“All human actions are founded upon dreams and their end too is a dream” (Theodor Herzl, Altneuland)
This week’s Torah portion, Parashat Miketz, brings us to the climax of the family tragedy of a son who does not know if his father is alive, and a father who has lived many years with the mistaken belief that his beloved son is dead. And at the same time, the parasha also shows the greatness of Joseph’s leadership, who has the ability to recognize reality, to convince decision makers that this is indeed reality, to acquire their trust and to act to fulfill his vision.
I highly encourage you to take a look at the beautiful language in which the story is told in the Torah, but I will try to summarize the events briefly:
Following the dizzying success of Joseph’s economic policy, Egypt continues to prosper while the rest of the region suffers from famine. That’s why Joseph’s brothers come down from Egypt to try to procure rations and save their family from starvation. Joseph recognizes them but they do not recognize the almighty ruler who stands before them as the helpless boy they abandoned many years ago in the pit. Joseph does not identify himself to them, he takes Simeon as a hostage and orders them to bring Benjamin to him as proof of the truth of their story about a little brother left at home. When Jacob hears this news his heart breaks; he has lost enough and cannot lose another son so dear to him again. But when the famine worsens, he has no choice, and the brothers go with Benjamin to Egypt, with money and gifts to try and please the harsh ruler (who they do not for a minute imagine is their lost brother). Indeed Joseph frees Simeon, and gives them the feeling that everything is working out for the best. But as they are leaving, he hides his goblet in Benjamin’s bag and sends his men after them and demands to search their bags. When the cup is discovered in Benjamin’s bag, Joseph commands that Benjamin remain in Egypt as his slave. Judah, whose heart is broken, makes a deeply impassioned speech in which he reveals to Joseph the fact that his father has lived all these years believing that Joseph was dead, adding that his father would not survive another loss, and Judah further begs Joseph to take him as a slave in Benjamin’s place.
At this point, Joseph can no longer hold back: “Joseph burst into sobbing, and Egypt heard it, and the house of Pharaoh heard it” (Genesis 45:2).
Joseph, who throughout this whole great drama was able to restrain himself, crying quietly on the sidelines while publicly showing his poker face, can no longer hold back. He bursts into a cry so loud that all of Egypt hears.
Why does Joseph cry? Perhaps it is a cry of pain and envy, because he sees how Judah and the other brothers protected Benjamin while he remembers how they abandoned him and no one came to his defense.
Maybe it’s a cry of relief that his father is still alive and will soon get to see him. Or perhaps it’s a cry that comes at the moment one realizes a great dream has come true.
There are those who dream dreams, there are those who interpret dreams and there are those who make dreams come true. Joseph is all three together:
As a child, he dreams two dreams in which he prophesizes that his brothers will bow to him – and here in this Parasha, after he has made it all the way from the pit of the Egyptian prison to the dizzy heights of the Egyptian government, he creates with his own hands the reality that brings his brothers to bow to him.
In his adulthood, he becomes a dream interpreter: Joseph astutely interprets the dreams of the cupbearer and the baker by listening attentively to their words and identifying which of them performs his work faithfully and which of them is negligent, thereby also predicting their future.
And of course, in our Parasha, Joseph becomes a fulfiller of dreams: Joseph is wise enough to turn Pharaoh’s dream into reality – he understands that if he implements a policy of food storage, a regional reality will be created in which Egypt will prosper even when nature produces bad years. Therefore, when there is famine in the Land of Canaan, there is bounty in Egypt – and all this as a result not only of Joseph’s interpretation of Pharaoh’s dreams, but also of his leadership ability to produce a solution and succeed in implementing it.
Our Parasha gives us both the great success story Joseph the interpreter and fulfiller of dreams as well as the great tragedy of a father and son who do not know what has become of one another.
Reflecting upon the incredibly difficult reality we are currently experiencing, it is impossible not to think about the families who have been living for weeks without knowing what has happened to their loved ones, and about our loved ones who are captives of Hamas who, in addition to all the great suffering they must be enduring, themselves do not know what has become of those most dear to them.
But even in this difficult reality we must remember Joseph who was held captive in the Egyptian prison and managed to rise to greatness and bring himself back into the embrace of his family. And we must lift our eyes up to our leaders and demand that they not let go of the dream that all of us hold, that all our sons and daughters will return home. And to be able not only to dream this dream, but like Joseph, to take the right steps in order to bring it to fruition.
And may we see the fulfillment of the verse: “And there is hope yet for your future, declares the LORD; your children shall return home” (Jeremiah 31:17).