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Parashat Miketz (Genesis 41:1 – 44:17)

“And Pharoah said to his courtiers, ‘Could we find another like him,
a man in whom is the spirit of God?’” (Genesis 41:38)

TV and movies often use flashbacks. They interrupt the chronological narrative by introducing an earlier event which often explains plot and character development. Rabbi Stephen Cohen (Reform Rabbi at Congregation B’nai Brith in Santa Barbara, CA) reminds us flashbacks are also Biblical literary devices. Parashat Miketz offers an instructive example.

When Joseph’s brothers appear in Egypt to procure food for their families, Joseph recognizes them and throws them into jail for three days (Gen. 42:17). The brothers do not recognize Joseph but assume their misfortune is punishment for their treatment of him: “Alas! We are being punished on account of our brother, because we looked on at his anguish, yet paid no heed as he pleaded with us….” (Gen. 42:21)

Nachmanides (1194 – 1270; 13th century Spanish commentator) notices two things about this flashback: First, the brothers feel guilty they did not respond to Joseph’s distress, but not about selling him into slavery in the first place. Second, Joseph’s pleading is a detail missing from the first telling of this episode (Gen. 37:23-28). Nachmanides speculates about this omission: maybe it is understood someone in Joseph’s position would plead for his life, maybe the Torah wants to spare the brothers the disgrace, or maybe it’s just one of those things. Cohen introduces another insight: we, the readers, are also complicit in not “hearing” Joseph’s pleas.

Miketz uses the flashback as a reminder of the centrality of empathy and mercy in Jewish life. Joseph and his brothers may be a story bayamim hahem, in those days, but the importance of feeling the pain of others and responding humanely remains as timely baz’man hazeh, in this time.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom
A Freyliche Chanike/Chag Urim Sameach/Happy Chanukah

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