York, 2001); Mikeitzhttps://reformjudaism.org/torah/portion/mikeitz, accessed December 9, 2023; Salkin, The JPS B’nai Mitzvah Torah Commentary (Nebraska, 2017)
This week’s Parasha Commentary was prepared by
Minerva Generalao, Philippines, Bat kol Alumna July 2014 and July 2023