In Parashat Mikeitz, we find ourselves in the middle of one of the most complete and compelling human stories in the Book of Genesis. Unlike the narratives about Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, however, a large section of the Joseph story contains no mention of God.
In last week's Torah portion, Vayeishev, we get to know Joseph, the youngest and most favored son in a clearly dysfunctional family. Although his father Jacob had several one-on-one encounters with God, it does not seem that God resides within this family. Motivated by jealousy and hatred, Joseph's brothers sell him to Ishmaelites on their way down to Egypt. Certainly God was not present when they plotted his fate, and God is also absent as Joseph journeys down to Egypt.
God is not a part of Joseph's first encounter with Egyptian life as the head of Potiphar's household and Parashat Vayeishev ends with Joseph back in prison after he had been set up by Potiphar's wife in a false accusation of sexual harassment. Now, at the beginning of this week's parashah, Joseph is still in prison after two long years. Apparently, during that time, Joseph has finally allowed the God of his ancestors to enter his life and at the same time has gained a healthy sense of humility. When called upon by Pharaoh to interpret his disquieting dreams, Joseph responds, "Not I; God will see to Pharaoh's welfare." (Genesis 41:16)
Pharaoh is clearly impressed by Joseph's skillful interpretations and his brilliant marketing plan. But what is it exactly that sets Joseph's interpretations apart from those of all the wise men of Egypt? After all, Pharaoh's dreams don't seem that difficult to figure out. The answer lies in Joseph's faith. So passionate is Joseph's belief in God that he is elevated from the depths of the dungeon to the position of Pharaoh's second in command.
Like a good novel, the big picture slowly emerges—and it is God's big picture. Joseph's brothers re-enter the story as they journey down to Egypt in search of food. Now Joseph will be able to save his family and continue the unfolding of God's plans as revealed to Abraham.
How often we meet people that have no room for God in their lives? They believe that their successes are of their own hands and therefore, have nowhere to turn when their lives take a fall. Was this not Joseph's problem? As long as God was not in Joseph's life—as long as Joseph was so full of himself—his life was one pitfall after another. Not until Joseph allowed God in was his destiny fulfilled and his family reunited.
Allowing God to enter our lives can provide us with a sense of humility, an ethical framework, and a passion for all that life has to offer. It is a lesson we can all learn from.
At the time of this writing in 1997,Cantor Judith Kahan Rowland served as cantor of the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, Baltimore, Maryland. She is a past president of the American Conference of Cantors.