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Parashat Miketz

December 27, 2008

By Hayley Siegel

At face value, our currency is just a simple piece of paper. That currency only becomes activated when we invest it with our trust in each other and our institutions, and receive that trust in return from others. However, if we look into our world today, there is a lack of trust on the part of investors and lenders and for good reason. The recent Bernard Madoff financial scandal has been a tragic illustration of trust’s betrayal. In this week’s Torah portion, Miketz, we witness our ancient ancestors grapple with similar challenges during times of economic hardship. Joseph’s reconciliation with his brothers, who come to him for help during the famine, teaches us important lessons about how it is necessary to rebuild trust and faith in each other before we may move forward to overcome pressing challenges and survive great hardships.

Our narrative takes place in Egypt in a time of great famine, a biblical era Great Recession. Joseph, the second youngest son of the third Jewish patriarch Jacob, has pulled himself up by his bootstraps. After being sold into slavery and serving time in prison, Joseph utilized his instincts and insights to successfully predict Egypt’s famine and now finds himself in the second command post to Pharaoh. Joseph’s simple and profound wisdom to store when times are good for when times are bad paves the way for him to save Egypt, and as fate would have it, his estranged family.

Joseph’s brothers travel to Egypt seeking to buy food during the famine. Because of his position as Pharaoh’s investment advisor, the brothers fail to recognize Joseph, and beg to purchase resources to survive the widespread food shortage. Joseph, who is still licking his wounds from the day they threw him into a pit and then sold him into slavery, gives his brothers a hard time. After accusing his brothers of being spies and detaining them in prison for “security purposes,” Joseph eventually obliges to help them purchase food. However, he doesn’t let his brothers off the hook so easily. He takes his brother Simeon captive, imprisons him, and demands that the other brothers return with his younger brother, Benjamin, in hand. The Torah goes onto reveal that Joseph commands his guards, who had been supervising the brothers’ three day stay in Egypt, to place bags of silver in their satchels. When the brothers are released from their stay in Egypt, they quickly discover the presence of the silver in their bags. They bemoan this event as a misfortune and cry out to God for this predicament, “What is this that God has done to us?” (Gen. 42:27). When the famine continues to persist, Jacob commands them to return to Egypt to secure more food rations. However, when his remaining sons reveal that Pharaoh’s main advisor (Joseph) demanded that they bring Benjamin back with them, Jacob advises his children to arrive with a large amount of money as well as the silver which they found in their bags, “And take double the money in your hands, and the money that was returned in the mouth of your sacks you shall return in your hands, perhaps it was an error” (Gen. 43:11-12). When the brothers return to Egypt and meet with Joseph once again, they bring the satchels of silver from their previous trip and admit to him that they, “don’t know who put the silver in their bags” (Gen 43:22).

By coming forward and confessing that they are in possession of the silver, the brothers begin to plant the seeds of reconciliation and trust with Joseph. Within previous narratives, we witnessed how Joseph’s brothers didn’t blink for a second when they sold Joseph to the Midianites, who then sold Joseph for twenty pieces of silver to the Ishmaelites. Fast forwarding to Miketz, we see that Joseph’s brothers employ honesty when interacting with Joseph, and it is this candid truthfulness which gives Joseph the platform to eventually admit his true identity to his stunned brothers. The brothers’ sincerity regenerates trust and faith within Joseph’s heart, and Joseph helps his entire family survive the famine. This leads to a family-wide reunion with all of his brothers and their father, Jacob.

Parashat Miketz
gives us a bird’s eye view into how hard it is to reestablish healthy trust when a massive betrayal has been carried out. Joseph’s reconciliation with his brothers proves that trust can be reinstated between individuals but affirms that this process is a two-way street with equal effort and action being exerted by both parties. During our celebration of Chanukah, a holiday of rededication and education to God, our loved ones, and our goals, we should keep in mind that we have the power to counteract the negativity of fear and greed by cultivating healthy trust with our loved ones, working to reconcile with others, and utilizing our profound instincts when the time calls.


Hayley Siegel is a rabbinical student at AJR.