The Torah portion of Miketz relates how the seven years of plenty came to an end as foretold by Joseph, and "... the entire land of Egypt hungered, and the people cried out to Pharaoh for bread; and Pharaoh said to all the Egyptians: 'Go to Joseph (and) do what he will tell you.'"1

Commenting on the words " ... do what he will tell you," the famed commenter Rashi states: "For Joseph was telling them to circumcise themselves, and when they came to Pharaoh and said 'this is what he tells us [to do],' Pharaoh replied: 'Why didn't you gather produce? Didn't [Joseph] notify you that the famine years were coming?' They said to Pharaoh, 'We indeed gathered much produce — but it rotted!' He replied, "If that is the case, do everything he will tell you; you see that he decreed against the produce and it rotted — what if he will decree against us and we die?!'"

Earlier in the same chapter we learn that Joseph had been placed in absolute public control of the livelihood and sustenance of all Egypt.2 Why, then, when the famine struck, did the Egyptians cry to Pharaoh for food? Because they had previously approached Joseph and had been rebuffed. But how could Joseph refuse them? His office and function was to serve that very purpose of providing food for the people! The reason is because Joseph demanded that they become circumcised. Balking at this demand they came to Pharaoh to complain.

But why did Joseph make such a (seemingly) strange request of the Egyptians?

When the Al-mighty commanded Abraham and his descendants about circumcision, He said: "He that is born in your house or he that is acquired with your money shall surely be circumcised."3 The reason that the master is obligated to ensure the circumcision of "... he that is acquired with ... money" is because the latter is under his dominion and is subservient to him.

Joseph was "the ruler of the land"4 — he was appointed "over the entire land of Egypt."5 Without Joseph's permission, "no man may raise his hand in combat nor raise his foot to mount a horse in all the land of Egypt."6 The Egyptian people were clearly subservient to Joseph, and were completely under his dominion as if "bought with money." Joseph was therefore obligated to ensure their circumcision.

The Jewish nation as a whole is called "Joseph,"7 and every individual can be a "Joseph" in his daily life. Those who live in an "Egypt," surrounded by people whose sole interests are material and who are far from Judaism, should not be disheartened. Not only can they maintain their own standards of Torah and mitzvot, but they can even exert a powerful influence upon their brother Jews. What is more,8 they have the potential of ultimately becoming a shining example, "a beacon of light," encouraging members of all nations to fulfill the Al-mighty's laws for Mankind.9