From the Desk of Rabbi Miri Gold December 29, 2016
Parashat Meketz (Genesis chapters 41:1-44:17; Haftara from I Kings chapter 3:15-4:1)
Meketz is read on the Shabbat of Chanukah, when the days are short and the dark nights long. Our Torah portion recounts the troubling dreams of Pharoah, while Joseph, who has interpreted dreams from his dungeon of imprisonment, remains in the dark, not knowing his fate. This young man, whose childhood was marked by his narcissistic nature, has grown and matured. His predictions for the fate of the chief butler and the chief baker came true, and only after the helpless plea of Pharoah to his magicians and wise men, did the chief butler recall the Hebrew man still in the dungeon.
We know what happens next: Joseph is brought to the Pharoah, interprets his dreams to mean years of plenty followed by drought, and brings clever solutions to save the Egyptians from starvation. Joseph, who was jailed after rejecting Potipar’s wife who then wreaked revenge on him, landed in jail because he stuck to his principles and faith in God to pursue the morals he had been taught by his father. Now he applied his wisdom for the benefit of the people.
Similarly, in our haftarah, we read the famous story of King Solomon’s judgement to determine the real mother of a surviving baby. He took the throne at eighteen from his father David, and rather than coveting riches and honor, he prayed for the power to serve others and promote their welfare and bring justice. Joseph is now elevated to that rank. Not only did he find a life-saving solution for the Egyptians, he handled his meeting with his brothers with dignity and caring. He tested them, asking that they bring Benjamin to him, and they at first refused. Reuven told his father Jacob that he was willing to kill his own two sons if they did not safely return Benjamin. Judah, who was to become the leader of the brothers, and the ancestor of David the king, thought differently. He was willing to give up his own life to secure Benjamin’s safety. To this Jacob, now called Israel, agreed. Joseph agreed to send food back to Canaan with his brothers, but to test their sincerity, he played a trick on them. He planted a silver goblet in Benjamin’s bag as they prepared to leave Egypt, and then recalled them all. Judah was willing to take responsibility for the theft, in order to save Benjamin. The Torah portion ends with understanding the brothers’ past sins, and Joseph agrees that all the brothers, save the “guilty” one, return to Jacob.
This cliffhanger of a story shows Joseph to be a remarkable man. He could have taken revenge on his brothers for selling him to the Ishmaelites, but instead understands the Divine plan which brought him to Egypt to save lives from starvation, including his own people. The darkness of the story’s opening now reveals a path leading to light, to integrity, to maturation, to selflessness. Would that we, in our own time, have the courage to step out of the darkness and search for the ways of peace, understanding, and compassion, in spite of the wrongs we have suffered in the past. A good example of this is the aid being offered to Syrian refugees by both the Israeli government and citizens.
Hag Urim Sameach!