This Week’s Torah Portion – Parashat Miketz (Genesis 41:1-44:17)

I discuss the weekly Torah portion with Rabbi Rabbs Mondays at 5:00 pm PST on the Rabbi Rabbs cam and on YouTube. Facebook Fan Page.

This week we study Parashat Miketz (Genesis 41:1-44:17).

* What do you do when a paranoid pyromaniac haunts your shul, looking for handouts?

* Here’s a transcript of some highlights from the show.

* Rabbi Berel Wein writes: “The psalmist asks the question “from where shall my salvation arise?””

We don’t know from where salvation will arrive. We don’t know if it will arrive. We can maximize our chances by maintaining a strong network of ties to other people, developing our own emotional resilience, and developing mastery of as much of life as possible.

* Rabbi Wein writes: “Yosef is saved from a life of slavery and prison and transformed into a royal magistrate in an instant.”

If Yosef didn’t have himself together and own a serious set of skills, his good fortune would not have occurred and would not have lasted.

* Rabbi Wein writes: “…every person in the world is potentially God’s messenger.”

* I’ve been studying some Talmud (Bava Kamma or some such tractate) and learning about a sin called “visual trespass.” I think when I look out my window and into the apartment of the couple up the street, I fear I’m committing a big sin. I’m sure I would be better served by studying Torah instead of spying on my neighbors.

* Rabbi Wein writes: “One of the great characteristics of Yosefs personality, as we view it through the lens of the Torah narrative, is his adaptability to change circumstances while retaining his inner self-confidence and rock-hard faith.”

While conserving their past practices, Jews have always been quick to adapt to new technologies and economies.

* Rabbi Berel Wein writes: “In the rough and tumble of Jewish and Israeli politics, organizational life and competitive societal forces, the temptation for excluding others and even punishing them is very strong. But the lesson of Joseph should remain instructional to all of us today as well. A Jewish society that can cast away old hatreds and feuds and truly attempt to be conciliatory one to another will certainly be stronger and holier in purpose and action. In this respect, we should all profit from and attempt to emulate Joseph’s wisdom and course of behavior.”

Joseph goes from interpreting the dream for pharoah to giving advice. This from a guy fresh out of prison. It takes a lot of self-confidence. Jews do not generally lack for confidence.

Joseph interpreting dreams sounds like modern psycho-therapy. Today we turn to shrinks to interpret our dreams.

AS: “According to the Tanchuma, Pharoah gave a changed version of the dream in order to confuse and test Joseph, but Joseph corrected him every time, until Pharoah was amazed and exclaimed, “Were you eavesdropping on my dreams?””

A good therapist detects the thru-line in your session even if you go off course and say contradictory things. A good shrink doesn’t accept your recapitulation of events as gospel truth. He asks questions and probes for truths not immediately in your ken.

That’s why I often feel like I understand myself better after psycho-therapy.

In a sermon at Stephen S. Wise one Sabbath morning in 1998, Dennis Prager shared this story: After his first divorce, he entered therapy. When he relayed a painful story from childhood, the psychiatrist said, “I suspect that didn’t happen the way you relayed it.”

And Dennis said he doubled up in pain.

One of the characteristics of a leader is that they don’t only try to tell you things you want to hear.

* Gen. 42:1. “Live and not die.” In ancient Hebrew thought, severe poverty is like death. Nothing in Judaism says poverty is good. That’s a Christian perspective.

* Jacob tells his sons in Gen. 42:1: “Why do make yourselves conspicuous?”

AS: “Jacob’s rhetorical question has been the theme of many leaders who exhorted their fellow Jews not to flaunt their wealth and success to envious and often anti-Semitic neighbors. Whatever food Jacob’s family had was honestly acquired, but even honest resources should be displayed judiciously.”

* Why didn’t Joseph get in touch with Jacob and let him know he was OK? Why did he name his first son for making him forget his childhood?

* Gen. 42:7. Why is Joseph so rough on his brothers? According to one Christian commentary, it is part of the Jewish penchant for vengeance (as opposed to Christian charity).

* Does Joseph need to do anything to make his dream-prophecies come true? Why not just leave that to God? Did Joseph’s ego need to have his brothers bow down to him?

AS: “Were it not for his obligation to carry out the dreams, Joseph would never have allowed his father to languish for so many years without knowing that his beloved Joseph was alive.”

I have many fervent dreams but I’ve never made anyone suffer so that I could accomplish them. Perhaps I am more righteous than Joseph?

* Joseph seems to have assimilated into Egyptian values. He practices divination (Gen. 44:5). He’s shaved his beard. He dresses like an Egyptian and follows their practice of not eating with non-Egyptians (religious Jews will only eat kosher food but they have no problem hosting non-Jews for meals).

* Why does Joseph practice divination? (Gen. 44:5)

* Gen. 42:9. Joseph accuses his brothers of being spies. I also wonder what you’ve got to hide when you accuse me of being a spy. What’s Joseph got to hide? How secure is he in his position? How common was it for Egypt to be ruled by a non-Egyptian? The goyim often don’t like this.

* Gen. 42:24. Joseph weeps. How much easier is it to weep for people than to do something to alleviate their suffering?

* Gen. 42:25. Does Joseph have money put in his brother’s sacks to provide them with the opportunity for atoning for selling him into slavery or to torture them?

* Gen. 42:28. This reminds me of the story of The Count of Monte Cristo. R S.R. Hirsch says: “Joseph wanted the brothers to realize how fully they were in his power and that he could as he pleased with them.”

* Gen. 43:34 Joseph has Benjamin served five times as much as any other brother. Creepy!

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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