Home>Jewish Living

Torah Sparks

Parashat Miketz (Shabbat Hanukkah)
December 15, 2012 – 2 Tevet 5773

Annual (Gen. 41:1-44:17): (Etz Hayim, p. 250; Hertz p. 155)
Triennial (Gen. 43:16-44:17): (Etz Hayim, p. 265; Hertz p. 163)
Maftir (Num. 7:48-53): Etz Hayim, p. 809; Hertz p. 599
Haftarah: Zechariah 2:14-4:7 (Etz Hayim, p. 1270; Hertz p. 987)

Prepared by Rabbi Joseph Prouser
(Temple Emanuel of North Jersey, Franklin Lakes, New Jersey)

Pharaoh is disturbed by dreams his advisors are unable to interpret. Pharaoh's cupbearer remembers Joseph and his ability to interpret dreams accurately. Joseph, released from prison and brought before Pharaoh, insists the dreams are a divine portent of seven years of plenty, to be followed by seven years of famine. He advises Pharaoh to appoint "a man of discernment and wisdom" to oversee conservation of Egypt's resources in preparation for the coming famine. Pharaoh appoints Joseph, granting him all but unlimited power over Egypt. Joseph orders the collection of grain in vast quantities. During this period he marries Asenath, daughter of Poti-phera, priest of On. Two sons are born: Manasseh and Ephraim. Their names reflect the dramatic changes of fortune in Joseph's life.

Jacob instructs his sons to travel to Egypt to acquire provisions. Ten sons go to Egypt, leaving Benjamin with Jacob. When they arrive Joseph recognizes them, though they do not recognize him. Joseph treats his brothers harshly, accusing them of being spies. Hearing them describe their family background, he insists that they bring their youngest brother to Egypt, to demonstrate the truth of what they have told them. He imprisons the brothers, releasing all but Simeon on the condition that they return with Benjamin, and he orders that they be given grain and other provisions for their journey home. He also secretly has their money returned. Finding the money, they fear they will be accused of theft. Arriving home, the brothers recount their experiences to Jacob, explaining Simeon's predicament and the need to return to Egypt with Benjamin. Jacob laments the prospect of losing his youngest son.

The continuing famine impels Jacob to send his sons back to Egypt. Judah takes personal responsibility for Benjamin's safety, and receives Jacob's blessing. The brothers bring gifts and the mysteriously restored money back to Egypt, to be presented to Joseph, whose true identity remains concealed. They are received generously and brought to Joseph's home for a feast. Joseph greets his guests, asks about their father's well-being, and greets Benjamin, and then, overcome by emotion, briefly absents himself. Several hints about Joseph's identity go unheeded: he is served food apart from other Egyptians, in keeping with particularistic Egyptian taboos; Benjamin is given especially generous portions; Joseph has his brothers seated in age order. The brothers depart with generous amounts of grain. In a final test, Joseph orders his silver goblet planted in Benjamin's sack, and the brothers are arrested and returned to Egypt. The parashah concludes with a cliffhanger. Judah and his brothers maintain their innocence, but submit themselves to Joseph's judgment as his slaves. Joseph insists: "Only he in whose possession the goblet was found shall be my slave; the rest of you go back in peace to your father."

Theme #1: "I hate to say it..."

"Then Reuben spoke up and said to them, ‘Did I not tell you, "Do no wrong to the boy"? But you paid no heed. Now comes the reckoning for his blood.'" (Genesis 42:22)

Study: Derash

"The text profoundly and beautifully displays how guilt lives in the human soul and how it can well up from deeply buried stores to regard as deserved and fitting punishment some distress that is utterly unrelated and, strictly speaking, unmerited... Reuben, in another feckless and ill-considered attempt at leadership, plays ‘I told you so,' shifts blame, and decrees that Joseph's death must be requited by the death of another. His words, if they do not exactly fall on deaf ears, elicit no response." (Leon R. Kass, The Beginning of Wisdom)

"This comment seems to be a cruel and demoralizing response. What is Reuben trying to accomplish after the brothers have accepted responsibility for their misdeed? Is he trying to add salt to their wounds?! We must conclude that with his words, Reuben was attempting to guide his brothers to true repentance and regret... Reuben was conveying to his brothers that the regret they expressed by accepting the blame for the sale of their brother was a result of a misfortune that was befalling them, not due to a true feeling of regret." (Rabbi Yossi Lew)

"Just as his brothers saw only domination (and not deliverance) in his dreams (37:5-11), so here they see only punishment, never suspecting the larger design that will lead to survival and reconciliation." (Jewish Study Bible)

"Nobody who says, ‘I told you so' has ever been, or will ever be, a hero." (Ursula K. Le Guin)

"A god implants in mortals guilt whenever he wants utterly to confound a house." (Aeschylus)

Questions for Discussion

Is Reuben here demonstrating moral clarity... or gross insensitivity to his brothers? Is he "feckless"? Cruel? Guilt-ridden? Panicky? How does Reuben's comportment here reflect what we already know about him... specifically, his role in the earlier assault on Joseph and his sale into slavery?

What is the significance of the brothers' complete lack of response to Reuben? How might the narrative's treatment of Reuben reflect a broader Biblical agenda concerning him, the tribe he founded, and – perhaps – first-born sons in general?

Dr. Kass' comment is curious. In what sense is the brothers' present distress unmerited? How can Reuben – whose efforts Kass derides – be the vehicle for a profound and beautiful moral message?

Does Rabbi Lew's interpretation about Reuben as an agent of repentance work? How does the "I told you so" aspect of Reuben's message effect this question? How might he have more effectively stated the brothers' collective responsibilities for their present tribulations?

Do sin and cruelty always have an ultimate "reckoning"?

Theme #2: "Mercy Beaucoup"

"And may El Shaddai dispose the man to mercy toward you, that he may release to you your other brother, as well as Benjamin. As for me, if I am to be bereaved, I shall be bereaved." (Genesis 43:14)

Study: Derash

"'That he may release to you your other brother...' It seems that the plain meaning of the text is that Simeon was out of favor with his father because of the incident with Shechem, and therefore he did not say, ‘Simeon my son and Benjamin.'" (Nachmanides)

"When I was bereaved at the death of Joseph, I thought I was bereft of everything." (Ibn Ezra)

"May God put mercy into your hearts so that you may have mercy on others, before the man, even before the Lord will cause the man to have mercy on you. This will insure the release of your other brother and of Benjamin, for if you yourselves will have mercy on your fellow-creatures, you, too, will receive mercy from Heaven." (Imrei Shofar)

"‘If I be bereaved.' An expression of mournful acquiescence in the Divine will, like the exclamation of Esther IV, 16, ‘and if I perish, I perish.'" (Rabbi Joseph H. Hertz)

"Bereavement is the sharpest challenge to our trust in God; if faith can overcome this, there is no mountain which it cannot remove." (William Ralph Inge, Anglican Priest, Dean of St. Paul's Cathedral)

Questions for Discussion

Is this Jacob's favoritism and inept parenting run amok? He seems unwilling (or unable) even to name his captive son Shimon! Has his single-minded favoritism toward Joseph simply been passed on to Benjamin? Does he harbor resentment toward Shimon specifically... or as a co-conspirator in Joseph's putative demise?

What is Ibn Ezra saying? That Jacob was broken by the loss of Joseph, and that he feels no further bereavement is possible? Or that he once felt that way but – in the current crisis – is beginning to see the error of his ways?

The resonance of Jacob's statement with that of Esther is unmistakable: even the cantillation (trope) is identical. Why would the Book of Esther reprise Jacob's lament? Does Esther's heroic stature change your understanding of Jacob's meaning in our verse? What do these two Biblical personages have in common?

How might Dean Inge esteem Jacob in this incident? Does he demonstrate abiding faith notwithstanding his bereavement? What might Imrei Shofar (and you) think of Jacob?

Historic Note

In Parashat Mikeitz, read on December 15, 2012, Pharaoh says of Joseph, "There is none so discerning and wise as you" (41:39). Later, at the meal shared with his brothers, the as yet incognito Joseph was served his food separately (43:32). At a White House dinner at which John F. Kennedy hosted every living American Nobel Laureate, the President quipped: "There has never been a greater concentration of intellectual power here at the White House since Thomas Jefferson dined alone." On December 15, 1938, ground was broken for construction of the Jefferson Memorial.

Halachah L'Maaseh

The optimal time for lighting Chanukah candles – on a weekday!! – is at "tzeit hakochavim" (when stars become visible)... approximately one half-hour after sundown (See Mishnah Berurah 672:1). On Saturday night, one must wait until after Havdalah, marking the conclusion of Shabbat, to light candles at home. Early sources give a relatively narrow window of opportunity for the appropriate lighting time... concluding when people are no longer "in the marketplace" – i.e., when there are no passersby to see the Chanukah lights (see Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 672:1, Talmud Shabbat 21B). There are a variety of reasons that the acceptable period of lighting may be extended. Among these is shalom bayit – maintaining good family relationships and a peaceful household. Rabbi Yaakov Kaminetzky ruled (Emet L'Yaakov, p. 254, citing Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 678:1 and Talmud Shabbat 23B) that Chanukah candle-lighting may be delayed to a later hour, until, e.g., a parent (according to Kaminetzky, especially the mother!) has returned home from work, and the entire family can be assembled.

Find a Kehilla USY Conservative Yeshiva Donate Careers Contact us
Copyright © 2017
United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism
All rights reserved.
120 Broadway, Suite 1540
New York, NY 10271-0016