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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The End?--Parshat Mikketz

Greetings to all and Happy Chanukah! I am hoping that with this post the blog will be updated on a more or less daily basis. My new computer has been reverted to XP for reasons I won't go into but, in any event, it is back in my hands and should remain here for some time to come.

Mikketz is particularly dear to my heart being my Bar Mitzvah parsha. The parsha is pivotal in the Yosef story in many ways. With the beginning of the parsha we see yet another dream come into play: that of Pharaoh. In light of Yosef's success in interpreting correctly the dreams of the butler and the baker in last week's parsha, Pharaoh is advised to bring Yosef in to interpret his particularly knotty dream.

As we pointed out in a previous post, when Yosef interprets the butler's and baker's dreams, he shows his prowess in understanding dreams. However, he is quick to point out that interpretations really come from God. His implication is that he, Yosef, is a conduit for Divine interpretation.


בראשית פרק מ

וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֵלָיו חֲלוֹם חָלַמְנוּ וּפֹתֵר אֵין אֹתוֹ וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵהֶם יוֹסֵף הֲלוֹא לֵאלֹהִים פִּתְרֹנִים סַפְּרוּ נָא לִי
 
Genesis 40:8

And they (the butler and the baker) said to him (Yosef), "We have dreamed a dream and there is no one to interpret it." And Yosef said to them, "Aren't interpretations (up) to God? Please tell me (the dreams). 

A friend of mine once argued that in fact we see here and throughout the Yosef story that Yosef was incredibly proud, pronouncing himself as he does to be a mouthpiece of God. After all, we have no indication that Yosef has had any direct communications with God until now, unlike his father, grandfather or great grandfather.It would seem according to this line of thinking that really Yosef never matured beyond the sort of seemingly boastful young man we saw in the beginning of parshat Vayeshev.

However, I think one could argue just the opposite. Yosef, now in prison, has been totally humbled by his experiences. He has ended up in Egypt as a slave through no apparent fault of his own and then even manages to land in prison for having upheld his own strong sense of morality. 

Another person in such a situation might be just as likely to curse God. However, Yosef at this nadir in his career has apparently embraced God in such a way that he is confident that by totally humbling himself, giving himself over to the Divine, that he is a worthy conduit for expressing God's intentions in the dreams of the baker and the butler.

In this week's parsha he sort of ups the ante by not only interpreting the dream of Pharaoh, but in advising him how to deal with the intelligence the dream has provided.

בראשית פרק מא

(לג) וְעַתָּה יֵרֶא פַרְעֹה אִישׁ נָבוֹן וְחָכָם וִישִׁיתֵהוּ עַל אֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם:

Genesis 41

(33) And now, let Pharaoh see an understanding and wise man and place him over the land of Egypt
 
Yosef goes on, apparently extemporaneously, to lay out a strategy for surviving the famine, not just for Pharaoh, but for his entire country. These instructions are not included in the dreams but seem to come from Yosef himself. Yosef gives a lot of added value for his interpretation to Pharaoh which he didn't offer to the baker and the butler.

Do you think that Yosef figured all this out on his own or was he guided by God in giving this advice? What do you see from the reaction of Pharaoh to indicate how Pharaoh thought about that question? Do we see other indications of Yosef's wisdom later in the parsha? Where else in the parsha might you see Yosef as being arrogant or proud? How else might we understand Yosef's behavior?

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