In parashat Vayeishev, we saw Joseph begin his odyssey in Egypt, following him as he was sold to the royal butcher, promoted to the position of chief administrator of his master's household, incarcerated on trumped-up charges, and subsequently promoted to chief administrator of the prison. While imprisoned, he interpreted the dreams of his fellow inmates, predicting that one of them would shortly be freed and asking him to intercede on his behalf upon his release. The parashah closes as this former inmate chooses to ignore Joseph's request, leaving him to languish in prison.

The pattern that emerges from these events is one of descent followed by illusory ascent. Both times that Joseph appears to be on his way out of his predicament, he is cast once more into a new one: The moment he began to indulge in feelings of security as the butcher's trusted administrator, he was shown just how fragile that security was; after he again felt secure when he was promoted to chief administrator of the prison, he was shown how hopeless his prospects were. Both instances in which he ascended to power thus served to bring home how little independence he really possessed; how, even from the best imaginable vantage point under the circumstances, he was still merely a slave, a prisoner. By the end of the parashah, his apparent successes, rather than providing him with hope, only made a mockery of his situation, leaving him desperate.

Parashat Mikeitz shows Joseph once again promoted, this time to viceroy of Egypt. In contrast to his previous promotions, this time he remains in his prominent post until the end of his life, and is granted not only full control over his own life but over everyone else's lives, as well.

From this perspective, Joseph's life as evinced in this parashah begins to mirror that of his father Jacob. Jacob had also been thrust into difficult circumstances and had to discover how to prosper in spite of them. In demonstrating his ability to flourish in a hostile environment, Joseph was starting to manifest the essential qualities his father had seen in him from birth, qualities which would later enable him to continue the work Jacob himself had started: overcoming the most profound challenge to the Divine mission, exile.

The essence of exile is living under the control of some power that deprives us of the freedom to live our lives as God would like us to. It is immaterial whether that "power" is political, social, or psychological; whether we submit to it unwillingly or willingly; whether we are physically located in our native country or not. Whatever the case, exile is the mentality that we must constantly seek the approval or bend to the will of an authority whose values are inimical to ours. Being in exile is thus the single most challenging obstacle to living up to our Divine potential, fulfilling God's will, and following our life's true calling.

As we have seen, when Jacob saw that Esau was not ready to join forces with him in the Divine mission of making the world into God's home, he realized that refining Esau's energy and passion would be a long, arduous, and gradual process. In the course of this process, there would be times when Esau's descendants would gain the upper hand, and Jacob's descendants, individually or collectively, would find themselves in physical and/or spiritual exile. In such times, it would be crucial for them to follow Joseph's example, to be able to thrive under adverse conditions and eventually even triumph over them.

This ability to achieve great heights in the face of adversity, as exemplified by Joseph, is alluded to in the name of this parashah, Mikeitz, which means "at the end." The word for "end" used here actually means "extreme," and thus alludes to how evil, the lower extreme on the moral continuum, should elicit our inner strengths for good, the upper extreme of that continuum. Inasmuch as the two "extremes" of any process are its beginning and its end, the word Mikeitz alludes not only to the end of exile—whether Joseph's exile in prison or our present personal and general exiles—but also to how this nexus itself becomes the beginning of redemption.

As we shall see, Joseph was able to turn his life around, extricating himself from the depths and soaring to the heights, by learning to surrender his ego. As soon as he acknowledged God's presence and providence in his life, abandoning the illusion that his achievements were the result of his own prowess, true success ceased to elude him.

These, then, are the lessons of parashat Mikeitz. Every descent we undergo is intended to lead us to an even greater ascent; the key to transforming a descent into an ascent is letting go of our ego; and the challenge of exile is to turn the tables on it, co-opting the powers of passion and ambition and transforming them into good and holy forces.

Joseph ultimately derived the power to nullify his ego and thrive in the face of adversity from the Torah he had learned with his father during childhood. We, too, must look to the Torah for inspiration and instruction on how to survive in our exile and advantageously exploit it. Nowadays, we must turn in particular to the inner dimension of the Torah, which sensitizes us to the inner dimension of reality, enabling us to see all of life's challenges for what they truly are—God's means of elevating us to higher levels of spiritual maturity.

As Jacob foresaw, the ultimate rectification of Esau will usher in the final Redemption. Thus, transforming the extreme of evil into the opposite extreme of goodness—by neutralizing our ego and remaining unwaveringly loyal to our Divine mission—will also transform the extreme of exile into its opposite extreme of Redemption. The name of this parashah, Mikeitz, thus alludes not only to the dynamic of transformation that leads to redemption, but also to the Redemption itself, the end of the long exile and beginning of the messianic future.1