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Torah Sparks

Parashat Miketz – Shabbat Hanukkah
November 30, 2013 – 27 Kislev 5774

Annual (Genesis 41:1 – 44:17): Etz Hayim p. 250; Hertz p. 155
Triennial (Genesis 41:1-52): Etz Hayim p. 250; Hertz p. 155
Maftir (Numbers 7:24-29): Etz Hayim p. 807; Hertz p. 598
Haftarah (Zechariah 2:14 – 4:7): Etz Hayim, p. 1270; Hertz p. 987

Prepared by Rabbi Adam Rosenbaum
Charleston, South Carolina

Pharaoh is disturbed by his dreams, and his butler finally suggests that Joseph be summoned from prison to help. When Joseph explains that the dreams foretell seven years of prosperity followed by seven years of famine, Pharaoh appoints Joseph as second-in-command of Egypt, and Joseph successfully ensures that Egypt has food during the ensuing years.

Facing famine in Canaan, ten of Joseph’s brothers go to Egypt in search of food. The brothers don’t recognize Joseph, and Joseph withholds his true identity. Joseph imprisons Simeon and sends the rest of the brothers home with food, telling them not to return until they bring Benjamin with them. Despite Jacob’s protests, the brothers return with Benjamin. Joseph is pleased, and he releases Simeon and sends the brothers back with food again, but also plants his goblet in Benjamin’s bag. The brothers fear that Benjamin will be imprisoned in Egypt permanently.

Theme #1: Dreams

After two years’ time, Pharaoh dreamed … And Pharaoh awoke. …He fell asleep and dreamed a second time… Then Pharaoh awoke: it was a dream! Next morning, his spirit was agitated, and he sent for all the magicians of Egypt, and all its wise men; and Pharaoh told them his dreams, but none could interpret them for Pharaoh. (Genesis 41:1-8)

Our portion begins with the turning point in the Joseph narrative. Pharaoh’s dreams open the door for one man at the bottom of society to reach the top.

“The [lean] cows ate up the seven well-favored and fat ones” (Genesis 41:4): Interpreting the “lean cows” as an allegorical representation of the evil inclination, the Sages base on this passage their statement that when the evil inclination comes to man, it acts like a transient at first, then like a guest, and finally like a master, ruling over him and his household. The seven lean cows behaved toward the seven well-favored cows in the same manner as the evil inclination acts when it confronts man. At first, they “came up after them,” slowly and inconspicuously. Then they “stood by” them like guests in their pasture, and finally they “ate them up” altogether. (S’fat Emet)

“But there was none that could interpret them for Pharaoh.” Rabbi Joshua of Sikhnin said in the name of Rabbi Levi: They did interpret them, but Pharaoh did not like what they said. For example, they said: The seven fat cows mean that you will beget seven daughters; the seven lean cows mean that you will buy seven daughters. Or: The seven full ears of corn mean that you will conquer seven principalities; the seven thin ears that seven principalities will rebel against you. What was the purpose of all of this? So that Joseph would come at the end and be raised to high rank. For the Holy One said: If Joseph were to come right away and interpret the dream, he would not receive the recognition that should be his.” (Genesis Rabbah 89:6)

R. Levi said: A man should await the fulfilment of a good dream for as much as twenty-two years. Whence do we know this? From Joseph. For it is written: “These are the generations of Jacob. Joseph being seventeen years old, etc.”; and it is further written, “And Joseph was thirty years old when he stood before Pharaoh.” How many years is it from seventeen to thirty? Thirteen. Add the seven years of plenty and two of famine, and you have twenty-two. (BT Berakhot 55b)

Questions for Discussion:

The S’fat Emet turns the description of Pharaoh’s dream into a sermon on avoiding sin. He explains that people rarely turn to sin abruptly; instead, it emerges gradually, and we succumb to it before we realize what has happened to us. How typical is it that mistakes occur in the manner that the S’fat Emet describes? Is it possible to recognize the signs leading up to a mistake so it does not get repeated? How does one do so?

“Still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.” (Simon & Garfunkel, “The Boxer”. What do we learn of Pharaoh’s personality that he seeks an understanding of his dreams that he prefers? Why is it essential to know that Joseph understands the dreams in a way that no one else can? Is it possible that Pharaoh knows the meaning of his dream all along and is simply waiting for someone else to confirm it? Is Pharaoh simply trying to find someone who can work with (and for) him in a like-minded way?

The Talmud tells us that we since Joseph waited for many years for his dream to become a reality, we should be willing to do so as well. Is patience common in our modern culture? Does change happen too quickly to wait for years for a dream to come true? Or are certain dreams timeless, worthy of waiting as long as we can?

Theme #2: The Interpreter’s Role

And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I have had a dream, but no one can interpret it. Now I have heard it said of you that for you to hear a dream is to tell its meaning.” Joseph answered Pharaoh, saying, “Not I! God will see to Pharaoh’s welfare.” (Genesis 41:15-16)

The Joseph that interprets Pharaoh's dreams is very different than the one who interprets his own dreams as a youth. This Joseph is eager to deflect credit for his skill, and shows himself to be a God-fearing person even in the face of a foreign ruler who thinks of himself as a god. Joseph now clearly understands that the world does not revolve around him.

In Israel two famous dream interpreters served foreign rulers, Joseph and Daniel. Both offered their interpretations as having been given by God (Genesis 41:16; Daniel 2:27-48; 4:18). The difference between them is that Joseph’s ability is informal, whereas Daniel’s is most likely associated with his training (Daniel 1:4) … In Israel, dream interpretation is given acceptable status only when God’s direct involvement can be affirmed. … Israel agreed with the rest of the ancient Near East that deity could and did communicate through dreams. (John H. Walton, Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament)

The power of imagination is one of the great powers God has given people; even prophecy itself has its root in this power. Nevertheless, it is not the same as the prophetic vision whose true source is ultimately in the mind of God. [Prophetic visions enter the mind of the prophet] in the same way that fantasies enter the heart of a human being [except that, instead of emanating from the mind of God, imaginative fantasies have] their foundation in fantasizing about things that a person’s soul loves. And whenever a person is purified from evil qualities, such as lust, anger, pride, and quarrelsomeness, so that all the person’s fantasies are disconnected from each one of those contaminations, the person ascends to the level of prophecy. (Tzadok HaKohen of Lublin, Tzidkat HaTzaddik)

One sees how sober this whole process is in the fact that Joseph proceeds from the actual interpretation of the future immediately to quite practical suggestions. … What is theologically noteworthy is the way in which the strong predestination content of the speech is combined with a strong summons to action. The fact that God has determined the matter, that God hastens to bring it to pass, is precisely the reason for responsible leaders to take measures! (Gerhard von Rad, Genesis)

Questions for Discussion:

Walton marks a distinction between Joseph and Daniel: Daniel is more of a “professional” dream interpreter, whereas Joseph is more of an “amateur,” having never been taught the ins and outs of the skill. Does Joseph’s profound success as an interpreter remind us that those without formal training can still offer a great deal to our society? Or is it better to learn from this that some are born with talent and others gain success from hard work? Is it better to “be lucky rather than good”?

Tzadok HaKohen of Lublin seems to say that anyone can be creative, but it takes a blameless person to become a prophet. Does a messenger need to be as righteous as the message? Can we respect someone who communicates important truths if they have been hypocritical about the truths they preach? What about someone who is consistent in what they preach but are poor role models in other ways?

Von Rad tells us that Joseph transitions between the spiritual and practical with ease. Is that a difficult task? Do most people have a hard time doing so?


 
 
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