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Torah Portion

Home > Torah Portion > Miketz

Torah Portion: Miketz
Genesis 41:1
by: Yaacov Fogelman


Yosef's brothers seemed to have dashed his hopes and dreams of family leadership-- last week, we left him abandoned in an Egyptian prison for political prisoners. This week, his dreams are suddenly realized; he acquires vast power over Egypt and saves the whole drought-stricken region. His brothers arrive, abject-- at his mercy for their survival. His dreams of power may have been egotistic when he was still a self-centered, though precocious, adolescent God may have had to put Yosef through trials of Egyptian servitude to mature him. He still cared too much about trivial superficialities, e.g. his appearance; he enjoyed his relative success in Potiphar's house, forgetting his mourning old dad (see Rashi 39:6; cf. "HOW SHALL WE SING GOD'S SONG IN AN ALIEN LAND?", e.g. "Frum" concerts in Boro Park and L.A.-- Ps. 137). God then gives Yosef another dose of loving chastisement-- jail. When he emerges, he is far more mature; he will now use his natural gifts of leadership to help the world and save it from ruin, rather than for self-aggrandizement.

A precursor of Jews in many countries and eras, Yosef uses his talent and hard work to save and build an alien society; its native leaders are absorbed in pleasure orgies and power struggles. Sooner or later there arises a "new Pharoh" (or Farrahan), who forgets Jewish dedication and contributions to Egypt; he reminds the Jews that they really don't belong anywhere but in Israel (and may help the Arabs in their attempt to destroy them, once they get there). Yosef now enters the historical arena to play his pivotal role in the Biblical drama-- mankind's trek back to Eden and forward to the Messianic Age; a common theme in Jewish lore is "hisgalut", revealing oneself, going public, after long hidden private development (cf. flowers and fruit). Fruit should not be picked long before it is ripe (unless it can ripen off the tree; so unripe children should not marry and procreate, tho many haredim, especially females, are indeed emotionally mature at 18).

All Yosef has done and experienced until now is a prelude to his life mission-- saving the Middle East (Jews too) from starvation of both body and spirit. So Yaakov quietly develops himself for 98 years, at home and with Lavan; only then is his greatness briefly revealed as he triumphs over Lavan, the spirit of Esav and Esav himself. Moshe, David and Saul quietly develop kindness and leadership as shepherds, long before they lead God's flock. Elisha is a dedicated farmer, driving his workers and oxen, until he meets Eliyahu-- on the spot he slaughters his oxen, makes a farewell feast for his workers, and goes off to his destiny. So Rav Nachman of Breslav suddenly drops everything, leaves his family to fend for themselves, and risks life, limb and fortune in a spiritual tour of Israel; as soon as he arrives, he feels that he has gotten its message and vibes and is ready to return. Would Jewish history have been different had he stayed and sent for his family? Had the Rebbe and Rav J. Soloveichik done so? Would Rav Nachman have then died so young?

Simple shepherd (later revered rabbi) Akiva develops his soul for 40 years before even entering the world of formal Torah study; but Calba Savua's daughter senses his greatness, abandons her high status to marry him; perhaps the ultra sophisticated J.I.P. girl, tho outwardly yearning for a simpler life, unconsciously marries one who is even more sophisticated than her parents. Little orphan Rambam's mother, died bearing him; both were disdained by his father, when, emotionally deprived, he couldn't learn well as a tot; once he left home, his genius burst forth and Daddy indeed admired him (Shalshelet Hakabala). The Besht was known as a kind, but simple teacher of children before his revelation as a spiritual giant; his pupils carried out his Hasidic revolution against the entrenched Ashkenazi religious milieu (unlike Sadducee, Karite, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist reformers, Chasidim accepted the unity, Divinity and authority of both Written & Oral Torah; recent research by BIU Prof. Rosman into Polish records shows that the Besht was indeed a respectable establishment Polish rabbi and rosh yeshiva). He should do the same for Rav Moshe, the Baal Hatanya's son who apparently converted (see Tziyon 2000)

No one knows his ultimate task and destiny, what is being born or destroyed at a seemingly trivial or tragic moment; a butterfly in Singapore flaps its wings, eventually generating a storm in London months later. An American woman uses birth control pills and the estrogen she emits prevents reproduction of salmon, raising the cost of Temple Sunday breakfasts. Yosef in the pit and Moshe fleeing Egypt are on their way to glory; shepherds David and Yaakov are training to become great leaders. The Jewish nation is at the brink of its messianic return to Israel in the Shoah. But Bilaam and Haman's moments of triumph, royal invitations, are but preludes to their downfall (Nobel peace prizes too?). Ours is but to live each moment with the best of our strength and character; only God knows and decides where it will lead, what is our ultimate destination. Seeking power, fun or fame in life, rather than facing each moment with maximum integrity, is finally self-defeating.

But life-revolution and revelation occur amidst a background of family and friends, who may or may not be prepared for one's vast changes; Yosef's brothers mocked his dreams, terrified of his power; Moshe eventually had to leave his wife; Rebbe Akiva's wife lost him for long periods to his new fame, scholarship, and politico-religious lobbying for the Jewish people in Rome; there he took a second wife-- converted former jetset Mrs. Turnus-Rufus was undoubtedly both useful and fun, his Nancy Kissenger in Caesar's court; her wealth may have bought Rachel's crown, a Jerusalem diadem of gold. The Besht's wife was apparently together with him in all he did. Little Rambam's "revelation" as a genius solved his problems with his father; he identified his Father in Heaven with his father on earth, and decided that He too only values the occasional true genius who descends to earth; everyone else exists only to take out the garbage and keep the genius company (end of his "Introduction to the Mishna"-- see our Chanuka study); he got along fine with his spiritual-intellectual abstract son, Avraham, who opposed marriage, but had difficulties with his daughters. Does anyone know anything, even the name, of his mother and wife?-- cf. the nameless mothers of the bride and groom on haredi wedding invitations.

Sometimes, alas, the opposite occurs- someone starts off with great promise and potential, but, often through terrible physical and psychological experiences, breaks- at least temporarily. Likewise, we note in our prayers every day that God both brings down the proud and raises up the fallen, probably including those whom He has cast down, once they get His message and sense their helpless vulnerability. Often that person may experience and contribute much more than before his fall- cf. Job. Yaakov, after a lifetime limited to tents of home and Torah, emerges with great impact upon the worlds of Lavan and Esav. His son Yosef completes Yaakov's outreach process, as the pious PM of ancient Egypt (cf. Chief Rabbi Herzog's son, President Chayim). Yosef's sons, models for blessing our own, are the first Jews to grow up free of trauma, and (as a result?) the first Biblical Judaic brothers to get along well (cf. East European Jews and their descendants).

THE HAFTARA, I KINGS III:15-IV:1 There is no bad mother, and no good death (a foolish Yiddish proverb, quoted by I. Bernstein, Judische Sprichworter, 1908).

Solomon decides to divide by sword a disputed surviving baby between 2 alleged mothers, after one baby died; he then decides the real (or best?) mother is she who'd rather give him up than have him die. Per Abarbanel, she who lay on her baby and smothered it had murderous instincts, reflected in her agreement to divide the other baby. Thus God answered Shlomo's plea for wisdom and Divinity, expressed in his preceding dream; God also gave Solomon honor and wealth, tho he didn't request them. Length of years and succession to his throne, however, were still dependent on his royal conduct. Both Yosef and Shlomo, wise and kind rulers, could also be tough, to insure justice and repentance. Were both emotionally deprived?-- David was probably too busy to devote much time and attention to his children; Yosef lost his mother as a child and suffered so much from his brothers. We might take Shlomo's statement- "THE MORE WISDOM, THE MORE PAIN"-- as referring to causes, not just consequences, of introspection & study.

If Miketz is a Shabbat of Chanukah, we read Zech. 2:14-4:7 (Shabbat I) or I Kings 7:40-52 (Shabbat II). The former is Zecharia's vision of the ultimate Jewish menora, casting Israelight upon the whole world- He'll again choose Jerusalem... not by military force and not by physical strength, but by My spirit, says the God of hosts (will be the victory-- cf. today)." Haftara II describes preparation of the menora minyan and other vessels for Temple #1, which didn't live up to its image, symbolized by pure gold.

Mine is the silver, and Mine the gold (Haggai 2:8).

SOME ??? TO PONDER Ask and learn (I Macc. 10:72) Why didn't T.P. (nee Yosef) ever drop a postcard to Yaakov (Dear Dad, doing great in Egypt, Don't worry, love, Yossie; when I taught at NCSY, I exhibited such a giant postcard, bearing Egyptian stamps)? Why didn't he reveal himself to his brothers right away? Why did he afflict them- by taking Shimon, returning their money, and enslaving Benjy? How do the Jewish people replicate Yosef's redemption? Why is Yaakov called Yisrael again, when he sends off Benyamin? Why note that Yosef's kids are born "before the famine"? Why does Yosef forget his father's house? Does T.P. observe mitzvos? Why does Yosef give Pharoh unsolicited advice? Why does God send the Jews to Egypt? Should Yosef have asked the butler to remember him? What do ministers of drinking and baking tell us about Egypt? What's the function of dreams and their interpretation? Do Yosef's descendants fulfill his dreams for them? Could you interpret Pharoh's dreams? Why couldn't his own sages?

One fool can ask what a thousand sages can't answer (Contentious Yaakov Emden, Torat HaKanaut, 1752, ch. 9).

A wise man's ? is half the answer (Ibn Gavirol, Mivchar HaPeninim, c. 1050, #3)

A BROADER MESSAGE? While Yosef may refer only to his unfortunate beginnings in Egypt, he may indeed imply that, now too, he's trapped and afflicted in an "alien land", a gilded bird cage, no matter how fruitful, how rich and powerful, he may be; so Yaakov proclaimed: "I was a stranger with Lavan". Later Moshe, who grew up in Pharoh's palace, also realizes that he never truly felt part of Egypt; he names his son born in Midian "Gershom", reminding himself that he was alienated in an alien land (Ex. 22). When Yosef finally sees his family, he realizes that he belongs with them, despite their many problems and obnoxious behavior toward him (cf. Israel today). So R. Akiva concludes that fish (Jews) are better off in the difficult sea (Jewish history and Israel) than on dry land (assimilation and exile)! So American Jews, after at least subconscious experience of Shabbat, eat lox on Sunday morning, reminding themselves that they too, like the salmon (whose nature they sense, per the interpretation of "Let US make Man in Our Image" as referring to all the previously created world; man also receives a pre-set knowledge of the whole world in the womb), must return to their homeland, no matter how dangerous, to perpetuate their kind. Yosef is a model for the Jewish people, who will first undergo normal physical, economic and political redemption by Yosef's Messiah, before spiritual redemption by David-Yehuda's Messiah.

GOD IS A RELIGIOUS ZIONIST-- One who believes that all Jews should live in Israel and rule it according to His Torah (The Jewish people cannot live in Israel unless they rule Israel-- cf. Britain's opposition to Zionism, banning Jewish immigration, and the subsequent loss of their Empire). See God's many religious Zionist verses in your nearest Bible- Gen. 12:1, 13:15; Ex. 3:8, 6:4,8; Deut. 1:8, 8:10; Is. 11:12; Jer. 31:7; Amos 9:1, etc. I really enjoyed the works of Russian Jewish composer Mark Kopytman in a 1999 free Etnachta radio concert at the Jerusalem Theatre, in honor of his 70th birthday; Kopytman links some of his music to revival of little known poets of the past, just as we often review obscure forgotten works in these studies, to give them another breath of duly deserved life- the concert included music accompanying a turn of the century French Jewish existential poet's writings and 13th century Abulafia's mystical speculations.

When I descended to the lobby, I saw an exhibit of portrayals of the Bible by children all over the world, in honor of Israel's 50th anniversary, celebrating Israel's foundation stone, the Tanach; it really turned me off, despite the charm and talent exhibited- tho sponsored by the Jewish Agency and The City of Jerusalem, among many other Jewish organizations, the alleged New Testament and its depictions are incorrectly included under "Tanach", which, of course, only refers to the Jewish Torah, Prophets and Writings. Jews have only a negative relationship to Christian Scriptures, the source of so much affliction of the Jews and mockery of their religion. So many innocent Israeli children were viewing this "Tanach" exhibition, interspersed with pictures of Jesus' crucifiction,etc. Our assimilated Hellenistic secular Israeli arbiters of "culture" thus become part of the blurring of the very real and important distinctions between the two faiths. When I mentioned it to Yossi Sared this afternoon, he did not reply to me. I heard that he recently cut off funding from the Hartman Institute's very successful programs to introduce Jewish tradition into Israeli secular public schools. I hope you will all join me in protesting this affront to the spirit of Chanuka and the State of Israel, whose Supreme Court ruled that a Jew who adopted Christianity (Father Daniel) was no longer considered a Jew, losing his right to return to our homeland. The OT is still the Only Testament for our people, Israel.

This afternoon, I attended a talk by engrossing H.U. Prof. Isaiah Gafni on what really happened on Chanuka. He concluded that we can't really know, as the written sources are few and biased, e.g. Maccabees I and II and Josephus; the latter simply sets forth traditions in his possession, without caring if they contradict each other; for example, he quotes a tradition that Aristobulous was incredibly cruel, starving his own mother to death and wiping out all his opponents; shortly after this, he quotes other sources, pro-Hellenistic, which describe what a fine ruler he was. Gafni showed that Josephus, who makes mistakes in simple arithmatic, relied heavily on a Syrian anti-Hellenist historian as well as pro-Hellenist sources. He quotes a later Christian anti-semitic source which blames the Maccabean Jews for failing in their mission to be purely spiritual by going to war to defend themselves! Such spiritual folk are always careful to mourn slaughtered Jews, e.g. in the Shoa, but can't take live strong Israeli Jews who fight back when attacked, even by dangerous rock-throwing children, howbeit with great restraint. Gafni noted that the author of Maccabees had much better knowledge of both Hebrew and Israeli geography than the author of Maccabees II- neither was ever canonized. The former portrays a straight story of military victory of a small force, whereas the latter depicts the whole tale as a miracle (cf. 1948) and adds stories of great women. Gafni notes that the Hasmonean victory was short-lived and about to be reversed only 2 years later, when the Syrian aggressor suddenly had to return home to settle far more important matters.

From there I went to Van Leer's conference on teaching Tanach (Bible) today, "Barriers and Their Removal" where I disagreed with heretical (by traditional standards, e.g. those of Rambam) Professors Zackowitz, Schweid, and Shaked, all of whom did not see it as God's Word, with limitations on it's meaning, e.g. incorrect Christian attempts to distort the O.T. (Only testament) by trying to irrationally explain it as referring to Jesus! I noted that no one will take the Tanach seriously if it is only a source of inspiration from old mixed Jewish writings, rather than from God Himself, giving the Laws of Human, and especially Jewish, daily life. Unfortunately, despite the H.U. secular professors praise of Bible study, H.U. still does not require undergrads to study one word of it or any other jewish and humanitarian studies, unlike Israel's leading UNIVERSITY, Bar Ilan, which has a compulsory Jewish core curriculum for undergrads.

We had a sad, but somewhat amusing, happening last Friday- we usually have Aish Hatorah students doing our house cleaning for Shabbat, invariably pleasant, clean-cut good workers. One could not make it this week and sent a friend instead, from Birkat HaTorah, a local hardei Lithuanian Baal Tshuva Yeshiva. When he came, he saw my picture on the wall and regretfully told my wife that he couldn't do the job, as his "spiritual advisor", his rabbi, at the Yeshiva told him to stay away from me, lest I give him dangerous ideas! (controlling what people read and learn is characteristic of such yeshivot). Let us pray that he opens up soon and broadens his Jewish knowledge and experience- "Who is wise?- He who learns from everyone" (Avot)!


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