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Torah Sparks

Parashat Miketz - Shabbat Hanukkah
December 19, 2009 – 2 Tevet 5770

Annual (Gen. 37:1-40:23): Etz Hayim, p. 226; Hertz p. 141
Triennial (Gen. 39:1-40:23): Etz Hayim, p. 238; Hertz p. 147
Maftir (Num. 7:54-89): Etz Hayim, p. 809; Hertz p. 599
Haftarah: Etz Hayim, p. 1274; Hertz p. 990

Prepared by Rabbi Joyce Newmark
Teaneck, NJ

Torah Portion Summary

Pharaoh dreams of seven lean cows devouring seven fat cows and seven thin ears of grain consuming seven healthy ears. He is disturbed by his dreams, but none of his magicians can interpret them. The chief cupbearer now remembers Joseph and his ability to interpret dreams. Pharaoh sends for Joseph, who tells him that his dreams are God’s way of informing Pharaoh about seven years of abundance, which will be followed by seven years of famine. Joseph advises Pharaoh to appoint someone to oversee the collection and storage of surplus food in the prosperous years so that it will be available for the years of scarcity. Pharaoh sees the wisdom of the plan and appoints Joseph to the position, giving him many honors and a wife who bears him two sons.

After the seven years of plenty have passed, the famine begins in Egypt and in surrounding lands. Jacob sends ten of his sons – all but Benjamin – to Egypt to buy food. When the brothers come before the viceroy of Egypt – Joseph – he recognizes them but they don’t recognize him. Joseph accuses them of being spies. When they protest, Joseph agrees to hold Shimon hostage until they return with Benjamin to prove their innocence. When the brothers tell Jacob what has happened, he refuses to let Benjamin go to Egypt. However, the famine continues and Jacob reluctantly allows Benjamin to accompany his brothers to Egypt to buy food. Joseph has the brothers brought to his house, where he serves them a feast. However, Joseph tells his steward to hide his silver goblet in Benjamin’s sack. After the brothers leave for home, Joseph sends his men after them to apprehend the “thief.” Joseph tells the brothers he will keep the one who stole the goblet as his slave and the others are free to return home.

1. Let’s Celebrate!

Portions were served them from his table; Benjamin’s portion was several times that of anyone else. And they drank their fill with him. (Genesis 43:34)

  1. Since the day that they had sold him they did not drink wine nor did he (Joseph) drink wine, but on that day they did. (Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki), 1040-1105, France)
  2. We understand why Joseph drank wine – because he had found his brothers. However, as the brothers still did not know it was Joseph, why did they drink wine? We can answer that Joseph had earlier accused them of being spies, and a spy must always remain sober, let he give away any secrets. Now, if the brothers would reject his invitation to drink with him, it would cause suspicion that they were indeed spies. That was why they drank wine now. (HaDrash v’HaIyun (Rabbi Aaron Lewin of Reisha), 1880-1941, Poland)
  3. They did not know that the Egyptian lord before them was their brother Joseph. Therefore Joseph was still lost to them. Why, then, should they have drunk wine on that day? They saw that Benjamin had received larger portions of food than they, and yet they were not jealous of him. Hence they realized that they had already ridden themselves of the sin of envy which had led them to sell Joseph into slavery, and consequently they felt that they might drink wine again. (Kav Hen (Rabbi Noah of Korav), d. 1895)
  4. What constitutes complete repentance [teshuvah]? If the sinner has the opportunity of committing once again the sinful act and it is quite possible for him to repeat it and yet he refrains from so doing because he has repented - for example, a man cohabited unlawfully with a woman and after a time found himself alone with her again and he still loves her and is still physically capable as ever and it takes place in the same province in which he had previously sinned with her and yet he refrains from repeating the transgression -- he is a true penitent.... (Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Teshuvah, 2:1 (Rabbi Moses ben Maimon), 1135-1209, Spain and Egypt)
  5. In the place where a repentant sinner stands, a thoroughly righteous person is not entitled to stand. (Talmud Berakhot 34b)

Sparks for Discussion

For many people, the notion of teshuvah calls up feelings of seriousness, grimness, even dread, yet Kav Hen says that when the brothers realized that their teshuvah had been successful, they celebrated. Why? How does Rambam’s definition of “complete repentance” explain their action? Why do you think the Talmud sees the repentant sinner as greater than someone who has never sinned? Do you agree? Is this related to the custom of wearing white on Yom Kippur?

2. But What Have You Done For Me Lately?

They had just left the city and had not gone far, when Joseph said to his steward, “Up, go after the men! And when you overtake them, say to them, ‘Why did you repay good with evil?’” (Genesis 44:4)

  1. Joseph does not command his steward to ask his brothers “Why did you steal my goblet?” but tells his messenger to ask the brothers, “Why did you repay good with evil?” From this we learn that the sin of ingratitude is worse than the sin of theft. (Rabbi Avraham Menahem Rafa, d. 1569, Italy)
  2. Ben Zoma used to say: What does a good guest say? “How much trouble has my host gone to for me. How much meat he set before me. How much wine he brought me. How many cakes he served me. And all this trouble he has gone to for my sake!” But what does a bad guest say? “What kind of effort did the most make for me? I have eaten only one slice of bread. I have eaten only one piece of meat, and I have drunk only one cup of wine! Whatever trouble the host went to was done only for the sake of his wife and children.” (Talmud Berakhot 58a)
  3. Have you ever noticed how often people leave a house where they have dined and immediately engage in cutting character analysis of the very people who just hosted them? This constitutes a grotesque violation of an important Jewish ideal, ha-karat ha-tov (the command to remember and recognize all acts of goodness, even a minor favor which another has done for you). Within talmudic Judaism’s hierarchy of values, ingratitude is a singularly loathsome, if very common, characteristic. (Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, Jewish Wisdom, p. 188)
  4. Rabbi Judah ben Tema used to say: Love and fear God; tremble and rejoice when you perform the commandments; if you have done a little wrong to your neighbor, let it seem large to you; if you have done him a big kindness, let it seem small to you; if he has done you a big evil, let it seem small to you; if he has done you a small kindness, let it seem large to you. (Avot d’Rabbi Natan 41)

Sparks for Discussion

Ingratitude goes hand in hand with arrogance and a sense of entitlement. Do you think this is more common today than in the past? Why? Rabbi Telushkin calls ingratitude “singularly loathsome.” Do you agree? How do you react when people you have helped appear ungrateful? Do you always express gratitude when you should? Why is ingratitude considered a sin? Which is worse – ingratitude to people or ingratitude to God?

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