Parshat Miketz (Genesis 41:1 – 44:17)

“Joseph answered Pharoah, saying, ‘It is not up to me…’” (Genesis 41:16)

Over the course of these few weeks, we are watching the evolution of Joseph from self-centered, arrogant brother, to thoughtful, strategic leader. This week’s parsha (Torah portion) begins with Pharoah’s request for Joseph to interpret his dreams. This is the third set of dreams Joseph interprets. The first were his own dreams as a teenager, where he sees his family bowing down to him; and the second was from an Egyptian jail, where he correctly interprets the dreams and fates of the chief butler and baker. This third set takes place after two more years in prison, when the chief butler remembers Joseph and suggests that Pharoah ask Joseph to interpret his dreams. Joseph impresses Pharoah with his interpretation and is elevated to second-in-command to Pharoah. From this position, Joseph is able to lead Egypt through seven years of prosperity and another seven of famine.

As Rabbi Aryeh Ben David notes (in his book, Around the Shabbat Table), Joseph’s response in the quote above suggests he has internalized that his gift of dream interpretation is as a channel for God, serving a higher purpose rather than his own ego. When Joseph’s brothers come to buy grain in Egypt, Joseph recognizes them but “made himself a stranger” to them (Genesis 42:7). Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev (Hasidic leader, 1740-1809 in Poland; as related in David Blumenthal’s God at the Center) suggests that Joseph was in perfect position to prove to his brothers that his dreams had come true. When they came to Egypt, they bowed down to him because that was the custom before royalty, not realizing that it was Joseph. Had he told them who he was right away, they would have been bitter and upset. Despite any temptation to boast about his victory over them, Joseph knew that wasn’t the point.

So what was the point? Joseph’s gift was actually a responsibility. As David noted last week, Joseph was fulfilling an important role in God’s plan, and at the same time learning an important lesson about humility. His purpose in life was not to dominate his brothers but to facilitate the survival of his family as part of his role in the bigger picture.

Our question as JCC people is similar: What is the point? What is our purpose in the work we are doing? What is the bigger picture we are striving for, and where are we on that path to achieve it? The clearer we are in our answers, the better able we will be to successfully apply all the gifts we bring to help move our communities forward.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom,

Matt

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