The End is Also the Turning Point

Mikeitz, Genesis 41:1−44:17

D'Var Torah By: Rabbi Laura Geller

Mikeitz, at the end, is the turning point, the beginning of the end of the Joseph story.

Joseph has spent two years in prison invisible and forgotten. Prison is like the pit where he was thrown by his brothers years before, a place where his brother Reuben said of him: The lad is not (Einenu). As Aviva Zornberg points out in The Genesis of Desire, Joseph's struggle, from the pit until now, has been his struggle with being einenu, nonexisting.

Then Pharaoh dreams his dreams and needs an interpreter. Joseph is remembered and summoned from prison. Not only does Joseph interpret the dream as a prediction of the future, something he has done before, but he also tells Pharaoh what to do in response to the prediction.

Pharaoh appoints Joseph to oversee the management of food resources, making him the second most powerful man in Egypt. He marries Potiphar's daughter and has two sons. It would seem that Joseph has made it big, forgotten his Hebrew family, transcended his childhood traumas and his terror of nonexistence.

But the names of his sons tell a different story: Manasseh, "for God has made me forget all my toil and all of my father's house," and Efraim, "for God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction." Joseph tries to forget, but he can't.

His brothers come to Egypt to get food. He recognizes them, but he is unrecognizable. They describe themselves as "twelve brothers; the youngest, however, is now with our father, and one is not (einenu). He accuses them of being spies. He demands that they bring Benjamin, his full brother, to Egypt. They understand this as punishment for their treatment of Joseph long ago. When Joseph hears this, he has to turn away so they don't see his tears. His brothers have changed, he begins to realize. They still think of him. He is not einenu, gone from them. He has not been forgotten. The midrash develops this idea: They have come to Egypt for two reasons—for food, of course, but also to find their lost brother Joseph.

Another midrash describes Joseph's meeting with Benjamin. Benjamin explains how the names of each of his sons reflect the longing Benjamin has for his beloved Joseph. Again Joseph has to leave the room so he doesn't see him cry.

The tears, the turning point, the beginning of the end—all are Joseph's realization that he has not been forgotten. He is not yet ready to forgive, but, knowing he was never really gone, he begins to reclaim himself.

Good Old-Fashioned Family Values

Daver Acher By: Karen Trager

Strengthening Jewish identity is a paramount Jewish goal, and examining the Jewish family offers us both answers and questions to explore. Parashat Mikeitz provides a treasure trove of themes: what were the issues for Joseph and his family, and how do their experiences challenge us today?

What's in a name?

Pharaoh gives Joseph an important Egyptian name (41:45) signifying Joseph's role; Joseph names his sons to underscore his feelings about his life (41:51-52). What are your family's names? What are their stories? (My grandparents named my uncle, the firstborn son, Mordechai Moses—a name rife with symbolic Jewish and family heritage. The hospital recorded his name as Harold Mordechai; and so—what else could they have done?—his family forever after called him Bill!)

Who shall go and who shall remain? Jacob chooses (42:1-4)

When Jacob realized that Egyptian grain might save his family, how did he decide who to send on the life-saving errand? Why not go himself? Why send ten sons? And why not Benjamin?

Who did your family send? Under what circumstances? (My Dad's 13-year-old father brought his mother out of pogrom-filled Russia, across the ocean via steerage, and found the chutzpah (extreme self-confidence) to survive—and succeed—in the new land. How many of today's b'nai miztvah (bar/bat mitzvah) youth would attempt such a feat?)

Who is the mourner? (42:36)

Jacob acts as if the losses of his three sons affected only him. How does your family experience loss? Is grieving something that family members prefer to experience alone? With others? How does your family practice Jewish grieving and mourning customs? What about reciting kaddish? (As a 14-year-old, fresh from my first experience as part of a Jewish summer camp community of mourners, I naturally stood for the mourner's kaddish at our Conservative synagogue at home—and was shocked when so many people approached me to inquire whether something tragic had happened to my parents. At that synagogue, only immediate family stood for the mourner's kaddish.)

Reference Materials

Mikeitz, Genesis 41:1-44:17
The Torah: A Modern Commentary, pp. 264–277; Revised Edition, pp. 267–283;
The Torah: A Women's Commentary, pp. 233–258

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