Letting God Into Our Lives

Mikeitz, Genesis 41:1−44:17

D'Var Torah By: Judith Kahan Rowland

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.

Do You Trust Me?

Daver Acher By: Elisa Bergenfeld

As we read the Torah, it is interesting to note how relationships are established between the characters themselves, as well as with God. Many times we can use these positive examples as models for forming relationships in our own lives or as lessons on how to be more cautious when such situations arise. Parashat Mikeitz is all about the relationships between employers and employees, between siblings, and between parents and their children. As everyone knows, an important part of every good relationship is trust. But how do we know whom we can trust and what we should do if that trust has been broken?

Let's look at this week's parashah to derive a greater understanding of the following questions:

Who is worthy of your trust?

Joseph was taken out of prison to interpret Pharaoh's dreams. Pharaoh was so impressed by Joseph's interpretation that he elevated Joseph to a position of very high authority. In fact, Pharaoh says, "Only with respect to the throne shall I be superior to you." (Gen. 41:40) It is interesting to consider why Pharaoh trusted Joseph's interpretation. What made Pharaoh believe that Joseph would be a good leader? After all, not only was he a Hebrew, he had also been accused of committing a heinous crime.

Several commentators have suggested that Pharaoh trusted Joseph because his interpretation was very different from those offered by his own magicians. Joseph not only listened carefully, he also established a precise plan of action for dealing with the problem presented in the dream. Pharaoh was so impressed by Joseph's leadership qualities that he quickly put Joseph in charge.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why do you think that Pharaoh trusted Joseph?
  2. What makes you feel that someone is trustworthy?
  3. What qualities make a good leader?

Is it possible to gain back someone's trust?

To help us answer the question, we can look at the first meeting between Joseph and his brothers when they came to Egypt looking for food. Although Joseph had had a very good life in Egypt, he still resented his brothers and was hurt by what they had done to him. Although Joseph could have just revealed himself as their brother and given them their rations, he chose instead to create a meticulous plan in order to test their loyalty. He wanted to make sure that they truly felt remorse for what they had done to him and that they would not treat Benjamin the way they had treated him. They had to prove themselves worthy of a reconciliation with their brother.

Discussion Questions

  1. Did Joseph do the right thing by testing his brothers' loyalty? Was the test too severe?
  2. Do you think that we should test people in order to determine whether we can trust them?
  3. If so, what would you do to test another person's loyalty?

What would you be willing to do to gain someone's trust? 

The brothers returned to Jacob without Simeon. They told their father that the "man who is lord" of Egypt made them leave Simeon behind to guarantee that they would return with Benjamin. (Genesis 42:30) Jacob refused to let them take Benjamin. He did not trust his sons to take away Benjamin because they had already taken away the first of Rachel's two sons. Reuben felt very guilty about what had happened to Joseph. Trying to gain his father's trust, Reuben told Jacob that if anything happened to Benjamin, Jacob could put Reuben's own two sons to death if Reuben did not bring Benjamin back to their father. (Genesis 42:37) The thought of losing another member of his family did not lay Jacob's fears to rest. Although Jacob finally agreed to let them take Benjamin, we know that in doing so, he was wary and disheartened: "As for me, if I am to be bereaved, I shall be bereaved." (Genesis 43:14)

Discussion Questions

  1. Why did Jacob finally relent?
  2. What do you think about Reuben's offer?
  3. How far would you go to gain back someone's trust?
  4. Do you think that the effort is always worth it?
  5. Is it possible to gain back someone's trust if you have betrayed that person?

At the time of this writing in 1997, Elisa Bergenfeld, RJE, was the director of education at Central Synagogue of Nassau County in Rockville Centre, New York.

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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