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Please begin with an informative title:

Torah readings:
First scroll:  Genesis 41:1 to 44:17
Second scroll:  Numbers 7:48-53
Haftarah:     Zechariah 2:14 to 4:7

Because this is Shabbat Chanukah (spell it however you like) I am dividing the D'var Torah into two parts.

By the coincidence of the calendar, this parashah Miketz is almost always read during Chanukah. Pharoh has two dreams:  In his first dream seven skinny cows eat up seven fat cows, and in his second dream seven scorched ears of wheat eat up seven fat ears of wheat.  His magicians cannot interpret these dreams, but his cupbearer tells him about Joseph.  Pharoh brings Joseph out of prison and relates to Joseph his dreams.  Joseph states that Egypt will enjoy sven prosperous years followed by seven years of famine, and suggests they better start storing food now.  Pharoh makes Joseph his prime minister, and, thanks to Joseph, when the famine comes, there is food in Egypt.

Meanwhile, things are rough in Canaan, so Jacob instructs his remaining sons, save the youngest, Benjamin, to go to Egypt to purchase food.  Joseph recognizes his brothers, but they do not recognize him.  He calls them "spies", but overhears Reuben, speaking in Hebrew, express his remorse.  Joseph pretends not to understand them.  He orders Simeon seized but agrees to sell the others grain, and tells them to return home and to bring back Benjamin if they want to see Simeon released.  Secretly, he intructs his servants to replace the money for which they paid for the grain.  The brothers are scared - this is surely a "set-up."

When they return home, their father Jacob refuses to let them return to Egypt with Benjamin, but when they run out of food again and are hungry, Judah assures his father he will take responsibility for Benjamin.  Joseph welcomes them with a festive meal and assures them he had their money - their God must have been good to them.  After the meal, he provides them food again to return to Canaan, and this time refuses payment.  Secretly, he instructs his servants to put his silver goblet into Benjamin's bag.  After the brothers leave, Joseph has his servants follow them, they search the bags and find the goblet.  They are brought back to Joseph, who announces that Benjamin will be held in slavery, the others are free to return to Canaan.


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Jewish commentators, from Talmudic times to the present, have been divided over Joseph's treatment of his brothers.  

The 13th century Spanish scholar and rabbi Nachmanides, known as the Ramban, defended Joseph, arguing that Joseph was merely carrying out his childhood dream, that all the sheaves and the sun and moon and the eleven stars would all bow down to him.  Therefore, he hid his identity so they would be forced to bring down Benjamin and their father, so all would bow down to him, to fulfill the dreams.

But the 15th century Spanish scholar and rabbi Don Isaac Abravanel could not forgive Joseph for his treatment of his brothers.  The brothers had intended evil, but God turned it into good - after many years in prison Joseph had emerged as the second most powerful person in Egypt, and he would save many people from starvation.  This could not have happened if his brothers had not sold him into slavery.  To Abravanel, Joseph was acting out of petty revenge, and, if he could not forgive his brothers, at least he could have shown some concern for the hurt he was causing his aged father.  

In the Talmudic literature, Genesis Rabbah 24:7, Rabbi Tanchuma attempts to reconcile the dispute of several generations earlier between Ben Azzai and Rabbi Akiva as to what is the most important commandment of the Torah:

Ben Azzai said: '"This is the book of the descendants of Adam" (Genesis 5:1) is a great principle of the Torah.'  [teaching us that we are all descendants of Adam and Eve and therefore brothers and sisters so we are obligated to love each other as brothers and sisters.]  Rabbi Akiva said: '"And you shall love your neighbour as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18) is an even greater principle.'  Therefore, [from Ben Azzai's statement you can deduce that] you must not say: 'Since I have been put to shame, let my neighbour be put to shame.  Rabbi Tanchuma said:  If you do [take revenge by putting another person to shame], know Whom you put to shame, [for] 'in the likeness of God did [God] make him' (Genesis 5:1).
Joseph may be mildly commended for not getting his revenge by murdering his brothers.  In so much of literature, murder is the means of revenge.  But, in humiliating his brothers, in causing them mental anguish, Joseph still got his revenge, even at the cost of causing his aged father even greater mental anguish.  Rabbi Tanchuma is right, the Ramban is wrong.  We must not take revenge, and we must honor and love each of our fellow humans as brothers and sisters, for that is how we build peace and a just nation and world.

Shabbat Shalom

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Originally posted to Elders of Zion on Thu Dec 13, 2012 at 01:30 PM PST.

Also republished by Street Prophets .

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