Parashat Miketz: Faith and humility

By SHMUEL RABINOWITZ
11/28/2013 21:39

This utterance of Joseph’s expresses great pride in Jewish faith, standing tall without taking personal ramifications into consideration.

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men.

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men. Photo: Marc Israel Sellem
In this week’s parasha, Miketz, we read about the sudden upheaval in Joseph’s life.

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, Pharaoh.

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 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 Joseph stands before the legendary King Pharaoh as a completely free man.

Joseph 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).

Joseph does 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 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 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 wisdom.

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.

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: God.

A 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 you.”

The writer is rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites.

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