“Pharoah further said to Joseph, “See, I put you in charge of all the land of Egypt.” (Genesis 41:40)
Parashat Miketz describes Joseph’s ascent to power and authority. He correctly interprets Pharoah’s dreams and as a result, is elevated from the dungeon to the palace to manage Egypt’s economy. The famine he predicts comes to pass and Joseph’s brothers go down to Egypt to get food. They don’t recognize him, though, permitting Joseph to manipulate the situation to test them. The sub-text of the parasha (portion) is Joseph’s faith as God’s plan unfolds. Joseph is considered the ideal model of human conduct.
The Joseph stories are important in other faith traditions, but in different ways. Jim Stokes (Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin) explains that Islamic tradition considers the Joseph saga (or, more accurately, the Yusuf saga) “Ahsan al-Qisas,” the best, or fairest story” in the Qur’an and it is given as a gift to bring understanding. Islamic thought maintains the Qur’an is God’s voice speaking to Muhammad. Thus, Yusuf can be interpreted as a “stand in” for Muhammad, and the central theme, then, is not Yusuf’s (Muhammad’s) faith, but rather, his frustration at not being able to convince his people to become monotheists.
The Yusuf stories exert a profound influence in Arab literature. Dawn Rose (Rabbi of Temple Emanuel of the Merrimack Valley) explains that in an epic medieval Sufi poem, Potiphar’s wife becomes Zulaikha, who yearns for Yusuf because of his exquisite beauty. After many years apart, they ultimately marry. The Islamic mystical tradition reads this as an allegory for the mystic’s quest for closeness to God, and makes the spiritual quest the central element of the story. Similar to Jewish mystical texts, the poem uses feminine imagery to describe intimacy with God.
Clearly, the Joseph stories mean different things to different people. The question is what do they mean to you?
Good Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom,