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Torah Sparks

December 27, 2008 – 30 Kislev 5769

Annual: Genesis Genesis 41:1-44:17 (Etz Hayim, p. 250; Hertz p. 155)
Triennial Cycle: Genesis 41:53-43:15 (Etz Hayim, p. 257; Hertz p. 158)
Maftir: Numbers 28:9–15: Numbers 7:42-7:47 (Etz Hayim, p. 930, 808; Hertz p. 695, 599)
Haftarah: Zehariah 2:14 – 4:7 (Etz Hayim, p. 1270; Hertz p. 987)

Prepared by Rabbi Joyce Newmark
Teaneck, New Jersey

Torah Portion Summary

Pharaoh dreams of seven lean cows devouring seven fat cows and seven thin ears of grain consuming seven healthy ears. He is disturbed by his dreams, but none of his magicians can interpret them. The chief cupbearer now remembers Joseph and his ability to interpret dreams. Pharaoh sends for Joseph, who tells him that his dreams are God’s way of informing Pharaoh about the seven years of abundance to come, which will be followed by seven years of famine. Joseph advises Pharaoh to appoint someone to oversee the collection and storage of surplus food in the prosperous years so that it will be available for the years of scarcity. Pharaoh sees the wisdom of the plan and appoints Joseph to the position, giving him many honors and a wife who bears him two sons.

After the seven years of plenty have passed, the famine begins in Egypt and the surrounding lands. Jacob sends ten of his sons – all but Benjamin – to Egypt to buy food. When the brothers come before the viceroy of Egypt – Joseph – he recognizes them but they don’t recognize him. Joseph accuses them of being spies, and when they protest he agrees to hold Shimon hostage until they return with Benjamin to prove their innocence. When the brothers tell Jacob what has happened, he refuses to let Benjamin go to Egypt. The famine continues, however, and Jacob reluctantly allows Benjamin to accompany his brothers to Egypt to buy food. Joseph has the brothers brought to his house, where he serves them a feast. However, Joseph tells his steward to hide his silver goblet in Benjamin’s sack. After the brothers depart for home, Joseph sends his men after them to apprehend the “thief.” Joseph tells the brothers that he will keep the one who stole the goblet as his slave; the others are free to return home.

1. Do As I Do

Now Joseph was the vizier of the land; it was he who dispensed rations to all the people of the land. And Joseph’s brothers came and bowed low to him, with their faces to the ground. (Bereisheit 42:6)

  1. Although he was governor of all of Egypt, he did not delegate the distribution of the produce to subordinate officials but supervised them all himself to make sure that no one would be cheated and to provide an example of how to practice the virtue of compassion in order to save the hungry. (Sifthei Kohen [Rabbi Mordecai HaKoken of Safed, 17th century, Israel])
  2. Even though Joseph was the governor and everyone was at his command, he did not assign the disbursement of food to anyone else. Instead, he did it all himself. This teaches us that when life is in danger, we may not rely on others. Joseph served as an example of how we must ourselves work at carrying out good deeds. (Rabbi Shabtai Kohen, cited in Itturei Torah, Rabbi Aharon Yaakov Greenberg)
  3. You should not promise a child something and then not give it to him, because as a result the child will learn to lie. (Sukkah 46b)
  4. We know that a child does not become a mensch merely because of the advice we give, the childrearing techniques we employ, or the pat formulas we read about in books. Moral sayings and proverbs do not guarantee menschlichkeit, no matter how often we repeat them. Kindness is not taught by lecture or sermon. Kindness is a way of doing things learned in a family that does things in a kind way. Giving clothes to a migrant family was just one of the many kind things my mother did. And if our children are fortunate to know others outside the family – teachers, clergymen, scout leaders, camp counselors – who also act out of kindness and compassion, all the better. (Rabbi Neil Kurshan, “Raising Your Child to Be a Mensch,” p. 75)

Sparks for Discussion

Parents are their children’s first and best teachers, and the lessons continue 24/7. What values do you want your children and grandchildren to internalize? How well are you teaching them by example? What do you tell them when your actions are in conflict with your ideals? How can we counteract the negative examples promoted by popular culture?

2. We Meet Again

When Joseph saw his brothers he recognized them, but he acted like a stranger toward them and spoke harshly to them. He asked them, “Where do you come from?” And they said, “From the land of Canaan, to procure food.” For though Joseph recognized his brothers, they did not recognize him. (Bereisheit 42:7-8)

  1. Why did Joseph denounce his brothers? Surely it was criminal of him to take vengeance and bear a grudge like a viper. Though they had meant evil, God had turned it to good. What justification then had he for taking vengeance after twenty years? How could he ignore their plight in a strange land? And the plight of their families, particularly his aged father, gnawed by worry and care? All were suffering famine and waiting for them. How could he not have pity on his father, and how could he bear to inflict more pain on him by imprisoning Simeon? (Don Isaac Abravanel, 1437-1508, Spain and Italy)
  2. Defeat usually comes as a great grief to the loser. Thus Joseph knew what a humiliation it would be to his brothers if they were to learn that the lord before whom they were bowing “with their faces to the ground” was Joseph, whom they had ridiculed when he had told them of his dream that they would all bow down to him someday. It was in order to spare them this humiliation that Joseph did not make himself known to them immediately. Scripture relates this fact in praise of the righteous Joseph. Another person in Joseph’s position would have taken full advantage of this opportunity to have his revenge, to make the enemy truly feel his defeat. But Joseph did the opposite. When his brothers bowed down to him, he recognized them immediately, but he made himself a stranger to them in order to spare them the shame of defeat. (Kedushat Levi [Rabbi Levi Isaac of Berdichev, 1740-1809, Ukraine])
  3. [All] these acts of Joseph are accounted for by his wisdom in the interpretation of the dreams. Otherwise, we should wonder: After Joseph stayed in Egypt for many years and became chief and overseer in the house of a great lord in Egypt, how was it possible that he did not send a single letter to his father to inform him of his whereabouts and comfort him, as Egypt is only about a six-day journey from Hebron? ...But it was because Joseph saw that the bowing down of his brothers, as well as his father and all his family, could not possibly be accomplished in their homeland, and he was hoping that it would be effected in Egypt when he saw his great success there. This was all the more so after he heard Pharaoh’s dream, from which it became clear to him that all of them were destined to come there, and all his dreams would be fulfilled. (Ramban [Rabbi Moses ben Nachman, 1194-1270, Spain])
  4. We must try, from what we are told, to explain Joseph’s behavior. We should have thought that if only for his father’s sake, he would have made himself known to them immediately, especially as he had already recognized the hand of God in all that had happened and had learned to appreciate all his misfortunes, including his brothers’ crime against him, as God working or his greatest happiness and good fortune... But he, who even as an Egyptian prince had brought up his children for the House of Jacob, and who longed for his bones ultimately to rest in the land of his fathers, felt it absolutely necessary to be convinced of two things: (a) that he himself can have a different opinion of his brothers, and above all (b) that his brothers have a different opinion of, and felt quite differently toward, him. (Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, 1808-1888, Germany)

Sparks for Discussion

What was in Joseph’s mind and heart when he saw his brothers? Was he anticipating sweet revenge? Was he looking for a sign that they had changed? Was he hoping for the fulfillment of his dreams? During the years he was in Egypt, did Joseph think about his family? Did he long for a reunion or did he try to forget his earlier life? Did he indulge in fantasies about what he would do to his brothers if they were ever in his power? Had he forgiven them in his heart? If you were in Joseph’s position, what would your thoughts and feelings at the moment of meeting be?

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