Parshat Mikeyt Genesis 41:1-44:17                                        
Summary

Mikeytz – meaning “at the end of …” – marks the beginning of the end of the Joseph saga. The midrash comments that this word implies that Joseph is “at the end of ” his prison term. But as the parasha opens it is two years after the incident of the king’s cupbearer and baker, and Joseph is still a prisoner in Pharaoh’s jail. Pharaoh’s cupbearer has apparently forgotten his promise to put in a good word for Joseph with Pharaoh. One night, Pharaoh has two dreams: In the first, seven healthy cows grazing by the banks of the Nile are swallowed up by seven lean cows; in the second, seven healthy ears of grain on a single stalk are swallowed up by seven dried up ones. None of Pharaoh’s advisors can interpret the dreams, but the cupbearer remembers Joseph. After being washed and shaved, Joseph is given a new tunic and is rushed to the royal court. Pharaoh says he has heard that Joseph has the ability to in- terpret dreams. Joseph – who has become more humble over his years of suffering – replies that inter- pretations come from God. He tells Pharaoh that both dreams mean the same thing: there will be seven years of plenty followed by seven years of terrible famine.

Joseph then advises Pharoah to appoint a man of discernment and wisdom to administer Egypt so that it can survive the next fourteen years. Pharaoh appoints Joseph as second in command of the entire kingdom, and orders him to stockpile food during the years of plenty to insure that there will be food during the years of famine. For that task Pharaoh gives him an Egyptian name – Zaphenath-paneah – and an Egyptian wife named Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera, the priest of On. (Imagine how that made Mrs. Potiphar feel!) During the years of plenty, Joseph and Asenath have two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. Chapter 41 ends as the famine around the world becomes terrible. But thanks to Jo- seph’s planning, Egypt has grain.

Meanwhile, back in Canaan, Jacob is forced to send ten of his sons to buy food in Egypt; he keeps only Benjamin at home. Joseph recognizes his brothers, but they don’t recognize him. Joseph decides to test them and so he accuses them of being spies, and he tells them that to prove their innocence they must bring their youngest brother, Benjamin, to Egypt. He imprisons the brothers, and then offers to let them all go free if one remains in the meantime. The brothers realize that they are being punished for their treatment of Joseph. When Joseph overhears his brothers’ regret, he has to turn away so they don’t see his tears. He keeps Shimon in prison (a midrash suggests that it was Shimon who cast Joseph into the pit), and the rest go home, discovering their returned money in the sacks of grain on the way.

They report the situation to their dismayed father. At first Jacob refuses to let them take Benjamin, but Judah promises Jacob that he will be guarantor for Benjamin’s safety. Besides, they have no choice; there’s no grain left in Canaan. Jacob reluctantly agrees to send Benjamin with his brothers. Upon their arrival, Joseph releases Shimon. He makes a feast for his brothers, who still don’t recog- nize him. He shows special attention to Benjamin, giving him five times the portions of the other brothers. In Chapter 44, Joseph continues to test his brothers. After placing grain in their sacks, he again returns their money secretly and frames Benjamin by having his silver goblet placed in Benjamin’s grain sack. He then sends men to pursue the brothers and accuse them of theft. Joseph re- leases the other brothers but threatens to keep Benjamin as a slave. The portion ends on this “cliff-hanger” note.

Commentary

  • Did Joseph seek revenge against his 10 brothers? A surface reading of the text indicates that he did. Joseph orchestrated a series of events which greatly frightened his brothers. What purpose other than revenge was Joseph aiming at? Several commentators have stated that Joseph wished to test his brothers and allow them to truly repent of their actions against him. As Rambam explains (based on Yoma 86b): “What constitutes complete teshuvah? When a person finds him or herself in the same situation that led him or her to sin the first time, and can resist the temptation, not out of fear or out of weakness, but rather out of repentance – that is true teshuvah.”
     

  • Joseph created a situation similar to the one in which he was sold by his brothers. He took Benjamin, his only full brother, a son of Rachel, and deeply loved by Jacob, and framed him! It was the brothers reaction to Benjamin’s trouble that Joseph wanted to see. Midrash Tanchuma relates the brothers’ conversation after discovering the cup in Benjamin’s sack. The brothers assumed that Benjamin had actually stolen the cup. They began beating him and saying, “You’re a thief just like your mother. Your mother Rachel humiliated our father Jacob by stealing Laban’s fertility gods (31:19). Now you have embarrassed us in a similar manner.” “You have your nerve,” replied Benjamin. Assume that I did steal the chalice. Is it as bad as what you did to my brother? You hated him so much that you killed a kid and told our father that a beast devoured him.”

Some Thoughts and Questions

  1. If there was such a famine in the world, where did Jacob get the honey, pistachio nuts and al- monds to send as a present to Joseph? (Genesis 43:11) Compare to the goodies carried by the Ishmaelite merchants to whom they sold Joseph (37:25).
     

  2. As soon as he came into power, why didn’t Joseph notify his father that he was alive?
     

  3. Joseph was taken out of prison to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams. Pharaoh was so impressed by Joseph’s interpretation that he elevated Joseph to a position of very high authority. What made Pharaoh believe that Joseph would be a good leader? After all, not only was he a Hebrew, he had also been accused of committing a heinous crime. Why do you think that Pharaoh trusted Joseph? What makes you feel that someone is trustworthy? What qualities make a good leader?
     

  4. In this parasha it is also mentioned that Jacob favoured the children of Rachel. Specifically, Benjamin is mentioned here as being the most dear to his father. But this time it is the brothers who relate the information. How have their feelings changed?
     

  5. Consider the statement: “As you do, so shall be done to you.” How does this apply to the brothers? Does this apply to any other situations with which you are familiar? Do you think Joseph treated his brothers badly for a particular reason? Had you been Joseph, what would you have done to your brothers? Imagine that you are Shimon cast into a dungeon: What graffiti would you write on the walls of your cell?
     

  6. By interpreting the dream of the cupbearer, Joseph gets out of jail and begins his rise to power. Now it is his cup put in Benjamin’s sack that will soon reunite Joseph with his family. If you were Jacob, would you have allowed Benjamin to go to Egypt? Was there any choice? Why did Jacob not go, too? Joseph put his cup in Benjamin’s sack. What object do you own that is so much identified as yours that you could have put it in the sack to frame Benjamin? What other elements besides the cup/cupbearer (such as dreams) keep recurring in the Joseph story? How do the repeated use of these elements tie the story together and help move it along? Are there any recurring themes or elements in your life?