Celebrating the Spiritual Levels of Torah

Torah Portion for the week of December 14 - 20: Miketz

(Genesis 41:1 - 44:17)

Relying on a deeper source

The saga of Joseph is moving toward the fulfillment of his earliest dreams, and the drama of the moment he reveals himself to his brothers is approaching. But before that can happen, motivation is needed to bring them together again.

The parashah opens with Joseph still in the dungeon after two more years. Pharaoh's butler has assumed his old position, as Joseph had predicted, but has forgotten his promise to mention Joseph to the Pharaoh. The action begins with Pharaoh's distress following two very disturbing dreams.

And it came to pass in the morning that his spirit was troubled; and he sent and called for all the magicians of Egypt, and all its wise men; and Pharaoh told them his dream; but there was none who could interpret them to Pharaoh. (41:8)

At long last, his butler remembers Joseph, perhaps just at the right moment.

And there was there with us a young man, a Hebrew, servant to the captain of the guard; and we told him, and he interpreted to us our dreams; to each man according to his dream he did interpret. And it came to pass, as he interpreted to us, so it was. (41:12,13)

With his own wise men failing him, Pharaoh sends for Joseph.

I have heard one say of you, that you can understand a dream to interpret it. And Joseph answered Pharaoh, saying, It is not me; God (Elohim) shall respond for Pharaoh's well-being. (41:15,16) Pharaoh relates his dreams in which seven lean cattle consume seven fat ones, and then seven dried-up ears of grain swallow up seven fat ones. Joseph responds with certainty, but does not claim the interpretation as his own. There is a deeper Source of knowing on which he continues to rely.

And Joseph said to Pharaoh, The dream of Pharaoh is one; God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do. The seven good cows are seven years; and the seven good ears are seven years... Behold, there come seven years of great plenty throughout all the land of Egypt; And there shall arise after them seven years of famine; and all the plenty shall be forgotten in the land of Egypt; and the famine shall consume the land. (41:25-30 selections)

Joseph seems to quite naturally move to what is needed to meet the famine that is to come.

Now therefore let Pharaoh select a man discreet and wise, and set him over the land of Egypt. Let Pharaoh do this, and let him appoint officers over the land, and take up the fifth part of the land of Egypt in the seven years of plenty. And let them gather all the food of those good years that come, and lay up grain under the hand of Pharaoh, and let them keep food in the cities. (41:33-35)

When the names change, do we change?

Once again, people seem to naturally trust Joseph. Willing to step wholly into the moment, he seeks to make things better wherever he finds himself.

And Pharaoh said to Joseph, See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt. And Pharaoh took off his ring from his hand, and put it upon Joseph's hand, and arrayed him in cloaks of fine linen, and put a gold chain about his neck; And he made him to ride in his second chariot; and they cried before him, Bow the knee; and he made him ruler over all the land of Egypt... And Pharaoh called Joseph's name Zaphnath-Paaneah; and he gave him to wife Asenath the daughter of Potipherah priest of On. (41:41-45 selections)

There is scholarly disagreement about the meaning of the name given Joseph by Pharaoh. Some say it means, "the man to whom mysteries are revealed" (Onkelos), or "a finder of mysteries" (Josephus). It has also been translated as "savior of the world." Whatever the exact meaning, the name is honorific, and establishes Joseph in the Egyptian community. It is notable that in the biblical text, Joseph is never referred to by this Egyptian name. He is still Joseph.

And Joseph was not the first in his family to receive another name. His father, Jacob, went through a transformative name change, from a name meaning "the usurper," to Israel, translated as "one who wrestles (or persists) with God," or "God persists." Jacob's additional name indicates a spiritual awakening; Joseph's additional name signifies great stature in the world.

Perhaps Joseph was not in need of spiritual transformation, since he came into awareness of God's Presence much earlier in his life. As a slave, the very representation of powerlessness, Joseph had to find inner resources upon which he could rely, and his spiritual consciousness awakened within that situation. In many ways, his journey is the opposite of his father's. Jacob tried to gain power and success in the outer world, but it was not until his wrestling encounter that his inner transformation awakened. Without that inner change, Jacob was stuck in his seeking. Joseph found his inner connection first, and it was that connection that propelled him into great worldly power.

In another sense, of course, both Jacob and Joseph had their name change associated with victory over their circumstances.

They both connected to a power greater than themselves. Joseph resisted internalizing either the special status given by his father or the hatred of his brothers. He continually credits the Presence of One greater than he. Jacob came from a place of self-doubt that took him much longer to transcend.

Joseph seems to feel worthy, where Jacob did not. Joseph has no need to claim ownership of the Wisdom he shares; Jacob strived most of his life to feel worthy.

Perhaps this is a teaching that still speaks to each of us. Our self-condemnation may be the most challenging thing we need to transcend.

The greatest source of our pain

On a spiritual level, perhaps self-condemnation is the greatest source of our pain. Our self-critical consciousness robs us of peace, fulfillment, creativity, relationships, and spiritual connection. Self-condemnation keeps us from being present in the moment. It keeps us from life.

Each of us is an expression of a single Life. We each carry all the Love of Life, and our self-condemnations deny that Life, shutting us off from the Wellspring of Love within us. There are those who see self-condemnation as the only sinful act, since that self-hatred will project out into our world: we will turn that hatred outward and demonize the other. Joseph is a person who loves himself, and, because of that, can naturally act with true kindness to support those around him.

Focus Phrases

I notice my self-judgments.
I accept myself as I am.
I am worthy of love.

Writing Prompts

Right now, I am judging myself to be. . .
If I was given a spiritual name, it would be. . .
If I would trust a deeper Wisdom, I would. . .

“Torah is the book with no end, supporting our understanding of what it means to be a vehicle for the Spirit of Creation.”

Photo: Mark Reden