Joseph’s Hasty Ascent

“Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they brought him hastily out of the dungeon.” – Genesis 41:14, JPS 1917 Tanach

In the previous parashas, Joseph had asked the Cupbearer of Pharaoh, who had been imprisoned with him to remember him when he is restored to his position in Pharaoh’s court. Yet, the cupbearer forgot about Joseph; and, Joseph remained in prison for another two years. At this time, to the day, Joseph’s salvation was at hand. For Pharaoh had dreamed two dreams that portrayed the same admonition; yet, none of Pharaoh’s couriers could interpret the dream.

Now, the cupbearer recalled Joseph, who had interpreted his dream, and the dream of the chief baker while they were in prison. Joseph had interpreted their dreams correctly; so, the cupbearer related the story to Pharaoh with the intent of recommending Joseph to Pharaoh as someone who might be able to interpret his dream – for the dream was one dream, essentially, repeated a second time in a slightly different manner.

It is interesting to note that Joseph was brought “hastily” out of prison (see above). According to Sforno, when H’Shem brings about a salvation, it occurs in a quick fashion. Joseph immediately shaved and changed his clothes, before appearing in Pharaoh’s court. Incidentally, the culmination of the current Geulah (exile), the dispersion of the Jewish people outside of Israel, since the destruction of the second Temple will be an unexpected salvation.

Joseph’s Ascent

“And Pharaoh said unto Joseph: ‘Forasmuch as G-d hath shown thee all this, there is none so discreet and wise as thou.’” – Genesis 41:39, JPS 1917 Tanach

It is written in Kabbalah, that for every descent, there is an ascent: apropos to this week’s parashas, we see Joseph, whose feet were placed in “fetters, His person was laid in iron; until the time that his word came to pass, the word of the L-RD tested him” (Psalm 105:19, JPS). Joseph’s descent began when his brothers threw him in a pit; they then sold him to a caravan of traders that was passing by Shechem. And, so Joseph was brought down to Egypt where he was sold as a servant to Potiphar. Under his service, he was accused wrongfully of indiscretion and sent to prison. Here, he did not languish; rather, he flourished. “And the Word of the L-rd was Joseph’s Helper, and extended mercy to him, and gave him favour in the eyes of the captain of the prison” (Targum on Genesis 39:21, sefaria.org).

Joseph flourished in prison; he gained notoriety as an interpreter of dreams, after correctly interpreting, b’ezrach H’Shem (with the L-RD’s help) the dreams of two prisoners who had been in stewardship in Pharaoh’s court. When the cupbearer, who was restored to his position in Pharaoh’s court, saw, two years later, how disconcerted Pharaoh was about his own dreams, he recommended Joseph to Pharaoh.

And Pharaoh said unto Joseph: ‘Forasmuch as G-d hath shown thee all this, there is none so discreet and wise as thou’” (Genesis 41:39, JPS 1917 Tanach). Pharaoh was so impressed with Joseph’s interpretation, that he elevated him to second in command of Egypt, thereby charging him to care for Egypt during the famine, by developing a means to store food during the seven years of plenty, to be subsequently distributed during the famine that would ensue, according to Pharaoh’s dream. Thus, Joseph’s ascent followed his descent; he exemplifies the qualities of endurance, patience, and hope that contributed to his character.

Guilty Conscience

“And Joseph knew his brethren, but they knew him not.”

– Genesis 42:8, JPS 1917 Tanach

About twenty years after Joseph was rejected by his brothers, thrown into a pit, and sold as a slave to a caravan that passed by Dothan, Joseph ascended to second in charge of Egypt, next to Pharaoh, who placed his entire kingdom at his disposal. Joseph preserved grain during the seven years of plenty that were prophesied in Pharaoh’s dreams. Then, he began to carefully distribute food, at the beginning of the seven years of famine. Jacob’s family needed provisions, for like everyone else on the known earth, they were affected by the famine. So, Jacob sent ten of his sons to Egypt to purchase food, excluding the youngest, Benjamin, “Lest peradventure harm befall him” (Genesis 42:4, JPS).

When the brothers arrived in Egypt, Joseph was in charge of selling grain to all the peoples who looked to Egypt for food. “And Joseph’s brethren came, and bowed down to him with their faces to the earth” (Genesis 42:6, JPS). Thus the dream he had as a youth was only partially fulfilled, so far; yet, in the dream all of his brothers bowed down to him. Although the brothers did not recognize Joseph, he recognized them. They saw an Egyptian prince standing in front of them; Joseph saw his long lost brothers. Yet, he spoke to them harshly, insinuating that they were spies. They said that they were part of a family with twelve sons, “and, behold, the youngest is this day with our father, and one is not” (Genesis 42:13, JPS). So, Joseph declared that if they brought the youngest down to Egypt, that would prove that they were not spies. He put them all in prison for three days; then, he kept Simeon in prison as a surety for their return.

The brothers response to this turn of events was such that they realized that the guilt they incurred because of their prior treatment of Joseph twenty years ago was being requited by a divine judgment against themselves. “And they said one to another: ‘We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the distress of his soul, when he besought us, and we would not hear; therefore is this distress come upon us’” (Genesis 42:21, JPS). This is a classic example of “the sins of the heels,” overtaking the transgressor, in the day of retribution. According to the Zohar, the sins that people neglect to acknowledge will accrue over time, until some evil overtakes the person. The brothers carried a guilty conscience all of those years; yet, not until the tides were turned did they begin to openly admit this to themselves.

We would be wise to learn from this example. The Zohar explains that subconsciously the sins that go disregarded by a person, i.e., sins that are not repented of, remain buried in the self, eliciting an unexplained fear. According to the Zohar, the source of the fear is the prescient sense of judgment that exists, unrealized, below the surface of consciousness. Perhaps, this is the underlying cause for so many people turning away from reflection upon themselves. Instead, we distract ourselves with endless preoccupations, trying to avoid the inevitable.

Mikeitz 5781

parashas Mikeitz 5781

According to the Zohar, for every descent, there is an ascent: apropos to this weeks parashas, we see Joseph, whose feet were placed in fetters, His person was laid in iron; until the time that his word came to pass, the word of the L-RD tested him (Psalm 105:19, JPS). Josephs descent to Egypt, and eventually into prison, began with his literal descent into the pit that his brothers callously cast him. He was then sold to Midianite traders, who brought him down to Egypt. He became the servant of Potiphar, who put Joseph in charge of his estate; yet, he was wrongfully accused by Potiphars wife; as a result, he wound up in prison.

Even in prison, Joseph flourished; the L-RD was with Joseph, and showed kindness unto him, and gave him favour in the sight of the keeper of the prison (Genesis 39:21, JPS 1917 Tanach). He gained notoriety as an interpreter of dreams, after correctly interpreting, b’ezrach H’Shem (with the L-RDs help) the dreams of two prisoners who had been in stewardship in Pharaohs court. When the cup bearer, who was restored to his position in Pharaoh’s court, two years later, saw how disconcerted Pharaoh was about his own dreams, he recommended Joseph to Pharaoh.

And Pharaoh said unto Joseph: Forasmuch as G-d hath shown thee all this, there is none so discreet and wise as thou’ (Genesis 41:39, JPS 1917 Tanach). Pharaoh was so impressed with Josephs interpretation, that he elevated him to second in command of Egypt, thereby charging him to care for Egypt during the famine, by developing a means to store food during the seven years of plenty, to be subsequently distributed during the famine that would ensue, according to Pharaohs dream. Thus, Josephs ascent followed his descent, all for the sake of others. Joseph models the qualities of endurance, patience and self-giving.