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Parashat Miketz - Joseph and his Brothers

Joseph and his brothers

Further thoughts on Parashat Miketz

by John J. Parsons
www.hebrew4christians.com

The Torah plainly states that Jacob loved Joseph (יוֹסֵף) more than all his other sons, since he was the son of his old age, and was the firstborn son (bechor) of his beloved wife Rachel (Gen. 37:3). Indeed, Jacob and Joseph shared a lot in common: Both had infertile mothers who had difficulty in childbirth (Rebekah and Rachel); both of their mothers bore two sons (Rebekah: Esau/Jacob; Rachel: Joseph/Benjamin); both were hated by their brothers, and perhaps most significantly, both had lost their mothers (Joseph was present when his mother died, whereas Jacob never saw his mother again after he fled from his brother Esau). Perhaps this explains why Jacob favored his son and gave him the ketonet passim (כְּתנֶת פַּסִּים), a full-sleeved robe or ornamental tunic that set him apart from his other sons, and perhaps this also explains Joseph's juvenile boasting about his "dreams of preeminence" over his brothers.... The story of Joseph is, among other things, a story about his dreams.  As a young man, his dreams centered on himself, which led to his betrayal and fall; after being humbled in prison, he focused on the dreams of others, which led to his exaltation...

There is a lot of mystery surrounding the story of Joseph. Like his father who fled from the hatred of his brother, Joseph became a victim of his brothers' malice. After being betrayed and sold into slavery as a teenager, Joseph later seemed to abandon his family identity. He had no "Bethel" experience along the way, however. Indeed, upon his release from prison he was thoroughly "Egyptianized."  He wore Egyptian clothes, spoke fluent Egyptian, married an Egyptian wife, assumed an Egyptian name, and named his firstborn son "Manasseh" (מְנַשֶּׁה), a word that comes from the verb nasah (נָשָׁה), meaning "to forget."  It's clear that Joseph wanted to forget his past life.  After all, despite his ascendancy in Egypt -- when he had the means to reconnect with his long-lost family (including his father and brother who were deceived into thinking he was dead) -- he did nothing to contact them. (For more on this topic, see "The Heart's Truth.")

The truth (i.e., aletheia: ἀ+λήθεια) cannot be forever forgotten, however. When his brothers finally reappeared in his life seeking help, it had been 22 long years since they had last seen him (the same amount of time Jacob had been away from his family as well). Joseph was now forced to deal with his past life. But he played the part of a "stranger" and withheld his true identity...  As part of his charade, Joseph bound and imprisoned Simeon (who, according to tradition was the brother who originally threw Joseph into the pit). It was then that the brothers remembered what they had done to Joseph when they betrayed him as a child. Here the Torah adds a detail not originally given in the story of Joseph's betrayal, namely, that the brothers had ignored Joseph's desperate cries for help (Gen. 42:21-24). Perhaps the shock of seeing their helpless brother Simeon bound before them reminded the brothers of the terrible pain they had once caused Joseph...

Joseph, of course, demanded that his brother Benjamin be brought from Canaan in order to validate the brothers' story. Benjamin, the last link to Jacob's deceased wife Rachel, had apparently taken Joseph's place as Jacob's favorite son, and Jacob was unwilling to part from him. The famine, however, forced the issue and Judah swore to his father to take personal and eternal responsibility for the welfare of his beloved son...  Jacob relented in a state of fearful resignation.

Although the sages argue about the exact chronology, it is clear that Benjamin was not a child when Joseph was thrown into the pit at age 17. When he finally saw his brother again, Joseph was so overcome with emotion that he left the room to weep.  A midrash tells of the conversation between Joseph and Benjamin that brought tears to Joseph's eyes.  Joseph asked Benjamin, "Have you a full brother, one who has the same mother as you?" "I had a brother," answered Benjamin, "but I do not know where he is." "Do you have sons?" asked Joseph. "I have ten." "What are there names?" "I named them all after my brother and the troubles that befell him. One is called Bela because my brother was nivlah - swallowed up - and disappeared. Another is called Bechor because he was the bechor (firstborn) of his mother. A third is called Achi because he was achi, my brother, and a fourth is called Chuppim because he did not see my chuppah (i.e., wedding day)." So Benjamin explained the names of his ten sons and Joseph was full of love for his brother and sadness for the time they had not shared together.

Another midrash tells the story about how Joseph seated his brothers from youngest to oldest (Gen. 43:33). He wanted to have Benjamin sit next to him but was unsure how to arrange the seating. Picking up his goblet and pretending that it had magic powers, Joseph called out the brothers names: "Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah," and so on from oldest to youngest. When he came to Benjamin, he said, "He has no mother and neither do I. He had a brother who was separated from him at birth, and so did I -- let him sit next to me!"  The fivefold portion given to Benjamin was meant to test the brothers to see how they would react to a brother being shown preferential treatment.

When Joseph later framed Benjamin for stealing the "divination goblet," he was masterfully recreating a situation similar to the one in which he was sold by his brothers. Had they changed? Would his brothers abandon Benjamin as they had abandoned him in his hour of need?  In order for there to be genuine reconciliation, Joseph needed to see if his brothers had really undergone teshuvah. When Judah stepped forward to take the place of his brother, he willingly accepted the guilt of them all. When Judah said, "What can we say, my lord; God has found out our sin" (Gen. 44:16), he was not confessing to the theft of the divination cup, but rather to the brothers' crime of throwing Joseph into the pit and selling him as a slave....

The word "Miketz" means "at the end of" and points to prophetic future (i.e., the "end of days" or acharit ha-yamim). Just as Joseph was a "dreamer" who was betrayed by his brothers but was promoted to a place of glory by the hidden hand of God, so Yeshua was betrayed by his people yet was exalted over all the nations (מֶלֶךְ הַגּוֹיִם). And just as Joseph later disguised himself as a "stranger" and an "Egyptian" to his brothers but was finally revealed to be their savior, so will the Jewish people come to see that Yeshua is the true Savior of Israel. Then will come true the hope of Rav Sha'ul (the Apostle Paul) who wrote, "And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Zion the Deliverer who shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob" (Rom. 11:30).


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