Part 2 of the Joseph story. I remember, back when we had Bible reading in public schools, hearing my teacher read this story to the class over a period of several days, like an old-fashioned movie serial. In the Torah, the story is similarly divvied up, though in bigger chunks. And this week, we even get a genuine, old-fashioned cliffhanger.
Two years have passed. Joseph is still in prison. One night, Pharaoh has two vivid dreams. In one, seven emaciated cows swallow seven fat ones yet remain emaciated. In the other, seven ears of grain on one stalk, full and healthy, are swallowed up by seven withered ones on a second stalk. No one can interpret the dreams. The chief wine steward tells Pharaoh about Joseph, who is summarily shaved, dressed, and brought up from the dungeon. He not only interprets the content of the dreams (7 good years followed by 7 of famine), but their urgency and what to do to minimize the damage from the famine (and, though not stated, make a lot of money for Egypt), including appointing a suitable overseer. Pharaoh, impressed, makes Joseph viceroy and gives him an Egyptian name, Zaphenat-Paneah, and an Egyptian wife, by whom he has two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh.
[By the way, I just learned that Egyptian Pharaohs took new names just as a new Pope does. “Most Pharaohs are known to us by their birth names but the kings lists use their throne names. For example, Ramesses the Great’s birth name was Ra-messes Mery-Amun (“born of Re, beloved of Amun”), but the kings lists record his throne name User-Maat-Re Setep-en-Re (“the justice/truth of Re is powerful, Chosen by Re.” (See http://www.ancientegyptonline.co.uk/names.html) By the time of the Middle Kingdom, they had four in addition to the birth name.]
So why doesn’t Joseph send news home after this 13-year, absence, both to let his father know he’s alive and to warn them of the famine? Since this year I’m going easier on Joseph than usual, let’s just say that Joseph now realizes that he is part of a much larger story, one governed by the Lord, and he needs to let it play out. So he patiently waits.
Meanwhile, back in Canaan, Jacob, now over 100, is still firmly in charge, and it is clear he had made the right choice when he designated Joseph as future head of the family. While Joseph is managing the famine in Egypt, Jacob’s sons still have to be told by their father to go there and buy grain. Ten of them go. Joseph, who has been expecting them, accuses them of being spies, takes Simeon hostage, but also secretly returns their money. He hears them speaking in Hebrew about how guilty they feel about their hardness toward Joseph, but he wants to know if they have really changed. That means he must contrive a test using Benjamin, even though this seems like a cat toying with 10 mice.
When the grain is used up, they persuade Jacob to allow them to bring Benjamin with them to Egypt, with Judah guaranteeing his safety. Now they are treated well, fed, and even seated in order of age. Then Joseph secretly has his divining goblet is planted in Benjamin’s sack. When it’s found, he offers to let them all go, except for Benjamin, who will be a slave. What will the brothers do this time? Tune in next week.
Tomorrow is the 7th day Chanukah, so we’ll also read about the offerings of the tribe of Ephraim on the 7th day of the dedication of the Tabernacle (Numbers 7:48-53). There’s also a special haftarah is Zechariah 2:14-4:7, which includes a menorah in a rebuilt and rededicated Temple and the verse immortalized in modern folk music (4:6), “Not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit—said the Lord of hosts.”
This holiday has undergone much transformation since the first one in 165 B.C.E. by the Hasmonean family. First, it celebrated the rededication of the Temple after a military victory and was 8 days long as a delayed celebration of Sukkot. Later, when the biblical canon was being defined, the rabbis omitted the 4 books of Maccabees, partly because of distaste for the Hasmoneans, who combined kingship and priesthood and were corrupt, and more generally to get away from a military message. “The rabbis promoted the celebration of Hanukkah but not as a glorification of a military victory. Instead, it commemorated the miracle of the small cruse of still-pure Temple oil that lasted eight days, an event that had not been mentioned in any earlier source. … The classic rabbinic Hanukkah was an apolitical and demilitarized celebration of hope and trust in divine providence and protection, not priestly violence and national sovereignty” (Hanukkah and State: The Hasmonean Legacy by Richard Hidary ) Then it became a little holiday celebrating light in darkness with little gifts of gelt and gambling with a dreidel. For the last several decades, while we were taught in Hebrew School that the holiday marked the first fight for religious freedom, we ironically used that freedom to inflate Chanukah into a commercial competitor of Christmas. Now we can back off from that and recognize that Chanukah today symbolizes our modern tension between being part of the surrounding world while remaining genuinely Jewish, however one defines “genuinely.” And that brings us back to Miketz. Joseph, despite his Egyptian name, regalia, and wife, clearly never hides his origins nor becomes totally Egyptian. But it wasn’t easy then, and it’s not easy in 21st century America.
I wish you a Happy (secular) New Year as well as a Happy rest-of-Chanukah and, of course, a
The genre of “two cows” jokes is alive and growing. These include some I haven’t seen before:
PURE DEMOCRACY: You have two cows. Your neighbors decide who gets the milk.
REPRESENTATIVE DEMOCRACY: You have two cows. Your neighbors pick someone to tell you who gets the milk.
AMERICAN DEMOCRACY: The government promises to give you two cows if you vote for it. After the election, the president is impeached for speculating in cow futures. The press dubs the affair “Cowgate”.
BRITISH DEMOCRACY: You have two cows. You feed them sheep’s brains and they go mad. The government doesn’t do anything.
HONG KONG CAPITALISM: You have two cows. You sell three of them to your publicly listed company, using letters of credit opened by your brother-in-law at the bank, then execute a debt/equity swap with associated general offer so that you get all four cows back, with a tax deduction for keeping five cows. The milk rights of six cows are transferred via a Panamanian intermediary to a Cayman Islands company secretly owned by the majority shareholder, who sells the rights to all seven cows’ milk back to the listed company. The annual report says that the company owns eight cows, with an option on one more. Meanwhile, you kill the two cows because the Feng Shui is bad.
JAPANESE DEMOCRACY: You have two cows. You give the milk to gangsters so they don’t ask any awkward questions about who you’re giving the milk to.
What advice does a farmer follow when choosing a tractor? “If it fields good, do it.”
Grain farmers have a tough life. They barley survive from wheat to wheat.
I tried to navigate the farmer’s field. But it was a maize.
Does growing sorghum cause gingivitis?
When Beethoven lived on a farm, he wrote Oat to Joy.
A farmer’s favourite party game: Truth or Dairy.
“It was really quite easy to catch.”
Quotes about Identity
We all belong to an ancient identity. Stories are the rivers that take us there. Frank Delaney
In the social jungle of human existence, there is no feeling of being alive without a sense of identity. Erik Erikson
I don’t need to worry about identity theft because no one wants to be me. Jay London
TOP 10 REASONS TO LIKE HANUKKAH
10. No roof damage from reindeer
9. Never a silent night when you’re among your Jewish loved ones
8. If someone screws up on their gift, there are seven more days to correct it
7. Betting Hanukkah gelt (the chocolate coins) on candle races
6. You can use your fireplace
5. Naked spin-the-dreidel games
4. Fun waxy buildup on the menorah
3. No awkward explanations of virgin birth
2. Cheer optional
1. No Irving Berlin songs
A few examples of designer menorahs:
Menorasaur – Lisa Peirce ($100 The Jewish Museum)
[My friend Andrea K. made her own “menorasaurs”!]
Puzzle Menorah – Benny Dabach ($149 Canaan Online)
Shofar Menorah ($44 Menorah.com) For serious multitaskers.