"at the end of"
(28 Kislev 5775 - 20 December 2014)
This week’s par’sha is entitled Miketz. It spans B’reshith 41.1 through 44.17 and continues the story of Yosef’s time in Mitsrayim. Miketz means at the end of, but this is certainly not a reference to the end of Yosef’s time in Mitsrayim. As the par’sha opens Yosef is about to come to the end of his time in prison after being falsely accused of trying to seduce Potiphar’s wife. In just a matter of days, if not hours, Yosef would be promoted from a Hebrew prisoner and servant of the captain of the guard41.12 to the second most powerful man in all of Mitsrayim - second only to Pharaoh himself. Can you imagine how this made the captain of the guard feel? Here was a young, thirty-year old Hebrew man who had been his prisoner one day and his commander the next day.
Thinking of what must have been going through this captain of the guards’ mind made me think of what Yosef must have thought all these years. As I’ve mentioned before, we have a tendency to read about the lives of the men and women of the Tanakh and see them as great men and women of Elohim, blessed with tremendous strength, wisdom and endurance. While their lives reflected their tremendous love and devotion to Elohim, Scripture also reveals their weakness, fears, and even confusion at times. There were times, even in their lives, it seems that they didn’t fully understand what Y-H-V-H was doing in their lives or why certain things had to happen to them. Yosef’s live is a prime example of this.
We learned in last week’s par’sha (V’yeshev, B’re. 37.1 - 40.23) that Yosef was just seventeen years old when Ya’akov finally settled in the land. Like his brothers, he was a shepherd, but unlike his brothers, he brought evil reports about them to their father. Though we aren’t told, we believe most of these reports were factual, which caused strife between Yosef and his brothers. We also aren’t told if Yosef first warned his brothers about their behavior before reporting to their father. Was he a spoiled young man like many believe, or was he genuinely concerned about his brothers?
Ya’akov’s mother had loved him more than Esau because he had been a complete man, dwelling in tents25.27 - a euphemism for one who spent his time studying and living Y-H-V-H’s Word. We know that Yosef was the son of Rachel, Ya’akov’s most loved wife. We are also told that one of the reasons Ya’akov loved him more than the others was because he was the son of his old age37.3, but then Binyamin had been born after Yosef - when Ya’akov was even older. Could one of the reasons Ya’akov loved Yosef more than his other sons be because Yosef demonstrated the same love of Y-H-V-H’s Charge, just as he had had at his age? After all, we aren’t told Yosef behaved like a spoiled brat or that the evil reports that he brought were not justified.
What we are told is that his brother’s came to hate him because he told their father the evil things they were doing - things that obviously did not line up with Y-H-V-H’s Charge that his father, grandfather and great-grandfather had guarded and taught to their children. Some of you may can emphasize with Yosef. Ever had people turn against you when you pointed out something they were doing, saying or planning was not in agreement with Y-H-V-H’s Will for their lives or went against His Word?
There is another interesting aspect to Yosef’s reports to his father. We are not told that Ya’akov ever acted on what Yosef told him. Instead, he made Yosef a special tunic, which angered his brothers even more. If Yosef was indeed a young man studied in Torah, what did he think about Ya’akov’s not acting on his reports?
The dreams created an even larger gulf between the brothers and while Yosef might have expected his brother’s response, his father’s response must have surprised him. He was the son Ya’akov loved more than all the others and yet, when he told Ya’akov about the second dream, his father rebuked him. Instead of taking him seriously, though we are told Ya’akov guarded his word37.11, he rebuked Yosef.
Soon after this Ya’akov sent Yosef to check on his brothers and their flocks. Once he arrived at their camp, Yosef found himself in the bottom of a pit in the wilderness after begging his brothers not to do what they were doing to him. If he hadn’t realized how much his brothers hated him, he certainly did now.
His first twelve years in Mitsrayim were hard ones. Even so, he recognized the hand of Elohim directing his life. Sold as a slave, Y-H-V-H blessed him. As Yosef prospered, so did Potiphar’s house. Yosef was soon appointed head of all that Potiphar owned. But then, as Yosef began to grow and prosper, disaster struck and he found himself falsely imprisoned. As he refused Potiphar’s wife’s advances. He had respected his earthly master, but even more, he had respected Elohim.
Imagine how demoralizing that must have been. For the second time in his life the people closest to him had turned on him and he had lost everything he had. He was at rock-bottom again. Those who have been to that place - rock-bottom - can certainly understand the pain and depression he suffered.
Ten years later we catch a glimpse of his suffering. As he learned of the cupbearer and the baker’s dreams, he told them, Do not interpretations belong to Elohim? Relate them to me, please.40.8 Even after ten years in prison, his belief and trust in Elohim was still true - and Elohim honored his faith. He gave Yosef the interpretation of their dreams and Yosef’s hopes of being released started to grow. He told the cupbearer, …remember me when it is well with you…mention me to Pharaoh…for truly I was stolen away from the land of the Hebrews. And I have done naught that they should put me into the dungeon.40.14-15 But, once he was free, the cupbearer forgot about Yosef and he spent another two years in prison. It’s not hard to imagine how his hope grew dimmer and dimmer as the days passed by. He had put his hope in a man and that man had failed him.
Ever been there? Ever found yourself in a place you didn’t belong, suffering for reasons you didn’t understand? Ever put your faith in someone you had once helped only to have them forget you when you needed them? If so, perhaps you can empathize with Yosef.
Of course, I would be amiss if I didn’t ask the other side of the coin. Ever failed someone who had been depending on you? Remember that feeling?
Now, two years later, Yosef is summoned from the prison and brought before Pharaoh. The cupbearer had finally remembered Yosef after Pharaoh himself had had two dreams. Here was Yosef’s chance: interpret these dreams and he would be home free. But once again, after all he had suffered, Yosef didn’t hesitate to tell the Pharaoh the truth: It is not in me, let Elohim answer Pharaoh with peace.41.16 It is clear, Yosef preferred to run the risk of being returned to prison rather than take credit for something only Elohim could do through him. Yosef would not edify himself, only His Father in the Heavens.
His trust in Y-H-V-H was rewarded. He interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams and he had been so impressed that he made Pharaoh the second most powerful man in the world, subject only to Pharaoh himself. He was given a wife that bore him two sons and it is in the names of his two sons we may get a glimpse into Yosef’s heart.
His first son he named Menashsheh, For Elohim had made him forget all his toil and all his father’s house.41.51 The shoresh of Menashsheh’s name is nashah נשׁה, which means to forget; to give up rights. And consider the things Yosef said Elohim had enabled him to forget:
all his toil. Toil is from עמל, which refers to hardship, labor, misfortune or worry. Being a slave, being falsely accused, prison - all that was behind him now. He was living a blessed life.
but he also said Elohim had enabled him to forget all of his father’s house. He had gotten beyond what his brother’s had done to him. He had forgotten what had been taken from him as the son of a wealthy man and one of Isra’el’s patriarchs. It seems as if Yosef was had finally found peace. Some of us can relate to this experience as well.
But we should not overlook an important point in this passage. This son’s name meant Yosef had forgotten all of his father’s house. All - from the shoresh כלל, means complete by including everything - or in this case everyone. This would include his father as well and here is the glimpse that we get into the depths of Yosef’s suffering. Why had he had to forget his father? Did he somehow fault his father for what he had been through?
As the number two man in all the land, why had he never tried to sent word to his father that he was alive?
To the best that he could know, why had no one come searching for him for the past twelve years?
Had his father known what his brother’s were planning? After all, his father had rebuked him for his second dream and then sent him to his brothers knowing how much they hated him.
It is obvious that whatever Yosef suspected or believed, he had suffered considerably. Remember the pain of having a family member turn on you? Have you ever had to forgive family members - even if they haven’t asked for forgiveness? Yosef was able to forgive his family, but he also tells us why: For Elohim had made him forget… Yosef relied on Elohim’s strength and mercy to forgive and forget what people - especially family - had done to him.
He named his second son Ephrayim, For Elohim had caused him to be fruitful in the land of his affliction. Mitsrayim was not his home; his home, his inheritance, was the land of Isra’el - his father. The shoresh of Ephrayim’s name is פרה and means to be fruitful or to flourish.1 No matter his position or authority, Mitsrayim would never be his land and it appears the Mitsrites would never let him forget that fact either.
In B’reshith 43.32 we are told, for the Mitsrites could not eat food with the Hebrews, for that is an abomination to the Mitsrites. The Mitsrites knew Yosef, despite having a Mitsrite name and dressing as a Mitsrite, was a Hebrew. Even though he was second only to Pharaoh in the land, they still would not eat with him. Verse thirty-two begins by telling us that the Mitsrites set Yosef a place by himself and them (the brothers) by themselves, and the Mitsrites who ate with him by themselves. Yosef was a Hebrew: he ate different, lived different and served a different Elohim and only One Elohim, not that the thousands of mighty ones the Mitsrites had created to worship. Yosef just couldn’t be a part of their world - even if he had wanted to.
How many understand what that is like? How many of you are not accepted or don’t fit in with those you work with every day, or other friends, even family, because you choose to serve the only True Elohim and follow his ways? Do you think you could ever feel as isolated and set-apart as Yosef must have felt? And yet, he remained faithful to Elohim. He stayed in the land of his affliction so he could accomplish what Y-H-V-H had ordained for him to do.
The seven years of plenty passed and the seven years of famine began. Two years into the famine Yosef saw his brothers for the first time in almost twenty years. Finally, after overcoming the pain and forgetting his suffering, here they were to remind him. At their first meeting the brothers had not recognized him - he had changed dramatically. He looked, dressed and spoke like a Mitsrite - but he has certainly recognized them. At first he dealt harshly with them and in this afternoon’s study we will explore some of the reasons why he may have treated them this way, but for now…
What would you have done? Standing before you are the ten men whose hatred and jealousy of you - all of which was probably unwarranted - had caused you so much pain and suffering. At the age of seventeen, all he could do was beg his brothers not to throw him into a pit in the wilderness, but now - now he was in the position to make them beg. He was in a position to punish; to exact retribution for what they had done to him. What would you have done? In fact, what have you done when you were in a position to pay back those who have harmed you?
It appears from Scripture that Yosef put his brothers through a series of test in order to see what kind of men they had become. He threatened them, called them spies, put them in prison for three days and then set them up to look like thieves before finally calling out to them and revealing himself to them.
While some, maybe even most of us, would agree with Yosef’s handling of the situation, that’s not the way the Messiah handled what His brothers did to Him. He revealed Himself from the very beginning. He resisted any urge to punish those who were inflicting so much pain and suffering upon Him. He resisted the urge to accuse or berate and choose instead to forgive and restore them.
As we study the great men and women of the Tanakh we learn powerful lessons about how to live our lives according to Y-H-V-H’s charge from them. We draw strength from their pain, suffering and shortcomings as we realize that we are so much more like them than we often realize. But while we draw strength through studying their lives, we draw our example from the Messiah. We aren’t called to the standards of Avraham, Yitz’chaq, Ya’akov and Yosef - all though their standards were quite high. We are called to the standard our Messiah set - a man who was:
despised and rejected by men
a man of pains and knowing sickness
a man pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our crookednesses
and yet, though He was oppressed and afflicted…did not open His mouth.Yesh. 53.
We can empathize with Yosef, but we must emulate Messiah. It will not always be easy, as Yosef’s life certainly demonstrates, but it will always be necessary. In some ways it is so much easier for us. Yosef was alone through much of his suffering - as was the Messiah. We have each other - and that’s another lesson we dare not forget.
28 Kislev 5775
20 December 2014
1 see T’hillim 128.3