Parsha Potpourri: Parshas Mikeitz

(Friday, December 14th, 2012)

V’sham itanu na’ar Ivri eved l’sar ha’tabachim (41:12)

Rashi writes that even when he was forced to mention Yosef’s remarkable ability to interpret dreams, the evil cupbearer attempted to disparage him by referring to him as a young and foolish person who didn’t know the Egyptian language and who was unfit for a position of power because he had once been a slave. What did the cupbearer hope to accomplish with his slander, as moments later Yosef appeared and immediately stole the spotlight, amazing Pharaoh with his talents and wisdom in interpreting the dream and recommending a prudent course of action to deal with its implications?

Rav Pesach Eliyahu Falk explains that nevertheless, the cupbearer was well aware of the maxim that “you never get a second chance to make a first impression.” In his wickedness, he decided to make Yosef’s first impression for him. The cupbearer was hoping that by making it an extremely negative one, Pharaoh would view Yosef and everything that he said through that lens, thereby depriving Yosef of a fair chance to demonstrate his true talents.

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From the actions and motivation of the cupbearer, we may derive the potent power of lashon hara (forbidden slander). If it is believed and accepted as fact, it renders it virtually impossible for the victim to subsequently prove himself and uproot the maliciously-planted first impressions. Human nature is such that upon recognizing the discrepancy between what we were told and what we later see in reality, we will sooner resolve the contradiction by assuming that the person is temporarily on guard and masking his true ways rather than question the accuracy of our erroneous and premature first impressions. As a result, it behooves us to extend a clean slate to every person we encounter and to greet them with open minds.

V’ata yareh Paroh ish navon v’chacham vi’shiseihu al eretz Mitzrayim (41:33)

After Yosef was freed from prison to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams, he explained that they foretold seven years of abundance to be followed by seven years of famine. Therefore, he recommended the appointment of a wise advisor to oversee the project of storing for the famine during the years of plenty. Upon hearing this proposal, Pharaoh responded that there was nobody more fitting for the role than Yosef himself, who demonstrated great insight by suggesting this idea.

As Pharaoh had only requested Yosef to interpret his dreams, why did he offer advice on how best to deal with the ramifications of his interpretation of the dreams, something which wasn’t at all requested of him? Further, why was Pharaoh not only not upset that Yosef had overstepped his mandate, but he became so impressed with him that he appointed him to oversee the new project?

The Vilna Gaon answers with a brilliant explanation. A person who is told that his dream refers to events in the distant future has no reason to believe the interpretation, as there is no way to test its accuracy. In fact, an interpreter who doubts his abilities would be wise to offer such an explanation so that there is no way for him to be proved wrong and his reputation ruined.

Yosef, on the other hand, told Pharaoh that his dream referred to the immediate onset of seven years of plenty, which would directly be followed by seven years of famine. Logically, Pharaoh should have believed Yosef’s explanation, for he would be foolish to make up an interpretation which would promptly be proven incorrect.

Still, even when the years of plenty began, Pharaoh didn’t necessarily have to be convinced of Yosef’s wisdom. He could have insisted on waiting for seven years to see whether the famine would begin as Yosef had predicted, or even for 14 years to see if the famine would end as he had forecasted. Hashem recognized the danger of such a potential reaction, as in that case Pharaoh wouldn’t trust Yosef sufficiently to appoint him to oversee the project from the very beginning.

As a result, the Medrash says that Hashem caused Pharaoh to forget part of his dream, specifically the part in which Yosef’s recommendation to appoint a wise man to oversee the storage project was actually spelled out explicitly. Upon hearing that Yosef not only offered a plausible and verifiable interpretation of his dream but also refreshed his memory about a portion of the dream which even he had forgotten, Pharaoh exclaimed (41:39) acharei hodia Elokim es kol zos ein navon v’chacham kamocha, which can be understood to mean that after Hashem has informed you of all of this, including the part of the dream which I myself forgot, surely there is nobody wiser than you in the entire kingdom.

Im keinim atem achichem echad yei’aser b’veis mishmarchem (42:19)

In order to force his brothers to return with his beloved younger brother Binyomin, Yosef put one of them in jail and threatened that his freedom would be dependent upon their returning with Binyomin. Although Yosef’s desire to be reunited with Binyomin was certainly understandable, it is difficult to understand why it was necessary to incarcerate one of the other brothers in order to bring this about. Since Yosef knew that the famine would continue for many years, wouldn’t it have sufficed to inform them that they wouldn’t be able to make any further grain purchases unless they return with Binyomin, which would force them to do so?

The Panim Yafos answers that had Yosef done so, the brothers would have been able to hire a random person off the street to escort them to Egypt and claim to be Binyomin. Since they didn’t realize that the person they were speaking to was Yosef, there would be no reason for them to think that he would be able to tell the difference, and for him to call them on their deception would require him to reveal his true identity.

Therefore, Yosef implemented an ingenious plan. He imprisoned Shimon and forced him to remain behind in Egypt. Were the brothers to return with anybody but the real Binyomin, Yosef would be able to line up a number of men, including the man they claimed was Binyomin. Were they to return with an impostor, Shimon wouldn’t be able to pick out the stranger from the lineup and their ruse would be discovered. As a result, the brothers had no choice but to return with the true Binyomin, who Shimon would be able to recognize, and whom Yosef would finally be able to able to lay his eyes on.

Vayechapeis ba’gadol heicheil uva’katan kilah (44:12)

After overtaking the brothers and accusing them of stealing Yosef’s goblet, the Torah relates that Menashe searched their bags, from the oldest to the youngest. The simple understanding would be that he began with Reuven, who was the oldest, and continued looking in each one’s bag in reverse chronological order until he reached Binyomin, who was the youngest. This is indeed the explanation given by the Targum Yonason ben Uziel. The Medrash, however, understands that when Menashe looked in the bag of the oldest, it wasn’t that of Reuven but rather of Shimon. This is difficult to understand, as Reuven was present and was clearly the oldest of the brothers.

The Maharil Diskin answers with a brilliant insight: when Menashe accused them of stealing the goblet, they didn’t simply deny it, but they also added a logical defense. Pointing out that they had traveled so far to give back the money which was accidentally returned to them on their previous trip, they questioned how such honest people could possibly be suspected of stealing.

Menashe accepted this argument, but pointed out that it was only applicable to the nine brothers who had done so. However, Binyomin wasn’t with them on the previous trip and hadn’t proved himself by returning the money, nor had Shimon, who had been imprisoned in Egypt all this time. Therefore, theirs were the only two bags that Menashe actually checked. Hence, the Medrash interprets that the oldest with which he began was Shimon, and from there he went straight to the youngest, Binyomin.

Answers to the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!
To receive the full version with answers email the author at oalport@optonline.net.

Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1) There are numerous discrepancies between the actual dream of Pharaoh and the way in which he related it to Yosef. For example, in his dream he saw himself actually standing on the river, while in telling it to Yosef he claimed to have been standing on the banks of the river (41:17). Why did he change this detail when recounting his dream to Yosef? (Rabbeinu Bechaye, Imrei Daas)

2) What is permissible on Shabbos and Yom Tov, but forbidden on Chanukah? (Rambam Hilchos Nedorim 3:9)

3) In the song “Maoz Tzur,” we sing regarding Haman rov banav v’kinyanav al ha’eitz talisa – the majority of his sons and possessions You hung on the tree. Since the Pirkei D’Rebbi Eliezer (49) teaches that Haman had 40 sons and only 10 of them were hung with him, in what way were the majority of his sons hanged? (Seder Hadlakos Neiros Chanukah by Rav Yehuda Aryeh Dunner pg. 20-21)

4) The Gemora in Shabbos (21b) teaches that the primary obligation on Chanuka is to light one flame on each night, but the mehadrin min hamehadrin – most preferred – level is to light an additional flame on each successive night for each member of the household. If a person lit one flame and realized that he forgot to say the blessings, may he still say the blessings before lighting the additional flames, or is it too late to do so because he has already fulfilled his basic obligation? (Shu”t Rav Akiva Eiger 2:13, K’Motzei Shalal Rav Chanuka pg. 240-1)

© 2012 by Oizer Alport.

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