Meeting The Faces Of Need

By personally handing out rations, Joseph established a human connection and involvement with those for whom he provided.

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Provided by the UJA-Federation of New York, which cares for those in need, strengthens Jewish peoplehood, and fosters Jewish renaissance.The following article is reprinted with permission from the UJA-Federation of New York.

"Now Joseph was the vizier over the land--it was he who dispensed rations to all the people of the land. And Joseph's brothers came and bowed down to him with their faces to the ground." (Genesis 42:6)

This is a pivotal moment in Joseph's life. At the end of last week's parashah, we saw Joseph alone in the depths of jail, wrongly punished for a crime of adultery that he did not commit. But this week, in Parashat Miketz, Joseph rises from those depths to the heights of Egyptian society, attaining a role in the government that placed him second only to Pharaoh himself.

Joseph Interprets Pharoah's Dreams

Later in this week's parsha, in the verse quoted above, a complex reconciliation is about to begin between Joseph and his brothers, the same brothers who caused him to be sold into slavery so many years earlier. How did Joseph get to this point, where is he going, and what can we learn from this verse?

At the beginning of the parashah, Pharaoh has had two disturbing dreams in which he sees healthy and sickly cows and corn. None of his magicians and advisors is able to decipher the dream, and its message continues to puzzle Pharaoh. At this point, Pharaoh's cupbearer, who had been in prison with Joseph, recalls Joseph's talents of interpretation.

Joseph is brought from jail and, after hearing of the dreams, he tells the Egyptian ruler that they are from God, foretelling that Egypt will experience seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine. Joseph further states that the famine will devastate Egypt unless preparations are made during the plentiful stage. Awed by Joseph’s insight and wisdom, Pharaoh appoints Joseph "chief operating officer" for the entire country.

Egypt Becomes a Place of Refuge

Joseph understands the severity of what is to come, and he manages the collection and distribution of food with such skill that even peoples from surrounding lands end up turning to Egypt for sustenance once the famine takes hold. Eventually, this leads to the reunification of Joseph with his brothers and father.

Yet when the brothers first travel to Egypt for food, they don’t realize that they have come face-to-face with their brother Joseph. Pharaoh had given Joseph a nice Egyptian name and wardrobe to fulfill his public role, and thus his "real" identity is hidden when his brothers first meet him.

For a variety of reasons (Anger? Revenge? A test? A desire to also see his father and youngest brother? A realization that his prophecies of childhood were about to be fulfilled?) Joseph continues to conceal his identity from his brothers, and he plays several tricks on them when they first come for food.

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Jennifer Rosenberg was the Director of Research, Strategic Planning and Organizational Resource division of UJA-Federation of New York.