Tag Archives: Miketz

Miketz and Chanukah: The Gift of Light

Joseph of EgyptThey said to one another, “Alas, We are being punished on account of our brother, because we looked on at his anguish, yet paid no heed as he pleaded With us. That is why this distress has come upon us.”

Genesis 42:21 (JPS Tanakh)

What lesson for our lives can we learn from their statement?

Rabbi Dovid of Zeviltov comments in the commentary Otzer Chaim: If a person did something wrong and recognizes that he has done wrong, he will be forgiven. However, if a person does something wrong and denies it, there is no atonement for him. When Joseph’s brothers previously said that they were innocent, Joseph responded by calling them spies. When they said that they were guilty, Joseph was full of compassion for them and cried.

Dvar Torah for Torah Portion Miketz
Based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
Related by Rabbi Kalman Packouz

Rabbi Packouz also states that according to Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski in his book Twerski on Chumash, “there is no coincidence that Chanukah occurs during the week that we read about the epic of Joseph and his brothers.” But what can one have to do with the other? What can we learn about ourselves?

Well, for starters:

Many people deny their faults and the things that they have done wrong because they mistakenly think that others will respect them more. In reality people admire someone with the honesty and courage to admit his mistakes. It takes a braver person to say, “Yes, I was wrong.” This kind of integrity will not only build up your positive attribute of honesty, but will also gain you the respect of others. When you apologize to someone for wronging him, he will feel more positive towards you than if you denied that you did anything wrong. This awareness will make it much easier for you to ask forgiveness from others.

The Death of the MasterYesterday was Thanksgiving, an American national holiday dedicated to giving thanks to God for His bountiful goodness to us. All that we have, whether great or small, comes from the Holy One of Israel, the gracious and compassionate Provider and Creator. Even the ability to forgive and be forgiven by God is a blessing for which we should be thankful. Without such a gift, a single sin would forever separate us from God, and condemn us to our doom.

But as Rabbi Pliskin’s Dvar Torah states, we are only forgiven and freed from guilt, slavery, and destruction if we admit to our wrongdoings and ask for forgiveness. Our “free gift,” so to speak, actually comes with a price. True, as a Christian, I believe that the death of the greatest of all tzaddikim, Yeshua of Nazareth, paid that price, but forgiveness of sins is like a package wrapped in bright shiny paper decorated with a pretty bow. It just sits there until we accept it and open it up. To do that, we have to do something else. We have to admit our sins rather than deny them. For when we too say we are guilty, then the Father will welcome us back with open arms.

And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’ And they began to celebrate.

Luke 15:21-24 (NASB)

But what does any of this have to do with Chanukah?

“Rav Avraham Pam (former Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Torah Vodaas) teaches us that we see this special love of God for the Jewish people regarding the many Jews at that time who had defected to Hellenism and then returned to Torah observance with the triumph of the Macabees — regarding their relationship with the Almighty after their return to the Torah. When a couple reconciles after a separation, the relationship often becomes one of peaceful coexistence, but the quality of love that they initially had for each other is rarely restored.

“Not so when Jews do teshuvah (repentance — returning to the Almighty and to the ways of the Torah). Rambam says that although a sinful person distances himself from God, once he does teshuvah he is near, beloved and dear to God. It is not that God “tolerates” the baal teshuvah (returnee), but rather that He loves him as He would the greatest tzaddik (righteous person). As the prophet says, “I will remember for you the loving-kindness of your youth, when you followed Me into the desert, into a barren land” (Jeremiah 2:2). The love of yore is fully restored.

“This is the significance of the miracle of the oil. It teaches us that with proper teshuvah our relationship with God is restored, as if we had never sinned.”

chanukah-candle-lightingAs believers, as disciples of Messiah, Son of David, the light of the world, the doorway to the Father, we too have been granted the ability to do teshuvah with the same results. It is not as if we are “damaged goods” that, once broken and dirtied, can only approach God just so far and no further. It’s as if we never left, as if we never sinned, as if we have always lived in the Father’s household as beloved sons and daughters. If I can extend the above commentary, God loves the baal teshuvah as He does His Son, His only Son, the one who saved us and redeemed us at the cost of blood and life.

During this week, people in Jewish homes will be lighting the Chanukah candles in remembrance of the miracle of the oil and the miracle of victory over the Greeks in battle. However, the Chanukah lights and the lesson learned by the brothers of Joseph should remind us of something more. As believers, when we light the menorah, we are reminded of God’s great forgiveness in our lives, and how He literally turned darkness into light in our hearts and souls.

In John 8:12, Jesus declared himself the light of the world. In Matthew 5:14-16 we discover that as his disciples, we too are the light to the world. In Jewish tradition, once the menorah is lit, it should be placed in a window for everyone to see. We too were encouraged to allow our own light to shine into the world, as a message of hope and peace, and as evidence that God does powerful miracles.

Love, hope, and redemption are powerful miracles indeed, and a tiny light shining in the darkness is evidence in our world of an overwhelming brightness shining from the Throne of Heaven.

Happy Chanukah and Good Shabbos.

Asking for Help in the Aftermath of Death

joseph-and-pharaohIn this week’s reading, the time for Yosef’s redemption finally arrives. Pharoah has dreams, his sommelier (wine butler) suddenly remembers Yosef, and Yosef is hastily pulled from jail, given a haircut, and sent to interpret the dreams of Pharoah.

Two weeks ago, I spoke about the need to make our own efforts, while knowing that in the end it is G-d who determines the results. But I closed with a question: what was wrong with Joseph’s efforts? Why was he punished for asking the sommelier to remember him?

It’s clear that is what happened. Last week’s reading concludes with the verse, “and the sommelier did not remember Yosef, and he forgot him.” Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki explains that he did not remember him that day, and forgot him afterwards — because Yosef had placed his trust in the sommelier rather than G-d. That is a startling indictment of the only one of Yaakov’s sons who was the forefather of two tribes. For someone of his exalted standard, we are told, what Yosef did was wrong. But why — what was wrong with trying?

-Rabbi Yaakov Menken
Commentary on Chanukah and Torah Portion Mikeitz
Director, Project Genesis

2 dead after shooting at Las Vegas hotel Gunman Wounds 3 at Ala. Hospital 28 Dead, Including 20 Children, After Sandy Hook School Shooting

Brent Spiner on twitter

I am angry/disgusted. Amazing that some think the solution is more guns. Madness. Even NRA members want more control. LLAP

Leonard Nimoy on twitter

Late Friday I said a prayer for the victims of the horrible shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. On the same day, 22 school children were attacked by a man with a knife in China but thank God, none of them were killed. As Actor Brent Spiner’s “tweet” on the micro-blogging site twitter indicates, there have been other tragedies in the world as well. Actor Leonard Nimoy laments the response to these events among some elements of our society to take control, in this case by replying to gun violence with gun violence.

And according to midrash, Joseph condemned himself to additional prison time by desiring to take control of his situation (asking the “chancellor of cups” to remember him to Pharaoh, King of Egypt) rather than relying solely upon the King of the Universe.

But as Rabbi Menken asked above, what’s wrong with trying to take control of a situation with our own efforts, especially when the situation, the world we live in, seems to be totally out of control? Rabbi Menken’s commentary continues.

I saw an interesting explanation attributed to Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, a world-renowned religious leader who passed away barely 25 years ago. He said that Yosef’s high standard was very much part of the issue. Yosef, being who he was, should have recognized immediately that the peculiar circumstance of his being imprisoned together with Pharoah’s personal sommelier and baker, and them having dreams, and him knowing exactly what to tell them — all of that was clearly not coincidence. It should have been obvious to him that G-d’s Plan was already in motion. As we see this week, he was rushed from prison to tell Pharoah that fat cows mean times of plenty, and starving cows mean times of starvation, and was instantly appointed second in command over the whole country. With “20/20 hindsight” it’s obvious that this was all planned out — and enough signs were there that Yosef should have seen it coming.

But we, alas, are not Yosef. Very rarely could we be confident that we are in a situation where our efforts aren’t needed, before the gift of hindsight. We always have to do our best. When should we be idle? When we have done everything humanly possible.

reading-torahWe can read last week’s Torah portion and as we review each word, we know in advance what’s going to happen, because we’ve read and studied these pages many, many times over the years. The story of Joseph’s redemption and rise to Messiah-like authority and position is like an old friend to me. But while Joseph, at his exalted spiritual level (according to midrash), should have known better than to forget to rely on God alone, as Rabbi Menken wisely points out, that is hardly ever the case for you and me.

We are faced with an insurmountable problem, a terrible tragedy, children have been injured and murdered, and what are we going to do about it? The blood of the victims cries out to us, demanding that we respond. Should we ban private ownership of all firearms in this nation? Should we pour more tax dollars into mental health research and treatment? What can we do to prevent this from ever happening again? What could we have done to prevent the deaths of those 20 small lives in Newtown, Connecticut?

Experts of every type, from political pundits, to psychologists, to the clergy are all weighing in with their opinions. Some people feel that the strict separation of church and state in our nation, which “bans God from our schools” is to blame, but for others, that response seems cheap, shallow, and hurtful. Other people and groups want to arm school officials with firearms so that, should such a situation happen again, teachers and school counselors could fire back, protecting the children.

To be perfectly honest, I haven’t the faintest idea what to do. I don’t know if these sorts of attacks are happening more frequently or if we just react as if they are every time something like this happens.

Joseph’s situation and Rabbi Menken’s commentary on it doesn’t seem to help, but then again, neither one was facing what we are facing right now as a nation…as a world. It is said that everything is in the hands of Heaven except fear of Heaven. Christians are fond of saying that God is in control. Tell that to the parents of the 20 dead children in Newtown and see how they answer you…if you dare.

No one knows what the right thing to do is but everybody has an opinion about what they think the solution should be. We people of faith rely on God but it is a bitter thing to lose a child and if I were the father of one or more of the dead children, I would be asking where God was when they died. Rabbi Menken reminds us that faith is not blind, but while that makes for interesting intellectual discussion, how does it help when a parent’s heart is being torn to shreds as they cry bitterly over the loss of a son or daughter?

Don’t look for my opinion or my answer to this disastrous mess. I don’t have one to give. I’m still too angry and too sad and too miserable to render one, and even when I manage to tame my emotional response, my intellect and wisdom will still fail me here. Like Joseph, I want to take control. I want to do something. I want to prevent even one more child from dying. I don’t have the power to even begin to make such and effort and as I’ve already said, I wouldn’t know what to do if that power were mine.

school_shooting_in_connJoseph rose to a position where he had power to save a starving world. His authority was second only to the greatest King who ruled over the most civilized and prosperous nation of his day. Joseph saved Egypt, and he saved Canaan, and he saved everyone who came to him, and he saved his family. He finally reunites with them, provides for them, takes care of them, and sees his aging father before he dies.

And yet, Joseph died just like all men must.

And none of us is like Joseph…or like Jesus…or like God.

God is in control but He rules over a broken world. We broke it. Only God can fix it. But as I’ve mentioned numerous times over the years, according to Jewish thought, human beings are partners with God in tikkun olam, repairing the world. That may mean our human desire to want to act when disaster strikes is built into us by God and part of who we are as His “partners.”

God, what can we do to help? What can any of us do in the face of such an unimaginable pain? I don’t know. All I know how to do is ask for help. Help us. I’m not the only one asking for help.


Mikeitz: Dreams and Nightmares

dreams-and-prisonThese concepts are reflected in this week’s Torah reading, Parshas Mikeitz, which focuses on the release of Yosef from prison. Yosef serves as an analogy for the entire Jewish people. For the name Yosef, meaning “increase,” refers to an infinite and unbounded potential for growth, (See Toras Chayim, Bereishis, 87b.) i.e., the soul we all possess, which is “an actual part of G-d from above.” (Tanya, ch. 2.)

Moreover, the prayer Rachel recited when naming Yosef, (Genesis 30:24.) “May G-d add on (yosef) to me another son (ben acher),” reflects the spiritual mission of the Jewish people. Entities which have hitherto been acher (“other” estranged from their G-dly core) are brought close and manifest the intimacy of ben (“a son”).(See Or HaTorah, Vayeitzei, p. 202a.)

The prison in which Yosef is held refers to the body, and to material existence as a whole. These tend to confine the infinite power of the soul and deny it expression. Although G-d gave man His Torah, His will and wisdom, (Tanya, ch. 4.) the Torah is also affected by the limits of material existence, and its G-dly source is not always evident.

-Rabbi Eliyahu Touger
“An End And A Beginning”
Commentary on Torah Portion Mikeitz

Again, I can only relate to Chassidic mysticism in terms of its power to paint metaphorical pictures. We all exist in some sort of prison which seemingly prevents us from flying free. It could be an emotional restraint, a physical ailment, a spiritual lacking, anything, really. Sometimes God sends us on a quest in search of who we are and in the midst of it, we feel discouraged and uncertain. Have we taken the correct turn? Are we on the right trail? Should we turn back and start again? What if it doesn’t matter?

Yet Joseph the slave and Joseph the prisoner shows us that regardless of our environment and circumstances, and sometimes because of it, we can always be who God has created us to be. Then again, it sometimes takes someone like Joseph to teach us that lesson.

Once, when Rabbi DovBer of Lubavitch, the son of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, was a young man, he was visiting with his father-in-law in Yanovitch. There he met with one of his father’s chassidim. The chassid noticed that the young ‘rebbe’s son’ was all too aware of his achievements in scholarship and meditative prayer and felt that some cutting down to size was in order.

Said the chassid to Rabbi DovBer: “Considering who you are and how you’ve lived, what’s the big deal? Your father – well, we all know who your father is. You were certainly conceived under the holiest of circumstances, and I’m sure that your father secured a most lofty soul to bring down into the world. Then you were raised in a rebbe’s home and great care was taken to mold your character and safeguard you from any negative influences. All your life you’ve been exposed to scholarship and sanctity and to this very day you’re preoccupied only with the study of Torah and the teachings of chassidism. So you’ve amassed a certain amount of knowledge and you pray with fervor and devotion. Big deal.

“Now, take me for example. My father was a simple man, and we can well imagine what was on his mind when he scraped out some dreg of a soul out the bottom of the barrel. My upbringing? I was raised as a goat and basically left to my own devices. And do you know what I do with my life? Let me tell you how I earn my living. I loan money to the peasants during the planting season and then, during the winter months, I make my rounds of their villages and farms to collect the debts before they have a chance to squander their entire harvest on vodka. This means setting out several hours before sunrise, well before the permissible time for prayer, equipped with a flask – for without a drink one cannot begin to talk business with a peasant. After drinking to his health, one must share a ‘l’chayim’ with the woman in the house as well – otherwise she can ruin the whole deal for you. Only then can you sit down to settle part of the account.

the_chassid“After three or four such stops I make my way home, immerse myself in the mikveh and prepare for prayer. But after such preliminaries, what sort of prayer would you expect…?”

The words of this chassid, who was, in truth, renowned for his refined nature and soulful prayers, made a deep impression on Rabbi DovBer. The young man immediately travelled home to his father and poured out his heart. He bewailed his spiritual state, saying that his service of G-d is worthless, falling so short of what is expected from him.

The next time the chassid from Yanovitch came to Rabbi Schneur Zalman, the Rebbe said to him: “I am most grateful to you – you have made a chassid out of my Berel.”

-Rabbi Yanki Tauber
“The Rebbe’s Son and the Chassid”
Commentary on Torah Portion Mikeitz

In this tale, we see a reversal of what you might expect. The Rebbe’s son, who had every material and spiritual advantage, was basically a talented but spoiled brat. Something like who Joseph was as a teen prior to being assaulted by his brothers, thrown into a pit, and then sold into slavery (see Genesis 37). The Chassid, on the other hand, had virtually no advantages and lived a difficult life among rough and uncultured people, and yet he was “renowned for his refined nature and soulful prayers,” perhaps because of the lessons he was taught by such a life.

We see a dramatic change in Joseph’s attitude and behavior once he becomes a slave and continuing on during his imprisonment. He could have dissolved into despair, surrendered to the advances of Potiphar’s wife, and disappeared from the realm of spirituality altogether, but instead, he chose a different path. One that ultimately lead from the lowliest of positions to the exalted heights of both material and spiritual wealth.

The Rebbe thanks the Chassid from Yanovitch for making “a chassid out of my Berel.” How much more did slavery and imprisonment make a “chassid” out of Joseph…and what can it do for us?

In truth, there is no need to change the world, but only to illuminate it. For each thing has a place, and in that place it is good.

There is only one problem: It is dark. In the dark, there is no way to find the place for each thing. No way to know what belongs in your closet, ready for use, and what belongs in the laundry, waiting to be cleaned. And so, that which could be washed and used for good is despised as hateful, and that which is wholly good is used for evil.

Torah is light: it tells us the place of each thing. Shine it bright, and heal the world.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

in-the-darkThis, of course, is not easy because as the esteemed Rabbi says, it is “dark.” We can’t see a thing. While we may know that we are to illuminate our world, imagine coming to that realization if you are Joseph in slavery or Joseph in prison. How is this to be done? You have no hope. You will never see your family again. You will never see your home again. You will forever be trapped in a foreign land among strangers. Even if you adapt, seem to fit in, learn to walk among them, you will never truly be one of them. Should you even try?

Make an effort to do the actions you fear to do and by this means lessen those fears. Think of a specific fear that stops you from doing something that would be beneficial for you to do, and take action.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Daily Lift #667, Act On Your Fears”

You can cower and hide, imprisoned by your nightmares…or you can rise up from the darkness and live your dreams in the light.

Happy Chanukah and Good Shabbos.

Fearfully in the Hands of God

You, Hashem, do not withhold your mercy from me; may Your kindness and Your truth always protect me. For innumerable evils have encircled me, my sins have overtaken me and I am unable to see; they have become more numerous than the hairs on my head and my courage has abandoned me.Psalm 40:12-13 (The Stone Edition Tanakh)

Were He to kill me, I would still yearn for Him.Job 13:15 (The Stone Edition Tanakh)

Have you ever been sick or hurt? I don’t mean have you ever had the flu or a cold or hit your thumb with a hammer, but have you every really been sick or hurt? Have you been in the hospital? Have you ever worried that you might not see another day, or that your health and well-being would take a permanent turn for the worse?

Imagine Job, who lost everything and was completely bewildered as to the cause. He had always been steadfast in his faith and virtually walked in the footsteps of God, yet in nearly the wink of an eye, he was laid destitute and at death’s doorstep. His friends all turned against him, blaming him for his own misfortune. Even his wife cried out to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die!” Job did not have a happy life during this time and for all he knew, it would all end in his agonizing death. Yet his words recorded in Job 13:15 relate the nature of his faith and trust in God and the character of this man in the face of harsh tragedy.

Rabbi Yaakov Menken at Project Genesis wrote a commentary for Torah Portion Miketz that speaks to this kind of trust and the consequences when we lack it.

We read this week that two years after Pharoah’s wine steward and chief baker had their dreams, Pharoah had one of his own, and as a result, they rushed Joseph from jail.

Obviously Pharoah needed Joseph, but the Torah tells us something deeper: that Joseph was only in jail for the precise amount of time decreed from above. In fact, Joseph would have gotten out of jail earlier, but the Torah tells us that “the wine steward did not remember Joseph, and he forgot him.”

Why did he forget? Rabbi Shimon Yitzchaki quotes the Medrash, which explains that Joseph placed his trust in the wine steward, rather than G-d. For that reason, G-d made sure that the wine steward forgot him.

We celebrate the holiday of Chanukah because Judah “the Maccabee” and his brothers did the opposite. Yehudah may have been strong, but he wasn’t insane. His was a small group, vastly outnumbered by not only the well-trained Greek army, but even by the Hellenized Jews of the era. They went out to wage war, against impossible odds, expressing their trust that G-d would help them.

This, too, drives home the lesson that we discussed two weeks ago — that we are obligated to make our own efforts, but “know that if they succeed, it is only because G-d granted them success.” It doesn’t matter if the person we might trust is a friend or relative or even ourselves… in the end, success comes from a Higher Authority.

Quite some time ago, I wrote about the difference between faith and trust. Faith is knowing God exists. Trust is putting your life literally in His hands. But in spite of the fact that all people of faith desire to have a perfect trust in God, we are frail and mortal; “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41). When we’re alone and afraid, how many of us can sweep away anxiety and terror with a wave of our hand and summon the full might of God as our courage?

I know I can’t. The best I can do is to try and echo the words of Job (Job 13:15), fearfully acknowledging at such desperate moments that my health, safety, and my very life are completely in His hands to do with as He wills. There is no bargaining with God. Paul quotes Moses (Exodus 33:19) to teach us this lesson.

What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses,

“I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”

It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. –Romans 9:14-16

Rabbi Menken teaches that we are obligated to make our own efforts, but “know that if they succeed, it is only because G-d granted them success,” so we cannot sit passively and expect God to raise miracles for us. We must participate, as best we can, in God’s efforts but knowing that success is not because of us, but because of Him. Yet there are times when we can do nothing for ourselves and must rely totally on God’s mercy and His will. When someone who is having a heart attack or a stroke is in the emergency room, all they can do is to trust in God for their life, even if it should end in death because that is the nature of man in relationship to God. When a person has cancer, they can undergo various therapies and treatments, but their life remains solely in God’s hands. Job also teaches, “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” (Job 1:21) That we pray for life does not mean that God is obligated to always give life. All people live in His hands and all people die in His hands.

I know this sounds dismal and depressing, especially on the day when the vast majority of the Christian world is celebrating the birth of the King of Kings, but lest we imagine that God is obligated to grant us a perfect, stress free existence, the counterpoint is that we are but dust and ashes; we are grass that is growing today, and tomorrow, is withered and thrown into the fire. In the end, we can try to live healthy lives, lives of faith, devotion, charity, and study; we try take care of ourselves and others, but still, no one knows the hour of his own death.

In those moments of hideous uncertainty or in that final “moment of truth”, we can only summon whatever trust in God we may possess and cry out to Him for His infinite mercy. If he should turn the hand of sickness and death away, we rejoice, and if not, we are with Him.

In His hands are the deep places of the earth: the strength of the hills is His also. –Psalm 95:4 (KJV)

May they rejoice and be glad in You, all who seek You; may they always say, “Hashem be magnified!” those who live Your salvation. As for me, I am poor and destitute, the Lord will think of me. You are my help and my Rescuer, my God do not delay. –Psalm 40:17-18 (The Stone Edition Tanakh)


Miketz: Dreams and Consequences

Joseph’s imprisonment finally ends when Pharaoh dreams of seven fat cows that are swallowed up by seven lean cows, and of seven fat ears of grain swallowed by seven lean ears. Joseph interprets the dreams to mean that seven years of plenty will be followed by seven years of hunger, and advises Pharaoh to store grain during the plentiful years. Pharaoh appoints Joseph governor of Egypt. Joseph marries Asenath, daughter of Potiphar, and they have two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. Famine spreads throughout the region, and food can be obtained only in Egypt. Ten of Joseph’s brothers come to Egypt to purchase grain; the youngest, Benjamin, stays home, for Jacob fears for his safety. Joseph recognizes his brothers, but they do not recognize him; he accuses them of being spies, insists that they bring Benjamin to prove that they are who they say they are, and imprisons Simeon as a hostage.

from The Parasha in a Nutshell
Mikeitz: Genesis 41:1-44:17

A significant part of our parshah (Mikeitz-Genesis 41:1–44:17) is taken up with a pair of dreams dreamt by the king of Egypt. These dreams are actually recounted not once, but three times: first we read an account of the dreams themselves; then comes a more detailed version, as we hear them described by Pharaoh to Joseph; and then comes Joseph’s reply to Pharaoh, in which he offers his interpretation of the dreams’ various components.

And these are but the last in a sequence of dreams detailed by the Torah in the preceding chapters. Joseph is in Pharaoh’s palace interpreting his dreams because of another set of dreams, dreamt two years earlier in an Egyptian prison. Back then, Joseph was incarcerated together with two of Pharaoh’s ministers, each of whom had a dream which Joseph successfully interpreted.

“The Cosmic Fantasy”
From the Chasidic Masters
Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson
Adapted by Rabbi Yanki Tauber

We see that the first of Joseph’s dreams (Genesis 37:5-11), though long in coming to fruition, are now rapidly taking shape. Though scorned, hated, almost murdered, and finally sold into slavery because of these dreams, they were nevertheless dreams from God. The only reason those dreams were perceived as a reason to hate Joseph was because of Joseph’s teenage arrogance. Now look at him. Older, wiser, shrewder. After all, when Joseph was finally “remembered” and taken into the presence of Pharoah, King of Egypt at the beginning of Torah Portion Miketz, don’t you think he knew exactly what he was doing?

“Accordingly, let Pharaoh find a man of discernment and wisdom, and set him over the land of Egypt. And let Pharaoh take steps to appoint overseers over the land, and organize the land of Egypt in the seven years of plenty. Let all the food of these good years that are coming be gathered, and let the grain be collected under Pharaoh’s authority as food to be stored in the cities. Let that food be a reserve for the land for the seven years of famine which will come upon the land of Egypt, so that the land may not perish in the famine.”

The plan pleased Pharaoh and all his courtiers. And Pharaoh said to his courtiers, “Could we find another like him, a man in whom is the spirit of God?” So Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has made all this known to you, there is none so discerning and wise as you. You shall be in charge of my court, and by your command shall all my people be directed; only with respect to the throne shall I be superior to you.” Pharaoh further said to Joseph, “See, I put you in charge of all the land of Egypt.” And removing his signet ring from his hand, Pharaoh put it on Joseph’s hand; and he had him dressed in robes of fine linen, and put a gold chain about his neck. He had him ride in the chariot of his second-in-command, and they cried before him, “Abrek!” Thus he placed him over all the land of Egypt. –Genesis 41:33-43 (JPS Tanakh)

I call Joseph “shrewd” but please remember, that isn’t necessarily a poor trait to have when in “enemy territory”.

“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. –Matthew 10:16-20

Returning to the Torah portion, I’m not saying that Joseph is being entirely self-serving here. After all, he spent years as a slave and more years as a prisoner (though in fairly exalted roles for each position) and that time served to teach the young dreamer humility, but who could blame him for wanting to “butter his bread” a little? Who wouldn’t want to get out of prison? Besides, it’s not like Joseph used his appointment as Viceroy to take advantage of others. Joseph didn’t even retaliate against the chief cupbearer who promised to remember Joseph to Pharaoh after Joseph had interpreted the cupbearer’s dream in his advantage, but who then “forgot” him completely for two years.

Although we see Joseph certainly “challenging” his brothers in this week’s Torah portion as well as in next week’s Parashah, he isn’t “taking revenge” upon them. He could have chosen to have them killed, or make them slaves, or have them rot in prison, yet he refrains.

Joseph’s first dream comes to realization in this week’s parsha. His brothers come down to Egypt and prostrate themselves before him. The dream of the sheaves of the brothers bowing to Joseph’s sheaf is at last fulfilled. But strangely, Joseph does not feel himself satisfied. It is human nature that the expectation of the realization of events is always greater and more exciting than the fulfillment of the realization itself. No vacation or event that we plan for ourselves can live up to our imagination and expectation regarding it. And Joseph is further burdened by the enormity of what has transpired. He has the brothers, who sold him as a slave and were deaf to his shouts and tears and pleas for mercy, in his hands. But what is he to do with them now? And what of his beloved father, the old man, broken in grief, whom he has not seen or communicated with for twenty-two years? Are the brothers telling him the truth about his father’s condition? And what about Benjamin, his younger brother? Is he like the other brothers in attitude and belief or is he different? Does he mourn for his lost brother Joseph or is he sanguine about his fate, as his ten older brothers seem to be? All of these questions plague Joseph at the moment of his seemingly great triumph when his brothers are in his power and abjectly bow before him. His triumph therefore seems somewhat hollow to him at that moment.

-Rabbi Berel Wein
“Vengeance vs. Conciliations”
Commentary on Parashas Miketz

If, as Rabbi Wein suggests, the realization of Joseph’s earlier dreams seems all too hollow, what about our dreams?

I’m not saying that the typical dreams we all experience during sleep are prophesies from God, nor do I believe that the vast majority of people have any Divine gift to interpret prophetic dreams as Joseph certainly did, but when I say “our dreams,” I really mean “our ambitions.” What about the things we want? If we get them, how wisely is our stewardship over them?

In a sense, the 17-year old Joseph’s boasts about this first dreams were acts of “poor stewardship”. He utilized his knowledge to “lord it over” his brothers and father and the result was a wreaked life for Joseph, Jacob, and ultimately (though they didn’t realize it at the time) for all of Joseph’s brothers. When Joseph stood before Pharaoh, we can say that he exercised “good stewardship” of his ability to interpret dreams, which resulted in him not only being released from prison, but being placed in an extremely high position of authority over Egypt. This gave him the unprecedented ability to save everyone in Egypt, Canaan, and the rest of the civilized world, including his entire family, from a seven-year famine.

How we manage our “dreams” and ambitions makes a difference, too. Most of us don’t exercise authority to the same scope as Joseph, but what we want, even if benign and charitable, can have dramatically different results depending on our attitude, intent, and execution. Judaism has the concept of kavanah which generally means “intention”. In Kabbalah, kavanah modifies the sefirot allowing them to be directed, and depending on that direction, a person’s activities, both in the world we experience and in the spiritual realms, can have wildly different consequences. How dreams are managed in Joseph’s early life vs. his later experiences is dramatic proof of this statement.

If the teachings of Kabbalah and Talmudic Judaism are a little difficult for you to swallow, Jesus told many parables on good and bad stewardship including Luke 12:35-48 and Luke 16:1-15 that tell the same story. I think “The Parable of the Talents”, is particularly illuminating.

“Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

“After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’

“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

“The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’

“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

“Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’

“His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.

“‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ –Matthew 25:14-30

It’s not just what you’re given, but what you do with it that matters. What you do with your resources depends on your character and your intentions. As we see from the example of Joseph, even what you are given depends on how you have managed other, lesser jobs. That’s also the lesson taught by Jesus in his parables. One who was responsible for a lesser task will be given much greater authority. Imagine that, once you were saved, you never told anyone else about the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but instead, horded this treasure for yourself?

So when you dream, it’s not so much whether you dream big or small that is the key factor. It’s what you do with your dreams and how you treat other people when your dreams come true. For if you manage well when one dream comes true, much bigger dreams will also be granted you. However keep in mind that such responsibility can come at a price as Rabbi Wein’s commentary points out.

Joseph comes to the great realization that his ultimate triumph over his brothers lies not in punishing them – though he will certainly cause them great anguish on their road of repentance – but rather to eventually conciliate them. Vengeance is momentarily more satisfying than is conciliation. But in the long run, vengeance lies not in human hands. And it will only continue to widen the rift within Jacob’s family. Joseph’s greatness and heroism lies in the fact that he chose the road of healing and conciliation rather than that of punishment and vengeance. Joseph, out of all of the avot and the brothers is called tzadik – righteous and holy. This is certainly due to his behavior in escaping from the clutches of Potiphar’s wife. But Joseph’s righteousness and piety is exhibited not only in that incident. It is apparent in his treatment of his brothers after his dream of their bowing down to him has been realized. He will protect his brothers from the Pharaoh and the ravages of Egyptian society. He will support them physically, financially and spiritually for the rest of his life. He still weeps at the gulf of suspicion that yet exists between him and the brothers. Conciliation is a long and difficult road to traverse. But Joseph realizes that it is the only hope for his family’s continuity and purpose.

Being wise stewards, we should use our gifts to repair relationships rather than destroy them. When we reconcile with even one person who was formerly estranged from us, we also reconcile them and ourselves with God.

Good Shabbos.