The sages believed there was a reason why the story of Joseph and his brothers is in the weekly Torah portion (Parsha) we read on Chanukah. Certainly, we can see themes of adversity, oppression, arch nemeses, and triumph over all odds in both.
Parashat Miketz 5783 / פָּרָשַׁת מִקֵּץ
Genesis 41:1 – 44:17 — 24 December 2022 / 30 Kislev 5783
Backstory Genesis 37 – 39
Joseph’s father Jacob, loved and favored his son Joseph, over all of his other sons. Teenage Joseph is a gossip bringing “bad reports” about his brothers to their father. In return, he receives preferential treatment and a “fine coat of many colors.” To add insult to injury, young Joseph tells his family he had dreams where they are bowing down to him in subservience.
As manager of his father’s herds, Joseph is sent to check on his brothers and the herds they are pasturing. When his brothers see him from afar, they plot to kill “that dreamer” and put an end to his dreams once and for all. The eldest, Reuben, objects to “bloodshed,” so they settle on tossing Joseph into a pit without water, stripped of the “fine coat of many colors” that was such a big source of his pride and identity.
When the brothers see a caravan of Ishmaelites approaching, they agree to sell Joseph into slavery at brother Judah’s behest. Before the brothers get the chance to sell him, traveling Midianite merchants pull him from the pit and beat them to it, selling him to the Ishmaelites for 20 pieces of sliver. From there he is taken to Egypt, where he is sold to Potiphar, an Egyptian court official.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, his brothers dip his distinctive coat into the blood of a slaughtered goat and bring it to their father. Jacob believes he has been torn asunder by wild animals and begins to mourn him inconsolably. In the desert, his carcass would be fiercely guarded and devoured by deadly predators and his bones eaten by bearded vultures. In his father’s mind, Jospeh is gone, with no remains that can be retrieved from the shifting sands for his father to bury.
Scene shift to Egypt where Potiphar promotes the young, pious slave to the position of household manager. Described as a “beautiful man with a fine complexion,” Potiphar’s wife tries unsuccessfully to seduce him. After being rebuffed, she tears his “garment” off of him as he flees and loudly profiles him as “the Hebrew” and “Hebrew slave” that tried to sexually assault her. Potiphar is enraged and Joseph is thrown into an Egyptian prison for a crime he didn’t commit.
Joseph, who brought bad reports about brothers, finds himself stripped down once again in another pit of sorts, with a bad report against him.
During his time in prison he rises up from “the Hebrew slave,” to prison manager and overseer, appointed by the warden.
Several years later, he becomes a powerful Egyptian official and dream interpreter to the Pharaoh, accountable to no one except Pharaoh himself.
After becoming the Pharaoh’s right hand man, why didn’t Joseph, the favored child, send a message to his father to let him know he was alive and thriving? Whatever befell him, he made a life for himself apart from his family and never attempted to contact them.
Joseph is described as a vain and precocious kid, who made the mistake of disclosing his dreams of greatness to his family. Jacob is to blame more than anyone, but Joseph does bear some karmic responsibility as we can see threaded throughout his story. He undergoes a process of humiliation while learning how to use his gifts judiciously and compassionately.
Despite his well-noted vanities in Midrashic literature, he is referred to as Yosef HaTzaddik (Joseph the Righteous), for he always introduces himself as a God-fearing Hebrew and Israelite, remaining faithful to his roots and the God of Israel, even when his “foreignness” endangers him.
His father spoiled him and his brothers despised him, but once he is forced to exist outside the toxic family dynamic, he is viewed as a wise and charismatic visionary with great leadership qualities.
He excelled in whatever position he found himself in, whether as a household slave, a prisoner, or the Pharaoh’s viceroy and dream interpreter.
At age 30 he strategically prepared Egypt to withstand the famine he foresaw in the Pharaoh’s dream, predicting seven years of famine following seven years of plenty.
Seven good years are known as The Joseph Effect, while the seven bad years are known as The Noah Effect. This seven-year cycle is still used in modern day economic analysis as a predictor of recession timing. (Investopedia)
When his brothers journey to Egypt for food supplies, he recognizes them but they do not recognize the prestigious man standing before them, looking like Egyptian royalty. As in the dream he had as a teenager, his brothers bow down to the ground before him. Joseph needs closure and has to play it out as he sees fit. He accuses them of being “spies,” as they obsequiously squirm and plead their innocence.
Not knowing he understands their language, they bemoan their current distress as retribution for the sins they committed against their brother Joseph, while Reuben cries, “Didn’t I tell you not to sin against that child? But you did not listen, so now there is a reckoning for his blood.”
Joseph is stern and official on the outside, but inside he’s so moved by their presence, he retreats to weep in secret.
When he could no longer control his emotions, he sent all his attendants away and privately revealed his identity to his brothers.
I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! Do not be distressed and angry with yourselves for selling me here, for it was God who sent me here ahead of you, to save lives from the great famine and to preserve an allotment for all of you. It was God that put me in Egypt to rise up as a leader of the land and fatherly figure to the Pharaoh.Joseph to his brothers
He kissed them and wept so loudly over them, he was the talk of Egyptian society and the Pharaoh’s household. The young Pharaoh was happy for Joseph and bestowed all the best goods Egypt had to offer upon his elderly father Jacob, his brothers and their families.
Joseph had a knack for getting into jams and getting out of them quite spectacularly by winning friends and influencing people. There was much more to Joseph than vanity, but his journey to self-actualization was fraught with pitfalls. (Pun intended).
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