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The Existential Insecurity of Joseph & Jacob: The Inner Story Behind Parashat Miketz

Dreams, Family mis-interactions, Mystery and Hunger: Parashat Miketz is filled with expressed and suppressed emotions. Schechter’s Dr. Marva Shalev Marom – from her perch in a cave on Mt. Carmel – takes us into the parashah.

Let me begin by saying that when reading Miketz while 137 Israelis are still held hostage in Gaza is a turbulent and powerful experience. It enables us to experience in the flesh the existential insecurity that this portion is all about.

This parasha starts with Pharaoh’s dream about the seven fat and abundant cows that are eaten alive by the seven meager ones. The same scenario repeats with seven ears of grain that are becoming thinner and thinner.

Pharaoh doesn’t know how to interpret this dream. Then Joseph, someone who knows existential insecurity by heart, comes to save him from that. Joseph is by now 30 years old and since his childhood, he has been living as a slave in Egypt.

When he interprets his dream by saying, that now it is the time for Egypt to start packing up food in order to escape the hunger that will come for seven years. He actually saves the entire area from hunger and impoverishment. He still doesn’t know that this is how he is going to enter into the heart of his own story. His own personal and family trauma of being sold to slavery as a child.

In (Genesis) chapter 42, we hear about Jacob and his 11 children. Joseph’s 11 siblings left behind that are beginning to experience this horrible famine. Jacob tells his 10 sons to go down to Egypt to get food from there because he heard there is still food in Egypt.

There is one thing that Jacob does not want to do and that is to send Joseph’s sibling, his brother from Rachel with the 10 brothers to Egypt.

He says, and I am reading from Robert Alter’s wonderful translation of the Bible. (Genesis 42:38)

“My son will not go down with you for his brother is dead. And he alone remains and should harm befall him on the way you are going you would bring down my gray head and sorrow to she’ol.”

This is how Jacob experiences the fear of being left behind and experiencing this horrible trauma in the flesh. He doesn’t want this thing to happen to him again.

But what happens next is a very different scenario.

When the brothers come back to Egypt, Joseph recognizes them. He sees them. And even though what he does to them seems very abusive and tortuous experiment, this is what begins the correction that will literally eventually bring him back to his family and to his father, Jacob.

We don’t have enough time to go into the very details of what happens there, but let me just tell you that Joseph does not let his siblings NOT to bring Benjamin back. He needs for his own heart’s correction to see that they learned the lesson that they will never do to his brother Benjamin what they did to him. So he asks his brothers to go back home and bring Benjamin back.

Then, I want to notice what happens to Jacob.

The first thing that happens to him is that the literary writer, the biblical author, changes his name to Israel. Of course, he already received the name already but in chapter 43 (line 11) he says, “Israel sends Benjamin, not without pain and worry. He also sends all the gifts that he has. He sends honey and almonds and everything to eat.”

Doing so, he surpasses the trauma he experienced in the flesh and wants to rise to the challenge of faith and maybe the future will be different from what happened to him in the past.

Now this Torah portion ends on a very pessimistic note at the heart of darkness. When Joseph, in his experiment, puts a silver cup in Benjamin’s sack and blames him for being a thief. He wants him to remain a slave in Egypt.

We still don’t know when this portion ends that this very moment is when Joseph will reclaim his trust in his family and will reclaim his trust in his brothers that will say we will not do this to our father again.

We still experience to this day what happened to our dead brother that they do not know is the one speaking to them at this time

But I want to end on this note. That Jacob is named Israel at the moment when he says I will put my past behind everything that let me down and I will now rise to the idea of having the faith about the future that is going to be different from everything already experienced.

With this faith in God, I want us to continue and looking to the crisis of faith and crisis of trust we had in our family and the family of Israel among our brothers and sisters who have been through horrid polarization in the past few years and especially in the past few months.

May our hope for a different future and for the return of our loved ones surpass all the pain we have experienced in the flesh and let us hope that this is what will turn us into Israel at this time.

Happy Hanukkah from Schechter

Dr. Marva Shalev Marom, an educational innovator, holds the Golinkin Chair in TALI Jewish Education at the Schechter Institute. She researches communal educational projects and initiatives among various populations in and outside of Israel. Dr. Shalev Marom is the academic director of the YAMAH M.A. Community Leadership Program which trains educators in creating innovative pedagogies for studying Judaism via encounters between Jewish sources and education. Dr. Shalev Marom obtained her PhD. from Stanford University. She writes music, plays the Sitar and guitar, and received her M.A. on mystical scripture in Hebrew and Sanskrit from Tel Aviv University.   .

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