Miketz 5778

Focusing on the Present
Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, Rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites
In this week’s Torah portion, we read about a total reversal in Joseph’s tumultuous life.  He was taken, straight from the Egyptian prison where he was thrown following the libel by Potiphar’s wife, to Pharaoh the king of Egypt. Pharaoh dreamed an upsetting dream and did not find an acceptable explanation from among those offered by Egypt’s professional dream solvers.  He heard that there was a young man in prison who is an expert at explaining dreams.  When Joseph comes before Pharaoh, Pharaoh describes his dream in great detail, and Joseph supplies an exact solution that encompasses all the details of the dream, and in addition, Joseph even offers a detailed proposal for dealing with the ramifications of the dream.  Pharaoh, amazed by Joseph’s wisdom, decides to appoint him as his vizier, the assistant to the king, giving him almost unlimited authority.

Furthermore, Joseph – whose family history was paved with failure, as he was hated by his brothers who wanted to kill him and ultimately sold into slavery – now established a family with a respectable Egyptian woman and had two sons.
It looked like Joseph’s life was finally working out, like a puzzle whose pieces were scattered around a room and suddenly started moving closer together to create a stunning picture.  Joseph had been crushed and depressed, having experienced his brothers’ betrayal, getting thrown into a pit, and getting sent to jail despite his innocence. Now, he was surprisingly being catapulted to the highest echelon of society while raising a family in serenity and joy.
How did Joseph handle this turnaround in his life?  The bible does not elaborate on descriptions of feelings, but in this case, we get a glimpse of Joseph’s feelings through the names of his sons – Menashe and Efraim.  These names given by Joseph express his feelings about the stormy events that he experienced during his short life.
And Joseph named the firstborn Manasseh, for "God has caused me to forget all my toil and all my father's house." (Genesis 41, 51).  Joseph thanked God for helping him forget the suffering at his father’s house and the huge insult of being thrown into a pit, the black hole he carried with him since being sold into slavery.  Joseph forgot the emotional and physical suffering.  He disconnected from his terrible past and lived in his happy present, thanking God for the ability to do so.
And the second one he named Ephraim, for "God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction."(Ibid, ibid 52).  Joseph thanked God for making him fruitful and giving him a happy life in the land to which he had arrived as an impoverished and destitute person.  Joseph recognizes his abundance and remembers that his situation is not to be taken for granted.  On the contrary.  Egypt could well have been “the land of affliction” for him.
We see that Joseph is undergoing a process.  First, he wants to forget his painful past, and then he looks at his successful present and is happy about it.  This is not repression of traumatic memories, but an active attempt to build a solid present.  To do so, Joseph chooses not to focus on the wounds of the past but to focus on the present, on the great things he is grateful for.
During the years in which Joseph was establishing his new and happy life, he did not touch upon his complicated past.  He was thus able to use his abilities to reach new peaks of success.  Only then, when his brothers reached Egypt, did he carefully reach back to his past until the successful and moving encounter between the brothers which we will read about next week. 

All Torah weekly sections