Table for Five: Miketz
In partnership with the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles
Edited by Salvador Litvak, the Accidental Talmudist
So all the world came to Joseph in Egypt to procure rations, for the famine had become severe throughout the world.
– Gen 41:57
Rabbi Abraham Lieberman, Judaic Studies, Shalhevet HS
The Talmud (Sotah13b) asks, why did Joseph die much earlier than his brothers? He was one of the youngest siblings. The answer given us is surprising. It was because he acted with authority, the usage of his position put him in a situation where his actions showed his power.
Pirkei Avot (1:10) teaches that one should hate, avoid such positions. The Talmud does not provide a source text or a verse to back up its claim that Joseph acted with such overt authority. Many commentaries have come up with different answers. Some go back to his dreams, where it is clear that he is the center of power. Others point to the fact that in his conversations with his brothers, before he reveals himself to them, they refer to their father as “his servant” and Joseph never corrects them.
I believe that the source for this teaching is our verse. Joseph has now risen to the top of his career. The famine is now widespread and all need him. His office has consolidated his awesome power in total authority. His laying out of the austere plan of collecting all grain, having everyone pay for their basic sustenance, is clearly a usage or a mis-usage of his authority.
In a different statement the Talmud (Pesachim 87a) teaches “woe to the people of exercise their authority, their position will cause their burial”. We need people to be in positions of authority, but how does one use that power?
Rabbi Ari Schwarzberg, Shalhevet High School
As the drama of Yosef and his brothers reaches its fever pitch in this week’s parasha, it’s easy to lose sight of the story within the story: Yosef’s rise to power in a foreign land. Yosef’s ascendance to Egyptian aristocracy isn’t just a prerequisite to his eventual reunification with his family, it is its own story about Jewish power in a foreign land. The viceroy of Egypt is none other than Yaakov’s favorite child, and the Torah is clear – it’s him upon whom the whole world relies. Without Yosef, the Jew, the famine becomes catastrophic.
Yosef, whose life in Egypt is initially one of servitude and prison, quickly finds himself in the royal palace. It’s there, however, that Yosef is able to make up for his past failures. As a young man, Yosef finds himself elevated above his brothers and his condescension leads to dysfunction and disunity. But his fifteen minutes of fame in Pharaoh’s palace are defined by wisdom and humanitarianism. This time Yosef uses his privilege to save a world in desperate need.
At this very moment our community is unfortunately being forced to react to the weaponization and absurd depictions of “Jewish power.” But, as we defend and protect our own, it’s equally as wise to dwell on the model Yosef depicts for us in this week’s parasha. If, indeed, we are in a position of power or influence, let’s ensure that we’re doing whatever we can to uplift the world around us.
Yehudit Garmaise, Reporter, Freelance Writer, Teacher
Until now, “ochel” or “bar” have been the words that refer to the food and grain that Yosef set aside to store for seven years until the famine hit.
Now, Bereishis Rabbah tells us, the Torah uses the word, “sheber,” which means hope. In Perek 146 of Tehillim, we see this word, as “his hope,” in the line, “Praiseworthy is he in whose help is the God of Jacob; ‘his hope’ is in the Lord his God.”
From the Torah’s use of “sheber,” we learn that when “all the world came to Jacob to buy provisions,” both the Egyptians and the foreigners were not just buying food, but they were also buying into the G-dliness that Yosef was revealing.
By naming Yosef, “Tzafnas Pane-ach, the explainer of hidden things,” Pharoah indicates that his viceroy is not merely a talented statesman, but someone who could share beautiful, spiritual, and healing truths.
Yosef, however, had to change himself before he could change the world. When we first meet Yosef, he was overly concerned with his appearance, he tattled on his brothers, and he callously reported his dreams of domination over his brothers and parents. Yosef’s narcissism was so painful to his brothers that they plotted his murder and sold him into slavery. Only in the merit of Yosef’s growing chesed, which we see when he noticed the butcher and baker’s sadness, was he resplendently empowered to a position from which he could feed the world the radical hope of G-dliness.
David Sacks, Podcasts “Spiritual Tools for an Outrageous World” weekly on all platforms
The Prophet Amos says, “Days are coming. There will be a hunger in the land. But the thirst will not be for water and the hunger will not be for bread. But to hear the word of the living G-d.”
The world is still coming to Joseph for food. But who is Joseph?
Joseph is the Jewish people.
And what food are they longing for?
To hear Torah, the word of the Living G-d.
But the question is, how can we feed the world when so many of us don’t know what it means to be Jewish?
To remain Jews in America today, it is not enough to hold fast to your beliefs while someone is threatening you. To remain spiritually alive, we need to know what our mission is. Not just for us but for the sake of the world.
On one level, the antisemitism in the world today is a wake-up call. Not to be less Jewish, but to be more Jewish.
As Reb Shlomo Carlebach put it, “The whole world is waiting for Jews to be Jews.” But before we can feed the world, we must begin by feeding ourselves. And the only way to do that is through Jewish education.
So show up to a Torah class this week. Or dance with us at the Happy Minyan this Friday night. Go online to Chabad.org or Aish.com and be amazed how much light is waiting for you to bring the world this very second.
Rabbi Dr. Janet Madden, Fountainview at Gonda Westside
We read Parshat Miketz before or during Chanukah, in Kislev, the month of dreams and dreamers. In this darkest time of the year, the Joseph stories explore the relationship between dark and light, brokenness and potential for growth.
In his persona as competent administrator, rationing the grain that he has stored, Joseph seems a long way from the dreaming youth he once was. He has been catapulted from indulgence to slavery, from prison to prominence. Now, Joseph’s true power is revealed—god-like, he holds the power of life and death.
The Zohar observes “There is no greater light that that light which emerges out of the greatest darkness” (2:184a:4). In this moment of catastrophe, we see the constricting land of Egypt become a beacon of hope. Ironically clad in the trappings of power beyond even his early dreams of dominance, Joseph does not descend back into ego-centrism.
Miketz reveals that Joseph’s time of brokenness has been a time of sacred darkness, exactly the environment required for his growth. The Kotzker Rebbe taught “there is nothing so whole as a broken heart” and Miketz poignantly explores the outwardly successful Joseph’s broken heart, from his ironic naming of his sons to his dramatic encounter with his brothers.
Although Miketz marks an end, it also, and more profoundly, marks a time of nourishment, the beginning of healing for Joseph and for his family. As environmental activist Joanna Macy observes, “The heart that breaks open can contain the whole universe.”
With thanks to Rabbi Abraham Lieberman, Rabbi Ari Schwarzberg, Yehudit Garmaise, David Sacks, and Rabbi Dr. Janet Madden
Image: Joseph Selling Grain in Egypt by Jacob Willemsz de Wet, 1640s
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