Parshat Mikkets - Bereshit (Genesis) 41:1-44:17
Pharaoh Dreamed a Dream
Mikkets is one of the larger parshas in Genesis, consisting of 146 verses covering a span of thirteen years in the life of Yosef and our fathers.
The last we saw of Yosef he was still languishing in Pharaoh’s prison for dignitaries serving as steward to the prison Warden. Two years have passed since Yosef had accurately interpreted the dreams of the Chief Cupbearer and Chief Baker to Pharaoh but still no word if the Cupbearer had related to anyone of authority Yosef’s plight. All this was about to change.
One night Pharaoh’s sleep is rudely disrupted by a frightening dream in which seven well fed, healthy and beautiful cows come up out of the Nile River followed immediately by seven malnourished, emaciated, sickly looking cows that proceed to gobble up the healthy cows. Though distraught Pharaoh eventually falls back to sleep only to have another disturbing dream in which seven tall, robust, solid and healthy ears of grain grew up on the banks of the Nile only to be aggressively devoured by seven thin and scorched ears of grain. After awakening in the morning Pharaoh was in a rather foul mood because he knew these dreams were of great import but he had no idea what they were trying to tell him.
In his frustration he calls on all his court magicians, prognosticators and Egypt’s “wise men” to tell him what his dreams meant. However, all were just as confounded as their king and brought him no relief.
It is now that the Chief Cupbearer finally recalls the lowly Hebrew slave that had successfully interpreted his dream two years earlier. Pharaoh orders the release of Yosef, has him cleansed, shaven and clothed in proper attire for an audience with him in the royal throne room.
In this moment we get to witness the transformative work HaShem has been doing within the life of Yosef over the past few years in confinement. Pharaoh tells Yosef how his Cupbearer had said he could interpret dreams and the king basically verbally honored Yosef for that gift. However, instead of taking credit Yosef lets Pharaoh know that is isn’t anything special about himself but it is HaShem the Almighty One that is to be honored and will be the one who will “see to Pharaoh’s welfare.” This is not the same seventeen year old brash young lad that stood before his older brothers and even his father telling them that one day they would bow down to him.
Being sold into slavery, falsely accused of attempted rape and years in prison had allowed HaShem to accomplish in Yosef the three things he would need most in order to save his family, embrace his father once again and bring them all to Egypt as foretold to his great grandfather Avraham — wisdom, patience and humility. These three all-important traits of character now firmly entrenched in the soul of Yosef would also be required for the task that the king of Egypt was about to impart upon him — rule over the empire second only to Pharaoh himself.
Yosef correctly interprets Pharaoh’s dream and is tasked by the king to prepare his kingdom for the time of great produce and then devastating severe famine that would follow. Too which, Yosef proved more than adequate for the task thanks to the mercy and great kindliness of HaShem shown to Yosef.
Jump seven years later, after the years of bountiful harvests and preparation. Now the promised drought and famine has finally arrived. Egypt is prepared but as the famine spreads through the Middle East and North Africa most other nations are not so prepared and begin to suffer from want and starvation. Yaakov and his family in Canaan are not hit quite as hard just yet in the early days of the famine but to play it safe and be prepared themselves in case it drags on beyond their own supplies and resources he sends his ten sons to Egypt to purchase grain and other needed supplies. He keeps Benjamin his youngest and only surviving son of Rachel with him. Benjamin at this point is about twenty-one years old.
The sons of Yaakov enter through ten different gates of the city so as to not arouse suspicion from the authorities that a large entourage might alert. Our Sages of Blessed Memory also tell us that they had an ulterior motive for this: they were spread out over the city to find out any information they could about their brother Yosef whom they sold into slavery thirteen years earlier. They assumed he was likely dead as the life of a lowly slave in Egypt was generally a short one. However, their guilt over their actions over the last years drove them to enquire anyway.
Yosef, from the time he became Viceroy of Egypt, had set out watchers at all the gates into the city to see if any of his family members might show up to purchase supplies during the time of famine. His wisdom paid off. His brothers were located and brought before him. They did not recognize their little brother now that he was fully arrayed in royal garb, looking like an Egyptian dignitary and not as a common Hebrew slave would appear. Yosef also did not speak in his native tongue of Hebrew but used an interpreter while conversing with them only in the Egyptian tongue.
The first thing Yosef enquired of them was their home location and information about their families just to put them at ease. The next thing he needed to do was make sure they stopped their on-the-street enquiries into his whereabouts. If word got to them that a former Hebrew slave was now second only to Pharaoh and running the empire then HaShem might have to postpone the fulfillment of Yosef’s childhood prophetic dreams that he had once conferred to them and his father. So, he calls them “spies” and charges them with subterfuge. Despite the brother’s pleas of innocence Yosef insists there is only one way to redeem themselves: “unless your youngest brother comes here, by Pharaoh, you shall not depart from this place…” (Genesis 42:15). Just to make his point stick deeply in their minds Yosef has them locked up for three days in the guardhouse.
After three days he lets them out, fills their caravan with more supplies than they need and secretly has all their money returned in the bags of grain. However, he keeps Simeon behind in the guardhouse as leverage to ensure they will return with Benjamin. It is important to note that Simeon was the brother that had actually lowered Yosef into the pit thirteen years earlier.
The brothers return to Canaan and relate all that had taken place to their father. He insists he will not ever send Benjamin into Egypt with them. But, over the course of the increased effects of the famine their food supplies were running out and eventually Yaakov is forced to allow Benjamin to return with them to the land of Pharaoh and meet up with this harsh overseer that still had his son Simeon locked up.
The brothers return to Egypt with Benjamin, meet up with Yosef again. To Yosef’s surprise his baby brother was now a fine young man to the point that he exclaimed, “Is this your youngest brother you spoke about to me?” (Genesis 43:29) He simply couldn’t get over how much he had grown over these many years. The emotional impact of just how much he had missed his baby brother and how much of his life he did not share in caused Yosef to become visibly shaken to the point of tears to which he retired from their presence to try and compose himself in private.
Having gotten himself together Yosef returns, grants them their purchases of grain and sends them on their way. Yet, not before secretly returning their money — double portion, and providing more grain and supplies than they had asked for. But, he also had one more trick up his sleeve. He had the chief of his household hide Yosef’s silver goblet in the bags of Benjamin’s pack. After the brothers were a few kilometers from the city Yosef sent his soldiers in hot pursuit of them. Catching up to them they charge the brother with theft of the Viceroy’s silver portent goblet to which they all pleaded innocence. So convinced were they of the falsity of the charge they willingly offered up their bags for inspection and declared “Whichever of your servants it is found with shall die; the rest of us, moreover, shall become slaves to my lord.” (Genesis 44:9) Of course the goblet was located in the bags on the pack animal of Benjamin. The devastation that came over the brothers was indescribable. They rent their clothes, returned to the house of Yosef as criminals and all eleven brothers bowed low to Yosef just as was foretold in his dream all those years ago.
The brothers pleaded for the life of their youngest brother Benjamin and stated that to spare him would obligate them to be slaves of Yosef forever. Yosef, however, had other plans. He told the brothers, “Far be it from me to act thus! Only he in whose possession the goblet was found shall be my slave; the rest of you [including Simeon] go back in peace to your father.” (Genesis 44:17)
Many over the centuries have asked, “Why all the game playing on the part of Yosef? Why not just reveal himself up front to his brothers and give relief to his still mourning father? Why the subterfuge?
While we cannot know the exact contents of Yosef’s thoughts since the Torah doesn’t fully reveal his intent we can, based upon the human condition and the wisdom now displayed in the life of Yosef come to some pretty sound conclusions:
A. These were the same brothers that had plotted to kill, then sold into slavery their own flesh and blood. After more than thirteen years had any of them changed? Could they be trusted with a full revelation that the brother they betrayed and who now controlled their destinies might in vengeance try to destroy them in turn?
B. Did the envy they had displayed for Yosef pass on to Rachel’s other son Benjamin. Would they betray him as they did Yosef if they found themselves in a tough situation or would they defend and protect him despite what may be threatened against them?
C. Yosef, aware that his childhood dreams of his family bowing to him wanted to ensure that he played his part in fulfilling HaShem’s will in this matter.
D. Finally, how could Yosef save the remnant of his family — his people, and bring them all down to Egypt as foretold to his great grandfather Avraham?
All these considerations and likely more, were the driving force behind all the actions of Yosef from the moment his brothers were spotted by his guards.
In next week's parsha the plans of Yosef come to full fruition. Until then — Shalom