This is a glorious day. A day on which we say Hallel on Thanksgiving. Today took care of one of my bucket items, not saying nin the morning prayers and reciting Hallel on Thanksgiving. I davened this morning at Anshei Sholem and Rabbi Wolkenfeld was the Chazzan. His Hallel was full of song and joy. Thanksgiving is a Jewish holiday. A time to stop and says thank you to God for the freedoms that we have here in America along with the entire country. Joe Aaron eulogized his father at a public service at Bnei Ruvein. He told the story of his father and his uncle, both holocaust survivors sitting around at Thanksgiving dinner, enjoying the freedoms of America and talking Yiddish accented English. I related to this in my own background, when my mother would make Thanksgiving dinner and we would all eat a festive meal including my Bubi and Zaidy.
This week’s Torah portion is Mikeitz. Mikeitz continues the story of Joseph in Egypt, his rise to power, the famine, and his brothers making the trip to Egypt to purchase food. Questions on the Sedrah include:
- The extra two years that Joseph had to stay in prison, did anything come of it. How or was history changed
Chapter 40, Verse 23:
|23.But the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph,כג.וְלֹא זָכַר שַׂר הַמַּשְׁקִים אֶת יוֹסֵף וַיִּשְׁכָּחֵהוּ and he forgot him:|
and he forgot him: afterwards. Because Joseph relied on him to remember him, he was compelled to be confined for two years, as it is said:“Praiseworthy is the man who made the Lord his trust and did not turn to the haughty (רְהָבִים)” (Ps. 40:5). He did not turn to the Egyptians, who are called רַהַב, haughty. [From Gen. Rabbah 89:3]Rashi on this Verse says:
“and he forgot him” – Because Joseph relied on him to remember him, he was compelled to be confined for two years etc.
The very next verse in Chapter 41, Verse 1 says:
א.וַיְהִי מִקֵּץ שְׁנָתַיִם יָמִים וּפַרְעֹה חֹלֵם וְהִנֵּה עֹמֵד עַל הַיְאֹר: .
It came to pass at the end of two full years, that Pharaoh was dreaming and behold; he was standing by the Nile.
2) Joseph comes across as the efficient bureaucrat, serving almost without mercy.
3) Joseph named his first born Manasseh, as it says in Chapter 41, verse 51. And Joseph named the firstborn Manasseh, for “God has caused me to forget all my toil and all my father’s house. The Torah says that Joseph forgot his father’s house?
4) Why didn’t Joseph phone home? It appears that Joseph made no attempt to contact his father.
How do we view Joseph and what is our understanding of Joseph? He was one of the founders of the Jewish nation (Shiftai Kah) so he knew the destiny of his family. Therefore, his actions were governed by his understanding of his mission, to create the nation of Israel founded on holiness, justice, and charity. He knew that his two dreams had to come true. He knew that one day the his father and family would come back to him.
On a character side, Joseph seemed to be very effective ruler and administrator. He was able to run a prison, oversee the massive effort during the years of plenty, and subsequent distribution of food and feed the entire nation of Egypt and the world, amass great wealth for Pharaoh. Joseph was the person who when he walked into a business meeting, read everyone, knew how to negotiate, and always got what he wanted. He was cold and calculating. This is in all likelihood due not only to his nature, but also to his being sold, being a prisoner, and rising to power in the blink of an eye, ahead of all of Pharaoh’s advisors, which must have led to tremendous palace intrigue.
However, it seems that he governs without mercy. He sold food to Egyptians and when they ran out of money he purchased their land, and made them chattel of Pharaoh. He demanded that they circumcise themselves.
Chapter 41, verse 55 says:
Rashi’s explanation based on the Midrash is shocking. Rashi says:
“When the entire land of Egypt hungered,” – For their grain, which they had stored, had decay, except that of Joseph.
(“what he tells you, do” – Since Joseph had ordered them to circumcise themselves, and when they came to Pharaoh and said “This is what he said to us, “He (Pharaoh) said to them “Why didn’t you gather grain, didn’t he announce to you that years of famine were coming?” They replied “we gather much but it rotted” He (Pharaoh) replied “If so, do whatever he tells you. He issued a decree upon the grain and it rotted. What if he issues a decree upon us and we die?
Wow! Why did the famine have to be this harsh that the food rotted so fast. There is a Midrash that their food rotted immediately, one minute they had food and the next minute the food rotted. Why was it supernatural. Why couldn’t it be normal, where after one or two years it got worse and worse. So much so that look at Pharaoh’s response to the Egyptians, it is Joseph’s fault, Joseph controls nature,and he can kill at will. Blame the Jew. This is similar to the communist revolution in 1917. The Jews where useful. Stalin and Lenin knew that the Jews would be harshest on their own religion and did much of their dirty work for the Communists. Jews executed the Czar and initially made up most of the secret police. Stalin and Lenin could then blame the Jewish people.
Why did Joseph have to force them to circumcise. additionally, in next weeks Torah portion it says that Joseph displaced the Egyptian, so that all Egyptians would be exiles, Chapter 47, verse 21 and when his family came they would not feel as the only strangers in the land.
Why didn’t Joseph give the food to the Egyptians, once they ran out of money. Did he set up soup kitchens? Imagine the scene. People are starving in the streets, begging and screaming for food. What does Joseph do. It seems to rank with the comment of Maria Antoinette, “Let them eat cake”.
This is what Joseph had to contend with – some of these are obvious and others have to be true:
1) Number 2 man in the Kingdom
2) Seven years of planning during the years of plenty
3) Feeding the country during famine
4) Preventing revolt in Egypt and not having Egypt come apart by the seams
5) Dealing with palace intrigue. Pharaohs advisors tried to undermine Joseph all the time.
6) Working to fulfill his mission to build the foundations of the Jewish people and eventually reconcile with his brothers.
7) Suppress his natural urge to be generous and charitable.
Answer to Question 2:
We were not there so we do not know how the people felt and their reaction. However, society back then and throughout most of history was cruel, run by a king or other power, who did not care about the welfare of people. Pharaoh must have been very happy with the wealth Joseph was amassing. The people could not revolt as they were starving. Joseph was acting no different from any other king, Pharaoh, or ruler at that time or even throughout history. Ultimately Pharaoh had the final yes or no and Joseph could not just give away food that belonged to the kingdom. I would even suggest that all of Pharaoh’s advisors agreed with Joseph.
I doubt that Pharaoh believed that Joseph will kill us. After all the Egyptians had Joseph in prison for up to 10 years. Pharaoh was blaming Joseph for a harsh policy that Pharaoh was happy with – the selling of food to his own people; or indifferent – the circumcision. He was able to appear to sympathize with his people, by blaming his second in command, but having clean hands. This is very typical in corporations, find someone else to blame. Unfortunately, he made it sound that Joseph is this master manipulator, able to change nature upon his will. Not good for Joseph and the Jewish people (perhaps this is why generations later, Pharaoh was able to convince his people to turn against the legacy of Joseph and his people.)
How did the people react to Joseph seemingly harshness? It could be that they were used to despots. They ultimately received food, survived, and after the famine prospered, so they bore no ill will towards Joseph. Look at the Ranban Genesis, Chapter 47, Verse 14. The verse says that “Joseph gathered up all the money” – The Ranban says that Joseph gave everything to Pharaoh, Joseph got nothing. This was Joseph’s wisdom. The Ranban then concludes “Through this endeavor, he (Joseph) found grace even in the eyes of the people; for it is Hashem Who causes those who fear him to prosper.”
Why the circumcision and exile. Joseph knew that his family would one day settle in the land and he wanted to try to ensure that they prosper in their new setting and keep the commandments. What he did to the Egyptians may not have been considered cruel and unusual in terms of how people were treated and they fact that they had nothing, and could only survive because of Joseph. Look at what the communists in Russia and China did to their own people. Look at what circumstances have done to people over the last 150 years.
Answer to Question 1:
Why did the food spoil so quickly? Joseph knew and God knew that eventually the brothers would have to face Joseph. At the end of the 7 years of plenty, Joseph was gone from his family for 20 years. The clock was ticking. What had to happen was for the brothers to run out of food and the recognition of the brothers that they erred in selling Joseph and correct a character flaw. Because of the 2 years that Joseph had to stay in prison, the years of famine started two years later. There was not enough time for the food supplies to be used up, for the brothers to come to Egypt, go back, realize their mistake and regret selling Joseph in two years. Instead of having four years, there were only two years, so therefore the running out of food was sped up and the food rotted unnaturally. When there is a ripple in time, things have to change and this is what changed. Unfortunately, Pharaoh used it against Joseph, blaming Joseph and probably created ill will towards Joseph, at least initially or even years later when the Egyptians enslaved the jews..
Answer to Question 4 – Why didn’t Joseph phone home:
This answer is relatively simple. Joseph knew that one day the family will come together. On a strictly personal level there was nothing for Joseph to go back to his family other than re-connecting with his father, to tell his father that he is still alive and they he is very successful. His brothers would continue to hate him and there would be continued tension, further fracturing the family, where Yaakov would now have to take sides and perhaps cause much more anguish to his father. If he would move his father to Egypt the brothers would not have followed along, so he would have had to leave his father in Canaan, rarely see him, and dislike his own kids for letting him down.
On a national level – Klal Yisroel level – If he initiated going back to his father, then his brothers would have continued to hate him and there would not be a unified Klal Yisroel – nation. They would still have felt that they were right in their determination to kill Joseph and there would have not been a reconciliation. The brothers had to come to a realization that they wronged Joseph and that their approach was wrong. They had to be humbled. The only reason to go back is to reconnect with his father, however, Yaakov had to suffer for the greater good.
Answer to Question 3 – Did Joseph “forget his father’s house”:
One a simple level it means that he was able to put all of the pain and suffering caused by his brothers behind him, not that he gave up his rapprochement with his father and brothers. The correct treading should be “all that happened in his father’s house”.
There is a beautiful Reb Shimshon Raphael Hirsh on this. He says that the Hebrew word used to mean forget is נַשַּׁנִי . This word also means to be a creditor. RSRH says that the correct meaning is
That I am indebted to my family and Hashem because I now understand why I was sold and why I ended up in Egypt as a ruler, so that I am the one to save my family and create the Jewish nation.