Haredim lots of haredim 521.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
In this week’s parasha, Miketz, we read about the sudden upheaval in Joseph’s
After spending 12 years in an Egyptian prison following a
mean-spirited libel, he is suddenly released and taken for a respectable
haircut, dressed in new clothes and brought before the king of Egypt,
What caused this sudden change? Pharaoh dreamed a strange dream
and searched for an interpretation. After despairing from the Egyptian
dream-solvers, one of his ministers tells him about a Hebrew slave thrown in
Egyptian prison, with well-known dream interpretation expertise. Pharaoh
commands to bring Joseph to him immediately, whereupon he asks him to explain
Let’s imagine this exciting scene. In ancient Egypt, a foreign
slave is a person lacking minimal rights. A slave accused of betraying his
master is the last person to have any chance of ever being released from prison
and seeing the light of day. And here, the inconceivable occurs and Joseph
stands before the legendary King Pharaoh as a completely free man.
could not have had a better opportunity to be set free. It would have been
natural to expect him to demonstrate his talents and wisdom before Pharaoh, at
least during this rare opportunity. But Joseph reacts to Pharaoh differently
than expected: “And Joseph replied to Pharaoh, saying, “Not I; God will give an
answer [that will bring] peace to Pharaoh” (Breishit 41, 16).
not take the credit for himself, nor does he boast about his wisdom and special
abilities. He quickly points out to Pharaoh that nothing he has is from himself,
and that all his wisdom is a gift from God.
Moreover, when Potiphar,
Joseph’s Egyptian master, notices his incredible success, Joseph does not take
credit for it in order to attain a more respectable status in his master’s
house, but “he remains fluent in the name of God” and attributes all his success
to the divine assistance he is privileged to receive. Even in a strange land, in
exile, in the depths of slavery – Joseph understands that God is with him,
protecting him and helping him.
This utterance of Joseph’s expresses
great pride in Jewish faith, standing tall without taking personal ramifications
But it also expresses powerful humility, modesty that
is expressed in the declaration, “Nothing I have is mine; It is all a gift from
God!” But more than anything, this utterance is a risk.
Can we even
comprehend the level of risk Joseph is taking by saying this? Pharaoh, a pagan
idol worshiper who does not recognize the God of Abraham, could easily send him
back to prison, at best, or have him hung, at worst.
What these words of
Joseph’s reveal is his courageous stand, which typifies the Jewish nation
throughout the generations. Facing dangers or threats, Jews have always stood
bravely and declared their faith in God and in the values of morality, justice
and honesty that the Torah has bequeathed to us.
Calculations of gain or
loss lose their value when Joseph faces the opportunity to declare his faith.
Joseph is aware of what he could gain if Pharaoh is impressed with his
He is also aware of what he could lose if Pharaoh is not amazed
by him. But Joseph chooses the brave path, the path of heroes.
does not lose! Pharaoh accepts his advice and appoints him to the most respected
job in Egypt: the viceroy to the king! It is human nature to be amazed by
someone who does not take credit for his abilities and special talents, but is
humble and leaves the credit to whoever gave him the wisdom: God.
person like that elicits wonder from those in his environment, who respond the
way Pharaoh responded to Yosef: “There is no one as understanding and wise as
The writer is rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites.