“Pharoah said to Joseph, ‘I am Pharoah; yet without you,
no one shall lift up hand or foot in all the land of Egypt.’” (Genesis 41:44)
Parashat Miketz is the original Saturday-afternoon-matinee-action-thriller with lots of cliffhangers. Joseph rises from the prison to the palace. The famine he predicts drives his brothers down to Egypt to get food. They don’t recognize him, though, and Joseph, “…acted like a stranger toward them…” (Gen. 42:7) setting up some dramatic tension.
Joseph is an interesting figure. He’s not a patriarch, like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He’s not a prophet like Moses, Joshua, Samuel, or the rest of the bunch. And in this parasha (portion), it’s not clear what kind of person he is, yet. Rabbi Kerry Olitzky (1954-; Reform rabbi and Executive Director of the Jewish Outreach Institute) interprets this verse and its aftermath to mean Joseph is still an adolescent stuck on “payback.” He forces his brothers to beg for food and uses his power to play tricks on them, creating emotional agony. Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev Yitzchak (1740-1810; a central leader of Polish Chassidism) takes an opposite view: Joseph acts like a stranger as an act of chesed, righteousness. He recognizes his brother and realizes his youthful dream of their obeisance to him is come true. But he also realizes his moment of triumph is their moment of shame. He acts like a stranger so they won’t guess who he is, lessening their embarrassment. So he acts like a stranger. So which is the real Joseph?
The Jewish interpretive tradition rests upon the verse, “One thing God has spoken; two things I have heard.” (Psalms 62:12) The rabbis rely upon this to assert,”…one biblical verse may convey many teachings…” (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 34a) So which is the real Joseph? You decide!
Gut Shabbos/Shabat Shalom