Parashat Miketz: Faith and humility all along

Facing dangers or threats, Jews have always stood bravely and declared their faith.

Torah reading 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem /The Jerusalem Post)
Torah reading 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem /The Jerusalem Post)
In this week’s parasha, Parashat Miketz, we read about the sudden upheaval in Yosef’s life. After spending 12 years in an Egyptian prison following a mean libel, he is suddenly released and taken for a respectable haircut, dressed in new clothes, and brought before the King of Egypt, Pharaoh.
What caused this sudden change? Pharaoh dreamed a strange dream and searched for an interpretation to his dream. After despairing from the Egyptian dream solvers, one of his ministers tells him about a Hebrew slave thrown in Egyptian prison and about his well-known dream solving expertise. Pharaoh commands to bring Yosef to him immediately whereupon he asks him to interpret his dream.
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 Yosef stands before the legendary King Pharaoh as a completely free man.
Yosef could not have had a better opportunity to be set free. It would have been natural to expect Yosef to demonstrate his talents and wisdom before Pharaoh, at least during this rare opportunity. But Yosef 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) Yosef does not take the credit for himself. He does not 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 G-d.
Also when Potiphar, Yosef’s Egyptian master, notices his incredible success, Yosef 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 G-d” and he 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 – Yosef understands that G-d is with him, protecting him and helping him.
This utterance of Yosef’s expresses great pride in Jewish faith, standing tall without taking personal ramifications into consideration. But it also expresses powerful humility, modesty that is expressed in the declaration “Nothing I have is mine; It is all a gift from G-d!” But more than anything, this utterance is a risk. Can we even comprehend the level of risk Yosef is taking by saying this? Pharaoh, a pagan idol worshipper that does not recognize the G-d of Abraham, could easily send him back to prison, at best, or to be hung at worst.
What these words of Yosef’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 G-d and in the values of morality, justice and honesty which the Torah has bequeathed to us.
Calculations of gain or loss lose their value when Yosef faces the opportunity to declare his faith. Yosef is aware of what he could gain if Pharaoh is impressed with his wisdom. He is also aware of what he could lose if Pharaoh is not amazed by him. But Yosef chooses the brave path, the path of heroes.
And he 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: G-d. A person like that elicits wonder from his environment which responds the way Pharaoh responded to Yosef: “There is no one as understanding and wise as you.”