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Torah readings:
First scroll:  Genesis 41:1 to 44:17
Second scroll:  Numbers 7:48-53
Haftarah:     Zechariah 2:14 to 4:7

Because this is Shabbat Chanukah (spell it however you like) I am dividing the D'var Torah into two parts.

By the coincidence of the calendar, this parashah Miketz is almost always read during Chanukah. Pharoh has two dreams:  In his first dream seven skinny cows eat up seven fat cows, and in his second dream seven scorched ears of wheat eat up seven fat ears of wheat.  His magicians cannot interpret these dreams, but his cupbearer tells him about Joseph.  Pharoh brings Joseph out of prison and relates to Joseph his dreams.  Joseph states that Egypt will enjoy sven prosperous years followed by seven years of famine, and suggests they better start storing food now.  Pharoh makes Joseph his prime minister, and, thanks to Joseph, when the famine comes, there is food in Egypt.

Meanwhile, things are rough in Canaan, so Jacob instructs his remaining sons, save the youngest, Benjamin, to go to Egypt to purchase food.  Joseph recognizes his brothers, but they do not recognize him.  He calls them "spies", but overhears Reuben, speaking in Hebrew, express his remorse.  Joseph pretends not to understand them.  He orders Simeon seized but agrees to sell the others grain, and tells them to return home and to bring back Benjamin if they want to see Simeon released.  Secretly, he intructs his servants to replace the money for which they paid for the grain.  The brothers are scared - this is surely a "set-up."

When they return home, their father Jacob refuses to let them return to Egypt with Benjamin, but when they run out of food again and are hungry, Judah assures his father he will take responsibility for Benjamin.  Joseph welcomes them with a festive meal and assures them he had their money - their God must have been good to them.  After the meal, he provides them food again to return to Canaan, and this time refuses payment.  Secretly, he instructs his servants to put his silver goblet into Benjamin's bag.  After the brothers leave, Joseph has his servants follow them, they search the bags and find the goblet.  They are brought back to Joseph, who announces that Benjamin will be held in slavery, the others are free to return to Canaan.

Jewish commentators, from Talmudic times to the present, have been divided over Joseph's treatment of his brothers.  

The 13th century Spanish scholar and rabbi Nachmanides, known as the Ramban, defended Joseph, arguing that Joseph was merely carrying out his childhood dream, that all the sheaves and the sun and moon and the eleven stars would all bow down to him.  Therefore, he hid his identity so they would be forced to bring down Benjamin and their father, so all would bow down to him, to fulfill the dreams.

But the 15th century Spanish scholar and rabbi Don Isaac Abravanel could not forgive Joseph for his treatment of his brothers.  The brothers had intended evil, but God turned it into good - after many years in prison Joseph had emerged as the second most powerful person in Egypt, and he would save many people from starvation.  This could not have happened if his brothers had not sold him into slavery.  To Abravanel, Joseph was acting out of petty revenge, and, if he could not forgive his brothers, at least he could have shown some concern for the hurt he was causing his aged father.  

In the Talmudic literature, Genesis Rabbah 24:7, Rabbi Tanchuma attempts to reconcile the dispute of several generations earlier between Ben Azzai and Rabbi Akiva as to what is the most important commandment of the Torah:

Ben Azzai said: '"This is the book of the descendants of Adam" (Genesis 5:1) is a great principle of the Torah.'  [teaching us that we are all descendants of Adam and Eve and therefore brothers and sisters so we are obligated to love each other as brothers and sisters.]  Rabbi Akiva said: '"And you shall love your neighbour as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18) is an even greater principle.'  Therefore, [from Ben Azzai's statement you can deduce that] you must not say: 'Since I have been put to shame, let my neighbour be put to shame.  Rabbi Tanchuma said:  If you do [take revenge by putting another person to shame], know Whom you put to shame, [for] 'in the likeness of God did [God] make him' (Genesis 5:1).
Joseph may be mildly commended for not getting his revenge by murdering his brothers.  In so much of literature, murder is the means of revenge.  But, in humiliating his brothers, in causing them mental anguish, Joseph still got his revenge, even at the cost of causing his aged father even greater mental anguish.  Rabbi Tanchuma is right, the Ramban is wrong.  We must not take revenge, and we must honor and love each of our fellow humans as brothers and sisters, for that is how we build peace and a just nation and world.

Shabbat Shalom

Originally posted to Elders of Zion on Thu Dec 13, 2012 at 01:30 PM PST.

Also republished by Street Prophets .

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (16+ / 0-)

    "We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals, now we know that it is bad economics." Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Jan. 20, 1937

    by Navy Vet Terp on Thu Dec 13, 2012 at 01:30:04 PM PST

  •  Thanks, here are some latkes (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    blueyedace2, Ojibwa, SchuyH, mayim, ramara

    Nice d'var...Happy Chanukah

    ...inspiration moves me brightly

    by wbr on Thu Dec 13, 2012 at 01:51:32 PM PST

  •  We had a Chanukah party (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    SchuyH, Navy Vet Terp, slksfca, mayim

    at my shul last night, with a latke dinner (only who on earth doesn't put onions in their latkes?), musical Maariv service, and holiday songs, with our little group playing and singing along. Fun.

    I agree about Joseph. I don't at all think he was testing his brothers to see if they had changed like the rabbis said. I think he ended up with the change, at least in Judah, changing him. Oops, that's next week. Or unfreezing him. Everything he does is exceedingly cruel. Would he really have kept Benjamin with him?

    I think the putting of the money in their bags was simply meant so his father would not be paying him for food, but all the rest is cruel to Jacob as well as the brothers.

    This is an interesting drosh, NVT.  Thank-you.

    Republicans want to make government small enough to fit in your vagina..

    by ramara on Thu Dec 13, 2012 at 04:15:16 PM PST

  •  Need a volunteer for next week n/ (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    SchuyH

    "We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals, now we know that it is bad economics." Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Jan. 20, 1937

    by Navy Vet Terp on Thu Dec 13, 2012 at 05:26:46 PM PST

  •  I think either of the two conventional readings (5+ / 0-)

    misses something essential about Joseph's psychology and actions. Namely, that they're very human: not in the sense of being "revenge" oriented but being confused and even irrational. I don't think Joseph is "trying" either to "test" the brothers OR to "get revenge" in this story.

    Putting myself in Joseph's shoes...

    Ok, so you're Joseph: sold into slavery as a teenager, then thrown into prison, then having risen to the second-highest office in the land. Suddenly these people show up: these ghosts from your past. It takes you a few moments to realize that, yes, these really are the brothers that sold you into slavery. They don't recognize you, of course. And one of them, your kid brother Benjamin...is missing. Is he dead? Did they sell him (your mother's only other son) into slavery too? Are they really that evil? Maybe...

    Chatting with the brothers, you find out Benjamin is still alive and well. So now what do you do? Throw them in jail for revenge? But you're past that. After all, if they hadn't sold you into slavery you wouldn't be the second most important person in Egypt.

    Give them food and send them on their way? But then you'll never see them again. You'll never see Benjamin again, or your father. The ghosts from your past will remain ghosts and you'll never, really, come to terms with what happened.

    So what do you do? You do everything you can to keep them coming back. You lock one of them up and insist they have to bring Benjamin. You play mind games (sticking their money back in their sacks: blessing, or curse?) You're not trying to torment them and you're not trying to simply be merciful and generous. You're trying to keep them hooked. :D

    ...And it works.

    This is how I read this story, anyway. Joseph isn't either a benevolent or a cruelly detached dispenser of revenge or mercy from a safe, arms-length distance (psychologically). He's a normal, confused human being, blundering around and acting out of mixed motives and irrationality, doing everything he can to ensure that he doesn't lose track of his birth family again...while not revealing himself too soon, for fear that his brothers really are the evil bullies that he remembers. (I guess you could say he's "testing" them...but maybe he's, even more so, trying to work out his own feelings and feel out the situation as best he can).

  •  Joseph's Historical Role (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    SchuyH

    A few years ago, I read the three main historical novels of Naguib Mahfouz, an Egyptian Nobel Prize winner. The second and third of these was about the liberation of Egypt in the second millenium BCE from a royal dynasty made up of Hyksos invaders. I have also read that the Hyksos were a Semitic people (the Egyptians are non Semitic) and that the Pharoah who released Joseph from prison was one of these Hyksos. Thus, in effect, Joseph helped a foreign dominator to dispossess  the Egyptian (read the Bible itself or Navy Vet Terp's excellent diary for details how). Any comments from the Kossacks?
    Shalom Shabbat

    •  To the Extent that this part of the Bible (0+ / 0-)

      Is based on actual history, it would make sense that Joseph and the Jews would have aligned themselves with the Hyksos, so that their subsequent overthrow by the "nationalists" would have been the excuse for the Jews' ensuing persecution.

      In more modern times, when the Germans in World War I drove the Tsarist army out of Poland, the Germans saw the Polish Jews as natural allies and administrators of German-occupied Poland.  Polish Jew spoke a language, Yiddush, similar to German, and as a rule they were better educated than most Poles, and viewed the Germans as liberators from their Russian and Polish persecutors.  Many Jews accepted administrative posts on behalf of the German army.  This cooperation was, of course, resented by most Poles, many of whom were bigots to begin with, and helped set the stage for the death camps that the Nazis would place in Poland, largely to the apathy of the surrounding Polish population.

      In World War I German Jews served in the army, and sustained casualites, killed and wounded, far beyond their percentage of the German population.  After the war, Walter Rathenau would emerge as a leading political figure, serving as foreign minister.  Rathenau negotiated the Treaty of Rapallo with the Soviet Union and might well have become chancellor had he not been murdered by proto-Nazis.  Rathenau was proud of his Judaism and attended temple regularly.  But, to paraphrase Exodus 1:8, there arose a new leader who knew not how German Jews fought and bled for Germany, and who knew not Walter Rathenau.

      "We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals, now we know that it is bad economics." Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Jan. 20, 1937

      by Navy Vet Terp on Sat Dec 15, 2012 at 02:49:44 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

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