Joseph makes his brothers squirm
a.k.a. Parshat Miketz
Two years later, Joseph was still in prison in
Egypt. Meanwhile, Pharaoh dreamed that he was standing by the Nile River, and seven cows, handsome and
sturdy, came up and grazed in the reed grass. Then, seven other cows, ugly and gaunt, appeared and ate the
seven sturdy cows. Then Pharaoh dreamed a second time: Seven ears of grain, solid and healthy, grew on a
single stalk. But close behind them sprouted seven ears, thin and scorched by the east wind. And the thin
ears swallowed up the seven solid and full ears.
Next morning, Pharaoh sent for the magicians and
wise men of Egypt, but no one could interpret his dreams. The chief butler who had been in prison with Joseph
then told Pharaoh about Joseph and his interpretative talents.
Pharaoh sent for Joseph, who told him that God, not he, could interpret the dreams. After
hearing the dreams, Joseph told Pharaoh that God was giving him advice through both dreams, which had the
same meaning. Seven years of great prosperity lay ahead, followed by seven years of famine. Pharaoh should
prepare the country.
Impressed, Pharaoh asked Joseph to manage Egypt in
the seven years of plenty and build up grain reserves. Pharaoh
made Joseph his second-in-command of all Egypt. Joseph was only 30.
During the seven years of plenty, the land produced
in abundance and Joseph managed the storage of grain. Then the seven years of famine set in, just as Joseph
had foretold. There was famine in all lands, but throughout Egypt there was
When Jacob in Canaan saw there was food in Egypt, he
sent ten of his sons there to procure rations. Jacob did not send Joseph’s brother Benjamin with them, since
he feared that he might meet with disaster.
Joseph was the vizier of the land and it was he who
dispensed rations. When his brothers came and bowed low to him, he recognized them but they did not recognize
him. Recalling the dreams he had dreamed about them, Joseph said to them, “You are spies!” but they denied
it. Joseph said they could go, but they had to leave one brother behind and return with the youngest brother
they had told him about.
Overhearing the brothers saying they were being
punished for mistreating him all those years before, Joseph wept. But he came back to them and took Simeon
hostage. Then Joseph ordered their bags to be filled with grain, but each one’s money to be returned to his
The brothers went home. On their way they discovered
the returned money and were afraid. When they reached Canaan they told Jacob all that had happened. He was
deeply upset, fearing he would lose Benjamin. Judah, however, promised he would bring Benjamin back, and the
brothers returned to Egypt with Benjamin.
The brothers presented gifts to Joseph. When he saw
Benjamin, he left the meeting as he was overcome with emotion. Then he instructed his house steward secretly
to fill the men’s bags with food, put their money back in their bags and put his own silver goblet into
Benjamin’s bag. He told the steward to intercept the brothers on their way home and accuse them of stealing
the goblet. When the goblet was found in Benjamin’s sack, the youngest brother was taken into
The brothers entered the house of Joseph, and Judah asked for the brothers to be taken into
slavery instead of Benjamin. But Joseph replied, “Only he in whose possession the goblet was found shall be
my slave; the rest of you go back in peace to your father.”
Commentary on the tenth parsha (portion of the Torah)
The Torah consists of the five books of Moses, the first part of the Old
To get to grips with this parsha, our Supermaven, Sigmund Albert Spinoza, interviews
Methuselah Solomon (an Ancient Elder). Supermaven is a modern philosopher who is trying to understand Judaism
and how we got where we are. He will do this every week by investigating the Old Testament.
SAS: So Joseph was a dreamer
who could interpret dreams? It seems to me he was simply a very clever man, who knew a great deal about human
psychology, something about climate change, and was able to influence and manipulate a primitive people who
believed in dreams and were terrified of them. He was also a fine economic planner. But his relationship with
his own family was less impressive. What a game player! He really tortured them emotionally. And actually, he
tortured himself as well, in drawing out this drama, and playing God.
MS: How can you say that?
Joseph was a God-fearing and righteous man! He was an agent of the Lord, not a game player. He did what he
did so that his brothers would come to their own emotional understanding of their
SAS: Wait! Let me understand
this. First, he took Simeon hostage. His next trick was to plant money in the brothers’ sacks, which by now
rightly belonged to the Egyptian coffers. This presumably was to scare them and it succeeded. Then he caused
Jacob to suffer even more, believing he had lost two sons and was about to lose a third, his new favourite,
Benjamin. Talk about psychological cruelty!
MS: You are so cynical,
Sigmund. Don’t you see that there is a grand plan unfolding here, and that in the end this will all be for
SAS: Actually, I don’t see.
There was a more straightforward way to get them to bring Benjamin to him. Tell them he was their long lost
brother and had become Egyptian nobility, and insist they bring the rest of the family down to the land of
plenty. Truth beats an elaborate charade every time.
MS: Sigmund, you have no
sense of drama, of moral growth and resolution. And this is apart from your failure to understand that God
was guiding Joseph, and ensuring that all would turn out for the best.
SAS: Oh, God, that old
trickster! If I understand you, he influenced Joseph to behave manipulatively and decide who was to be
punished, how much and for what. Yes, I can see the hand of your favourite character in all of these games.
He certainly found a willing agent in Joseph, who enjoyed putting his brothers on the emotional
Well, you can’t deny that retribution was owed to the brothers.
Yes, but who suffered most? It was probably Jacob, who had suffered enough already. In any
case, why punish evil with evil? But Joseph, allegedly inspired by God, continues with the game playing. He
treats his brothers as honoured guests and then, wham, he suddenly brings them to despair with the planted
goblet! He also tortures himself by not allowing himself to embrace his beloved Benjamin. What’s this all
about? On the one hand, it’s a power play. On the other, it’s a masochistic piece of delayed
MS: But notice in my story
that Joseph’s actions test the brothers’ resolve and their integrity, and they grow morally throughout the
story. First, they understand that they were very wrong to have sold Joseph. Then they take full
responsibility for one another, and all offer to go into slavery rather than let Benjamin be separated from
SAS: The hearts of men can betested as successfully in honest, sincere conversation as they can in subterfuge.
These tricks Joseph played caused misery: the brothers were miserable, Jacob felt bereft
and Joseph himself was in agony. But you’ll argue that the happy ending excuses all the suffering leading up
MS: Yes. There is no part of
this story that I would change. The righteous are rewarded, the evildoers repent of their follies, and a
family is united.
SAS: Methuselah, you are as
much of a dreamer as Joseph was. In real life, no wise man would have taken the chances Joseph took – betting
that his brothers would actually return, that his father would not die of grief before the charade was
through, that the brothers would continue to travel safely to and fro without getting robbed or murdered by
nomads envious of their bags of grain or wads of cash. The real Joseph, if such a character actually existed,
would have brought the family back together in the quickest, safest and simplest
Of course you’d say that! You don’t appreciate that Joseph was following God’s plan, and
that a good outcome was always guaranteed. You simply do not know how to think about my stories, because you
lack imagination and spirituality.
The Parsha we have just read comes from the five books of Moses, the Torah. The
dialogues between Sigmund Albert Spinoza and Methuselah Solomon are about the meaning of the
What we know about Jewish
History, however, is based in fact, and on historical records.
If you’d like to know
more about the real history of our extended Jewish family, read on.
The Crusades and the Jews (CE)
The religious quest by crusading Christians to
recapture Jerusalem and the Holy Sepulchre from the Muslims brought with it a series of shocking attacks on
There were eight crusades, starting in 1095 and
ending in 1291. During this time Jews were vilified and victimised. This violence left scars that have yet to
heal, and drove a bigger wedge between Jewish communities and others.
The European crusaders’ supposedly knightly virtues
were betrayed by their fanatical hatred of those who would not embrace Christianity. Many insisted that Jews
should be baptised into the Christian faith or die. Large numbers of Jews chose the latter
The Frenchman Godfrey de Buillon set the tone when,
in 1094, he said he would avenge the blood of Jesus by killing all Jews that would not convert. This call was
met with enthusiasm by his followers and the slaughters began.
In May 1096, a crusader named Count Emicho advanced
on Mainz, Germany. The local Jews turned to Bishop Ruthard for protection. Thirteen hundred Jews took refuge
in his palace, arming themselves for battle. Bishop Ruthard stopped the crusaders entering Mainz but two days
later they smashed through a gate, and proceeded to massacre the Jews. Women and children were among the 1014
killed. Some sources claim Ruthard took Jewish money but then betrayed those he had vowed to
Jews were also slain at Metz, Speyer and Worms –
possibly as many as 800 at Worms. In the Rhine region, some 4000 Jews died. Many killed themselves rather
than convert. Three hundred Jews who had fled Cologne and ended up in Altenahr appointed five men to kill the
rest of them rather than submit to the depravities of the crusaders.
Similar stories follow the crusaders to Jerusalem
where, on 15 July 1099, all the Jews in the conquered city were burnt alive in the synagogue. The Second
Crusade saw French Jews targeted while in the Third Crusade many Jews in England were slaughtered. The
killings continued throughout the eight crusades, by the end of which many Christians believed the
blood-libel myth – that Jews engaged in a ritual in which Christian children were
The violent targeting of Jewish communities was a
forerunner of the pogroms to follow, and constitutes a notable chapter in the history of global
Here follows a discussion on this historical segment
by the Father, Chaya and Ben.
CHAYA: It’s clear that the crusades paved the way for pogroms and the
DAD: Yes, and the evils were done specifically in the name of Christianity. The crusades were
undertaken on a tide of religious enthusiasm and fanaticism, and the result was mass slaughter. This is a
legacy of hatred and destruction that will always cause sensitive Christians the most extreme shame and
BEN: The crusades were supposedly directed against the Muslims, yet our people were attacked
DAD: Yes, but history shows that such attacks were by no means incidental, spur-of-the-moment events.
On the contrary, the proclamation of Godfrey de Buillon indicates that killing Jews was on the agenda of many
CHAYA: Given the dangers, it is not surprising that some Jews
DAD: Yet records show how, time and again, individuals and virtually whole communities often
preferred death to conversion. I think for many our Jewish identity defines us.
BEN: Dad, I can’t understand how three religions that trace their ancestry back to Abraham, and have
similar values, can have such so much bad blood between them.
DAD: Ben, I have observed that so-called theological considerations often override ethical teachings
in religion. Ethical principles such as respect, tolerance and
human brotherhood are pushed to the side when the conviction arises that some people have false beliefs and
these beliefs and the people who hold them must be eliminated. Ideas and beliefs can be very threatening to
certain sorts of people.
CHAYA: Even though they were fanatical, religious Christians should surely have been constrained by
their own teachings of peace and goodwill to all men. Many crusaders, however, displayed the total opposite
of compassion and tolerance. They were butchers. Their hypocrisy staggers me and angers me. How could they
attempt to reconcile their bloodthirsty impulses with the religious impulse?
DAD: Through extreme
arrogance and a sense that the moral law didn’t apply to them, but that they could rely on faith and divine
grace for salvation. The crusades are fatally marked by oppression, torture and murder. Christianity, long
the world’s most powerful religion, has a terrible record in this regard.
Every Shabbat we read five
short sayings that express, with typically Jewish wit and humour, insightful reflections on this life of
Here are tonight’s
· Good men need no monuments; their deeds are their shrines. (Mishne Shekalim)
· Jews are just like everyone else – only more so.
· Quarrels are the weapons of the weak.
· To know a trade is to own a mine.
· Failures are the pillars of success.
Celebration of Great Lives
Every Friday night we celebrate the achievements of our Jewish family in contributing
to changing the world for the better and having an extraordinary impact on those around
Annelies Marie Frank is known
worldwide for her diary written in World War II during the time she and her family were in hiding from the Nazis
in the Netherlands. The family went into hiding in July 1942, when Anne had just turned 13, but was betrayed two
years later and sent to the extermination camps where Anne died of typhus seven months later. Anne’s diary was
found after the war and published. It became an international bestseller. The Diary is important as it is the statement of an innocent person, somebody
who has committed no crime against anybody and yet must suffer because of the anti-Semitic delusions of the
Germans, led by the pathetic Adolf Hitler. The strength of the Diary is that it shows in detail the thoughts of a real
person with whom people can identify; hers is not an anonymous face among millions of
"Whoever is happy will make others happy too. He who has courage and faith will never perish in
“It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I
cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at
Anne’s inner strength was an encouragement for all mankind against evil.