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   by Jacob Solomon

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Who said to whom, and in what circumstances?

(a) I mention my transgressions today.

(b) It is beyond me!

(c) Let Pharaoh seek out a discerning and wise man.

(d) G-d has made me forget all my hardship.

(e) Where do you come from?

(f) Your words will be tested.

(g) What is this, that G-d has done to us?

(h) Take double money with you.

(i) Peace be with you; do not fear.

(j) Why do you repay evil for good?

(k) Far be it for me to do that!


(a) Pharaoh's chief butler to Pharaoh himself (41:9), in recommending the imprisoned Joseph as a likely successful interpreter of the dreams that were disturbing Pharaoh.

(b) Joseph to Pharaoh (41:16), in telling him at the outset that any skills in he had in interpreting dreams were from G-d, not from his own intelligence.

(c) Joseph to Pharaoh (41:33) - in concluding his foreseeing the imminent seven years of plenty and seven years of famine, he urges him to take urgent steps to make sure that enough food is stored to last though that period.

(d) Joseph, openly, in declaring his the name of his first-born son, Menasseh (41:51). The Hebrew root of his name can mean 'to cause to remove'- in this case, memories of harder times…

(e) Joseph (incognito) the Viceroy of Egypt, to his brothers (42:7), when they appeared before him in quest of food during the famine.

(f) Joseph (incognito) the Viceroy of Egypt, to his brothers (42:16), after seizing all the brothers as hostages for the absent brother, Benjamin.

(g) Joseph's brothers to each other (42:28), on their first return to Canaan with provisions from Egypt, when they found that their payments for their supplies had been unexpectedly returned.

(h) Jacob to all sons (43:12), to buy further supplies of grain.

(i) Joseph (incognito) the Viceroy of Egypt, to his brothers (43:23), on their second appearance in Egypt, when they attempted to return the silver that they believed to be his property.

(j) Joseph to the head of his household (44:5), in ordering him to chase after the brothers, with a ruse of accusing them of stealing his own silver goblet.

(k) Joseph (incognito) the Viceroy of Egypt, to his brothers (44:17). Instead of condemning all the brothers, he sentenced only Benjamin - in whose sack his silver goblet was found - to slavery, and allowed the others to go free.


From where does Rashi derive the following ideas and values?

(a) A person should not perform marital relations in times of famine.

(b) The Israelites were exiled in Egypt for 210 years.

(c) A person should not put himself in unnecessary danger.

(d) A person suffering grave injustice should reflect on it as being Divine reaction for the sins of the past.


(a) The text states that Joseph's two sons, Menasseh and Ephraim, were born before the famine. (41:40). The mention of the detail 'before the famine' hints at the tradition that one should not procreate in times of grave dearth (Ta'anit 11a). (However, in practice this does not apply to childless couples)

(b) This is derived from the words: 'Go down - redu - there (to Egypt) and buy food for us (42:2). The numerical value of redu adds up to 210 - fitting into the tradition that the Israelites were exiled in Egypt for that length of time only (see Gen. Rabbah 91:2).

(c) Jacob did not allow Benjamin to join the first journey to Egypt 'lest he might suffer tragedy' (42:4). Rashi quotes the Midrash (Gen. Rabbah 91:9), which states that although tragedies can also happen at home, they are more likely to occur in travel because 'Satan accuses when a person is already in danger'.

(d) When the brothers were accused - with seemingly incontrovertible evidence - of stealing the Viceroy's goblet, they replied 'G-d has found the sin of your servants'. (44:16) They knew they had done no such thing, but the 'sin' was some other wrong they committed, for which they were now receiving Divine-imposed punishment (after Gen. Rabbah 92:9).


1. From where, according to Sforno, may it be learnt that it is within the nature of Divine salvation to come hastily and unexpectedly?

2. Of all the blessings given in the Torah, Jacob's blessing to Ephraim and Menasseh is the one commonly used by parents to children today. What, according to Hirsch's commentary on this Parasha, is special about that particular blessing?

3. Why, according to the Ramban, did Joseph conceal his identity from his brothers?

4. Why, according to the Kli Yakar, did Joseph order money to be put secretly into the sacks of his brothers, on their first return from Egypt?

5. "You have robbed me of my children. Joesph is gone, Simeon is gone, and now you would take away Benjamin? All has fallen on me!" How are the Hebrew words for this last phrase - 'alai hayu kulana' interpreted by the Malbim?


1. Following Pharaoh's desperation for a suitable interpretations for the dreams that deeply troubled him, 'they rushed [Joseph] from the dungeon' (41:14) into making a suitable appearance in Pharaoh's presence. The Sforno derives that Divine salvation comes quickly and unexpectedly, as will be the coming of the Messiah [c.f. Malachi 3:1].

2. What is special about Joseph's marriage to Asnath is that even though she was from the Egyptian aristocracy and he was a foreigner and former slave, the text hints that she adopted Joseph's spiritual and moral outlook. This is derived from the phrase 'Asnath gave birth to children for him'. (41:50) Joseph was the only Israelite in Egypt at the time, yet he managed to build up a family from pagan origins and within pagan society into spiritual models after which Israelite parents may bless their children. It was this blessing of phenomenal spiritual success that distinguished the upbringing of Menasseh and Ephraim.

3. Joseph grasped that his dreams were prophecies to be fulfilled. Even though he did not know exactly why, he understood that it was his duty to do all within his power to bring them to reality. That is why the Torah stresses that he remembered his dreams when he saw his brothers (42:9). He also knew that the two dreams had to be fulfilled in sequence. For the first dream, all eleven brothers had to bow down: therefore his ruse to lure Benjamin to Egypt. Only then could plans be made to bring Jacob to Egypt, for the fruition of the second dream. Were it not for his Divine-imposed obligation to implement the dreams, he would never brought the intense suffering on his father.

4. Joseph incognito arranged that brothers would find the Viceroy's money in their sacks. They would then suspect that it had been put there on the pretext to denounce them as thieves and sell them into slavery. Joseph did this to bring atonement to those who had sold him as a slave: measure for measure.

5. The Malbim gives a novel interpretation of Jacob's declaring 'alai hayu kulana' as not meaning that 'all the tragedies are on me', but 'all the tragedies are because of me'. For he, Jacob, caused Joseph's death by sending him to Shechem. He believed that he would be similarly accountable for Simeon - and Benjamin, if he let him go into danger.


Why did Pharaoh elevate a person who earlier the same day was a prisoner - and a foreigner at that - to the position of Viceroy of Egypt? Joseph may have interpreted the dream to Pharaoh's satisfaction, but he did not behave as would be expected of a humble, helpless prisoner, brought before the monarch who had the power of life and death over his subjects. Indeed, even hearing the details of the dream he publicly brought the Almighty into the picture, in a country of paganism: It is not in me! G-d shall answer for the welfare of Pharaoh (41:16). And after interpreting the dream - before even hearing Pharaoh's reaction, he presumes to tell him how to tax his own people in preparing the land for the seven years of famine.

My efforts at tackling the above issue may be found on the Shema Yisrael website for Parashat Miketz for 5761.

Parashat Vayeshev (and others) from previous years may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site:

Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.

Also by Jacob Solomon:
Between the Fish and the Soup

From the Prophets on the Haftara


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