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Mikketz (at the end of)

Genesis 41:1 to 44:17, 1 Kings 3:15 to 4:1


Verse 41:46 tells us that Yosef was 30 when summoned to Pharaoh. He was 17 when brought to Egypt (37:2). Thus he spent 13 years as Potiphar's steward and in prison, including the two years (41:1) after interpreting the two courtier's dreams. Then Egypt had seven more years of plenty—so Yosef is at least 37 when he again sees his brothers, assuming they travel to Egypt during the first year of famine.

Yosef becomes quite "secularized". His name for Binyamin states that he has forgotten his parental home. He swears an oath "by Pharaoh's life" in verse 42:15. Yet he still fears God, not the Egyptian deities (verse 42:18).

Notice that when Yosef tells his brothers that he fears "their God", Elohim, in verse 42:8 that the brothers do not use the opportunity to claim to the supposed Egyptian any special divine favor or protection. What would an Egyptian know of Elohim? Perhaps the brothers pass another test here, by not falsely claiming to be dangerous men to oppose by virtue of having a God whom their opponent fears.

Yaakov finds Yehudah's words more assuring than Reuven's (verse 43:9) in part because Yehudah has himself lost two sons. This is a secondary example in the Parasha of God using tradgedy as an ingredient in creating something good.

Note that compassion, not prison, stirred repentance in the brothers. Then Yosef gives larger portions to Binyamin, testing if the older brothers will again complain when their youngest receives preferential treatment. The older brothers pass the test and do not complain. They later show they will even give their lives for this youngest brother who is the other son of Rachel.

Ya'akov never connects his situation with his family's ancestral promise and covenant with God. The names he gives his sons show he had no plans to return to the Promised Land. Even when seeing his brothers causes him to remember his dreams, he actions are only to see his dreams fulfilled, not to claim the position of the brother through whose lineage God's promise and covenant will pass. Somewhat surprisingly, then, it is Yehudah who receives the most long-term prestige during the events of this Parasha: the Messianic lineage becomes his due to his willingness to sacrifice and how his past loss of two sons allows his promises to Ya'akov to be more compelling than Reuven's earlier, similar offer of assurance.

This parashot's Haftorah also has God speaking (to King Shlomo) in a dream.

Russ Resnik comments that both Yosef and Daniel understand that part of interpreting a dream is to offer sympathy and support to the dreamer. Ya'akov Farber adds that people in Yeshua's covenant, and others who have the Spirit of Adonai within them, are given an interpretation for their own prophetic dreams (as Shlomo and Yeshua's father Yosef have happen): there is no scriptural precedent for believers interpreting each other's dreams.

Traditional Jewish Commentary

R' Bechaye and Toldos Yitzchak note that a sublte power struggle is happening between God and Pharaoh. In this parashot, Pharaoh is not called "king of Egypt" until he appoints Yosef (at which point Pharaoh's authority needs to be stated). This emphasizes that God, not Pharaoh, is in control. On the other hand, Pharaoh in his dream stood "on the river", not on its banks. Pharaoh imagines himself to be supernatural and divine, but God is frightening him and teaching him humility.

Yosef has also increased in humility. Before he responded to other's dreams with only "relate it ot me". Now he answers more humbly, with focus on God.

R' Bechaye and Toldos Yitzchak also note that the two dreams of Pharaoh had somewhat obvious interpretations (i.e., cows stand for years in Egyptian inscriptions), so God must have been confusing Pharaoh's wise men.

In verse 41:14, Yosef is "rushed" out of prison. Even though God delayed so long in rescuing Yosef, when the time finally arrived the redemption happened hurriedly. Similarly, in Exodus 12:33 the long-awaited departure for Egypt also happens suddenly. Finally, in Malachi 3:1 the long-delayed Messiah is prophesied to appear "suddenly" when he finally appears. God is very impatient to save his people, even if he also delays in causing judgment.

The literal translation of "his breath came violently" (41:8) is "his ruach (breath or spirit) tolled like a bell". Later, Pharaoh says that Yosef is "a man in whom is the ruach of Elohim"; we do not know if in Pharaoh's mind the word Elohim referred to the God of Abraham or "gods" in general.

Chizkuni comments that the chief cup bearer called Yosef "a Hebrew boy, servant to the chief cook". Perhaps this is to put down Yosef as someone young, foreign, and servile: unsuitable for being promoted as a reward of good service. Perhaps this is to appease Pharaoh's potential anger, by pointing out that Pharaoh didn't imprison anyone important. Toldos Yitzchak believes the opposite: that for a prophet, youth was a sign of increased divine favor and being Hebrew and a servant meant it was divine power and not magical arts that enabled the prophecy.

Yosef corrects Pharaoh's retelling, such as the switch from "beautiful and fat" to "fat and beautiful". In verse 41:39, Pharaoh acknowledges by saying "since God has told you all of this".

In either case, Pharoah's giving Yosef a new name clears him from the accusations with Potiphar's wife and circumvents the law prohibiting foreigners or servants from authority positions.

Chizkuni also writes that Pharaoh was testing Yosef by appointing him to authority: if Yosef did not have confidence in his interpretation, Yosef would have declined the honor. Furthermore, the new marriage is to clear him from the false accusation about Potiphar's wife.

The proclomation Avraych! shouted in honor of Yosef could be a Hebrew transliteration of "Father of Wisdom", or related to the Akkadian abaraku, meaning "steward of the royal household".

The father of Yosef's wife Asnat is named Poti-Phera (verse 41:45). Is this the same man as the previously mentioned Potiphar? One tradition says yes, that Potiphar was a title given to the man who fattened calves for royal sacrifice ("fatten" in Hebrew is pitem). In verse 39:1 the Potiphar whom Yosef served is called "chief of the butchers" (sar ha'tabacheem).

In verse 42:1 the word for "food" is shever which has connotations of hope.

Verse 42:23 and 45:12 show that Yosef was speaking Egyptian and using an interpreter during all but his final conversation with his brothers.

Rambam and Chizkuni explain that Yosef's trickery as motivated by his own two dreams. Seeing his brothers caused Yosef to remember the dreams (42:9), and he apparently felt he had to arrange circumstances so that all his brothers bowed before him (his first dream) and then his father and brothers together (the second dream). Thus the ten visitors are called his brothers, not Yaakov's children, in verse 42:3. Verses 42:7-8 emphasize that he not only recognized his brothers but made steps to confirm their identity: it has been at least 20 years since he has seen them. Yosef first plots to have Binyamin brought before him, to fulfill the first dream. Then Yosef plots to test the depth of the older brothers' repentance. Putting the goblet into Binyamin's sack accomplishes two things. It confirms if the man is really Binyamin and not an imposter (as the youngest, he might well have been unrecognizable to Yosef) because the known brothers are willing to give their lives for his. And it causes the older brothers to tear their own clothes, in contrast to their tearing Yosef's ornate cloak when they imprisoned him.

Note the similarities between Rachel's theft of Lavan's idols and the supposed theft by Rachel's son of the cup. The elder brothers had an excuse ("son of a thief!") to believe that Binyamin was guilty, and guilty of a crime that shamed their family in a far worse manner than Yosef's dreams did so many years earlier. But their past inclination to think the worst of a youngest brother is now gone, and they support Binyamin.

Some traditional stories add detail to the conversation between Reuven and Ya'akov in verse 42:37. Here is a paraphrase:

Reuven: If I do not bring Binyamin back safely, you can kill my two children.

Ya'akov: Kill my own grandchildren? Why would I do that? I love my grandchildren.

Reuven: Yet the bond between brothers is stronger than that of grandparent and grandchild. Of course I will do all I can to ensure Binyamin's safety.

Ya'akov: No, you have proven years ago that for you the bond between brothers is missing.

Rosh HaShanah 10b proposes that Yosef was released from bondage on Rosh Hashanah. An interesting tradition, this relates to Rosh Hashanah as the day of release from our earthly bondage to join the court of God and be entrusted with rulership.