Parashat Miketz – Erev Shabbat 23 December 2022 (5783)
Week of 18-24 December 2022
Torah portion: Gen. 41:1-44:17   Haftarah: Zech. 2:14-4:7

Theme:  Learning to let go in love

Joseph and his brothers “are all sons of one man” (42:11), the patriarch Jacob. During the great famine, Jacob’s ten oldest sons go down to Egypt at their father’s command. There is food to be had in Egypt so they are to go there and purchase some “that we may live and not die” (42:2). Jacob’s first words (42:1) to his sons, usually translated as “Why are you looking at one another?” (root r-’-h), can be translated (Alter 239) as “Why are you fearful?”(root y-r-‘). Yet Jacob is himself fearful. He does not send Benjamin with the rest of his sons because “he fear[s] that harm might come to him.”(42:4) 

 The sons go off, only to return with an abundance of food but without their brother Simeon. The Egyptian lord (Joseph) who has imprisoned Simeon has told them that they are not to return unless they bring Benjamin with them. Jacob’s response to this news is: “I am the one you have bereaved of children: Joseph is no more, and Simeon is no more, and now you would take Benjamin” (42:36). Jacob believes that he could not survive the loss of his youngest son. If Benjamin goes to Egypt, Jacob tells his other sons, “and harm should come to him…you would bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to Sheol” (42:38).

Once the food brought from Egypt has been consumed, however, Judah argues that Benjamin must go to Egypt with his brothers so that Jacob and his sons and their children “may live and not die” (43:8). Jacob yields, praying that all may turn out well: “May God Almighty grant you mercy before the man, so that he may send back your other brother and Benjamin” (43:14). This petition could be translated literally as “that he may send back your brother another [one] and Benjamin.”  The “another one” is Joseph, as if Jacob, even in his despair over Joseph’s fate, still hopes that he is alive (Leibowitz, 480-481). At the same time, he accepts that things may not turn out as he hopes: “As for me, if I am bereaved of my children, I am bereaved” (43:14). As the parashah ends, it seems that Benjamin will indeed not return to his father but stay in Egypt as a slave (44:17).

       Alter (244) unsympathetically describes Jacob as “a prima donna of paternal grief.” But whatever we think of his extravagant love for the children of his beloved Rachel, it is nonetheless real. It seems impossibly hard for him to send Benjamin away and yet he does. From the time of his birth, with his hand on his brother’s heel, Jacob has shown himself more inclined to grasp tightly than to let go. But in this act of surrender he shows himself the grandson of Abraham, who sent away his son Ishmael and was prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac. In letting Benjamin go, Jacob believes he is risking the life of his beloved son and even his own life for the sake of all his offspring, the b’nai Israel.  

For Reflection and Discussion: At Chanukah we remember the courage of the Maccabees and how they risked all in fighting for their people. What is our experience of risking what we love for something we love even more? Do we trust God enough to do this?

Bibliography: Leibowitz, New Studies in Bereshit (Genesis) (Jerusalem, n.d.); Alter, The Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentary (New York, 2004).

This week’s Parasha Commentary was prepared by
Anne Morton, Bat Kol Alumna: 2010

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