The dungeon scene, which ended last week’s Parasha, shifts almost instantaneously to a palace, and it is there that the present Parasha opens up. A short phrase acts as a bridge, connecting these two very dissimilar places, yet making it clear that the events happening in the palace are not entirely removed from the prison cell and its occupants.
And so we read: “At the full end – “miketz” - of two years of days” (literal translation)… "Miketz" signifies here the “full end” (to the very last day) of the two years following the fulfillment of the dreams interpreted correctly by Yoseph, for which he was hoping to be rewarded… “Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him" (40:23). "Did not remember, but forgot”, is an emphatic and decisive double statement that ended last week’s Parashat Va’yeshev and seemed to seal off Yoseph's fate. Moving on to the next chapter (and Parasha), we find that it begins where the former left off; that is, with dreams. Moreover, Par’oh’s dreams could not have come before the period allotted by YHVH for Yoseph’s prison experience. Thus, the thread connecting the 'dreamer' of this Parasha (Par’oh) to the interpreter of dreams (himself a renowned dreamer, ref. 37: 5 – 10) in last week’s Parasha, begins to unravel. Consequently, that which appears to be the protagonist’s sealed fate takes a sharp and immediate turn, as the times and events of his life are being directed from above (see Ps. 31:15a; Prov. 20:24). Thus it is only when the two years fully expire that change can come about in Yoseph's life circumstances, and as is so often the case, once change sets in, it gathers momentum (ref. 41:14). We therefore read in 41:14: “Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they brought him quickly out of the dungeon…” (italics added). However, the “dungeon” mentioned here is “bor” in Hebrew, which is literally a “pit”, the same as the “pit” into which the brothers had cast Yoseph in 37:24. Thus, the instant transformation which is about to take place in the life of Yoseph does not erase the memory of that critical moment which started the saga that brought him to his current circumstance.
In Parashat Miketz we will encounter certain Egyptian names, words, and terms. Although in most cases they are not directly related to the Hebrew language, their Hebrew transliterations happen to have clear meanings. Even if these are mere happenstances or coincidences, they are intriguing!
begin with the king of
Par'oh continues to endow Yoseph with honor and material wealth, "he had
him ride in his second chariot; and they proclaimed before him: "Bow
the knee" - or “av'rech” (41:43). “Av'rech” contains the
word for "knee", “berech”, which, as we have seen before (in Parashat
Lech Lecha, Gen. 12 – 17, particularly in ref. to chapter 12), is also the root
for the verb "to bless". Indeed, Yoseph is a great blessing to the
In 41:51, 52, mention is made of Yoseph's sons, whose names are explained according to their respective Hebrew meaning. However, these names (also) happen to sound like Egyptian names, which may have been another reason why Yoseph chose them. Let us begin with the name of the youngest, Ephraim, meaning, "multiplicity of fruit" (v. 52). As we can see, the same consonants that we just noted above: P/F and R, make up this name. Obviously, Yoseph did not want to stand out as a foreigner in the land of his benefactors, but at the same time also wished to express his faith in the promise of the multiplication of the seed that was given to his ancestors. In the blessing and promise to Ya'acov, in 35:11 (Parashat Va’yishalch), Elohim says: "Be fruitful and multiply, a nation and a company of nations shall come from you" (italics added), and likewise in the prayer that Ya'acov prays and blesses Ephraim with, in Parashat Va’ye’chi (ref. 48:4). Thus "fruit" ("pri", of the root p.r.a, pey, resh, hey), is found in this name. It will also be in the title with which Ya’acov will bless Yoseph and confer upon him (again in Parashat Va’yechi) - “ben porat”, that is "son of fruitfulness" (49:22). Prophetically significant is also the fact that “Ephraim” contains the consonants, e.f.r (alef, pey/fey, resh), forming the word “efer” which means "ashes". Interestingly, the prophet Hoshe’ah (Hosea) describes Yisrael/Ephraim, while in their state of sin, as “smoke from a chimney” (13:3).
names his firstborn “Mena'she”, because Elohim had caused him to forget
his past (thereby easing his pain of separation from his family, 41:51), since
n.sh.h is the root of a verb which means “to forget”. The “sinew of the
thigh” which is not eaten by the sons of Yisrael because of the maiming
inflicted upon Ya’acov when he fought the “man” at P’niel, is called in Hebrew
“gid ha’nasheh” (ref. Gen. 32:32). Some rabbis and commentators
are of the opinion that this title for the thigh (exclusively connected with
the above-mentioned episode) - “nasheh” - is of the same root as
“forgetfulness”, because it was meant as a ‘remembering device’. That is, by
not partaking of what is symbolically a “sinew of forgetfulness”, the
Israelites were to remember their Elohim, His commandments, and their own identity.
But try hard as the nation may have done, forgetfulness did set in quickly,
resulting in dire consequences. Nevertheless, in our Parasha it is evident that
forgetfulness and remembering are also subject to YHVH’s sovereignty. Thus, the
cupbearer’s forgetfulness (different word in this case than the above n.sh.a.,
this one is sh.ch.ch – shin, chaf, chet), and subsequent remembrance, are used
by YHVH in order to set His plan into motion. Yoseph also makes use of the same verb when
interpreting Par’oh’s dream: “But after
that seven years of famine will arise, and all the plenty will be forgotten
Back to Menashe… whose name sounds much like "Moshe" (Moses), which in spite of its Hebrew meaning is most likely also of Egyptian origin, as it was Par’oh’s daughter who gave it to the foundling. Thus, Yoseph’s sons’ names which although of significant Hebrew meaning, most likely would not have sounded strange in their environment.
The book of Hoshe'ah
(Hosea) deals at great length with the northern
Last week we saw that Yoseph made YHVH's name known in his foreign environs. He certainly continues to do so when standing before the king (41:16, 25). And like Potiphar before him, Par'oh too acknowledges Yoseph's Elohim: "’Can we find a man like this, in whom is the spirit of Elohim?’ So Pharaoh said to Joseph, 'Since Elohim has informed you of all this…'" (41:38, 39).
not only acknowledges Yoseph’s Elohim, he also honors Yoseph by having him ride
his "second chariot" (41: 43), or “mirkevet ha'mish'neh”. “Mish'neh”
is from the root sh.n.h (shin, noon, hey), the primary meaning of which is
"to repeat", "extra", “two” and “second”.
In 43:12 we read that Ya'acov gives his sons “extra” or “double” money to take
with them to
of Yoseph's advice to Par'oh was to "exact a fifth of the produce… in the
seven years of abundance" (41:34). "Exacting a fifth"
appears here in verb form, “chimesh”. Number five is “cha'mesh”
(ch.m.sh.- chet, mem, shin) in Hebrew, and the verb which stems from it means
"to arm" or "to be armed", such as when “YHVH led the
people around… and the sons of Israel went up in martial array
[“chamushim”=”armed”] from the land of Egypt" (Ex. 13: 18). In the verse
following this one, that is in Sh’mot (Exodus) 13:19, mention is made of Yoseph’s
request to have his bones brought to the Land. Was it the memory of how Yoseph ‘armed’
The figure seven, “sheva”, as pertaining to the two seven-year blocks of time, with their abundance on the one hand, and the lack thereof on the other, is repeated time and again in chapter 41. Abundance, or "plenty" appear here as “sova” (ref. vs. 29 ,30 ,31) which we have already noted as meaning "fullness" (as in a full belly), or “satisfaction”, as well as its closeness to the figure seven – sheva. YHVH's precise order within humanity and over nature, as He makes provision for “sova” in the two periods of “sheva”, is evident even in the very words themselves.
"Ya'acov saw that there was grain [“shever”, referred to above] in
Yoseph, on the other hand, sees and recognizes his brothers, although he acts as a stranger toward them (ref. 42:7). “Va'yitna'ker” – “he made himself as a stranger” - since “nochri” is “stranger” and “nechar” is a “foreign land”, with the root being n.ch.r (noon, kaf/chaf, resh). However, it is also this very root that forms “nikar”, which means "seen" or "apparent" (the sounds "k" and "ch" are denoted by the same letter here, the letter kaf/chaf). And thus, “to know” or “recognize” is “haker”, a verb we encountered twice in last week’s Parasha. The paradoxical meaning imbedded in this root, which is shared by words pertaining to recognition and by those which have to do with estrangement, is made very real in the scene before us. Yoseph’s recognition of his brothers, on the one hand, and his estrangement from them, on the other, is summed up well by these two verbs (stemming from the one root) – “va'ya'kirem” - “vayitna'ker”. Thus, seeming opposites are actually two sides of the same coin! This act of estrangement was in fact a tool that Yoseph used in order to find out more about his brothers, as he desired to become re-acquainted with them and their present disposition. When Ruth was taken by surprise upon Boaz’s kindness toward her, she exclaimed: “Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should recognize/acknowledge me [le’hakireni], since I am a foreigner [nochriya]?” (Ruth 2:10 italics added). “Recognition” has also been used extensively (and ironically) in the previous Parasha. When Ya’acov’s sons showed him Yoseph’s bloody tunic, they said: “haker na – recognize… va’yakira – and he recognized…” (37:32-33). During Yehudah’s escapade he too was confronted by “haker na – recognize – whose are these…” referring to the pledge he left with Tamar while not ‘recognizing’ her as she was pretending to be a ‘stranger’ (ref. 38:25, 15-18). And like his father before him, he too is said to have “recognized…” – va’yaker (v. 26) the items and (some of) of his past deeds, thus waking up to the needed correction.
The brothers return home, yet it is not long before the provisions come to an end. If they are to go down again to the 'land of plenty', Ya'acov's sons need to convince their father to send their youngest brother, in accordance with the demand of the ‘Egyptian ruler’. Yehuda, therefore, pleads with Ya’acov: "Send the lad with me… I myself will be surety for him; you may hold me responsible for him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him before you, then let me bear the blame before you for ever" (43:8,9). Yehuda is willing to “guarantee” his brother, or to become an “era'von”. Last week, in Parashat Va’yeshev, we saw Yehuda as he was learning something about the principle of redemption from his daughter-in-law. At the time Tamar used a "pledge", also an “era'von”, in order to force her father-in-law into acknowledging his duty (ref. 38:17, 18). A wiser Yehuda now offers up himself as the pledge or surety, in the process of qualifying for the position of firstborn-redeemer of the family.
just before closing, let us examine one more term. When Ya'acov acquiesces and
commits Binyamin to the mercy of his brothers, he makes his sons take an
offering "to the man" (43:11), in spite of the famine and their own
great want. That which is translated as
"best produce of the land" is “zimrat ha'aretz”.
While “ha'aretz” is "the land" or “the earth”, “zimra” stems from the verb “zamor”
(z.m.r., zayin, mem, resh)," to cut off vine branches”, but in many more
instances it is "song" or "music". According to the
Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, "the vast majority of
occurrences of this verb and its derivatives focus upon praising the Lord; The
1.The New Brown, Driver, Briggs, Gesenius
Lexicon, Francis Brown Hendrickson Publishers,
3. Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament,
vol. 1, R. Laird Harris ed. Moody Press,