Thirteen years after Joseph’s own dreams got him sold into slavery, and two years after his interpretation of the chief butler’s and chief baker’s dreams failed to get him out of prison, the saga of Joseph is moved along by another pair of dreams—these dreamt by Pharaoh the king of Egypt.
In his first dream, Pharaoh sees himself “standing over the River.”
And behold, there came up out of the River seven cows, handsome and fat of flesh; and they fed in the reed grass.
Then, behold, seven other cows came up after them out of the River, ugly and lean of flesh, and they stood by the other cows on the bank of the River.
The ugly and lean cows ate up the seven handsome and fat cows.
Pharaoh wakes, but immediately falls asleep to dream again:
Behold, seven ears of grain came up on one stalk, plump and good. And behold, seven ears, thin and blasted by the east wind, sprang up after them.
The seven thin ears devoured the seven plump and full ears.
None of Pharaoh’s soothsayers can offer a satisfactory interpretation, until the chief butler remembers the young Hebrew slave who so accurately interpreted his and the chief baker’s dreams. So Joseph is summoned from the dungeon to the palace.
The Rise of Joseph
“I have heard it said of you,” says Pharaoh, “that you can understand a dream to interpret it.” “It is not me,” says Joseph. “G‑d shall give Pharaoh a favorable answer.”
Pharaoh relates his dreams, and Joseph offers the following interpretation:
Pharaoh’s dream is one: G‑d has declared to Pharaoh what He is about to do.
The seven good cows are seven years, and the seven good ears are seven years; the dream is one.
And the seven thin and bad-looking cows that came up after them are seven years; and the seven empty ears blasted with the east wind shall be seven years of famine . . .
Behold, there come seven years of great plenty throughout all the land of Egypt. Then there shall arise after them seven years of famine, and all the plenty shall be forgotten in the land of Egypt...
As for the repetition of the dream to Pharaoh twice: it is because the thing has been established by G‑d, and G‑d will shortly bring it to pass.
Joseph proceeds to advise Pharaoh on how to prepare for the coming events. Pharaoh should “seek out a man, understanding and wise, and appoint him over the land of Egypt”; this viceroy should oversee the collection and storage of the surplus food that will be produced in the seven years of plenty, for use during the years of famine.
“Since G‑d has shown you all this,” says Pharaoh to Joseph, “there is none as understanding and wise as you. You shall be over my house, and according to your word shall all my people be ruled; only in the throne will I be greater than you.”
Pharaoh gives Joseph a new name—Tzaphenath Paane’ach (“Decipherer of Secrets”)—and a wife, Asenath, who bears him two sons: Manasseh (“Forgetting”), so named “because G‑d has made me forget all my toil, and all my father’s house”; and Ephraim (“Fruitfulness”), “because G‑d has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.”
Joseph oversees the implementation of his plan, so that when the years of famine commence, “there was hunger in all the lands [of the region], but in all the land of Egypt there was bread. . . . All countries came to Egypt to Joseph to buy grain, because the famine was so severe in all the earth.”
The Brothers in Egypt
The land of Canaan, too, is afflicted by famine. Jacob, hearing that food is to be had in Egypt, sends his ten older sons there to purchase grain. “But Benjamin, Joseph’s brother, Jacob did not send with his brothers, for he said, ‘Lest misfortune befall him.’”
Joseph recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him . . .
He made himself strange to them, and spoke harshly to them; he said to them, “Where do you come from?”
And they said: “From the land of Canaan, to buy food . . .”
He said to them: “You are spies; to see the nakedness of the land you have come.”
And they said to him: “No, my lord, but your servants have come to buy food. . . . Your servants are twelve brothers, the sons of one man in the land of Canaan; and behold, the youngest is now with our father, and one is no more.”
Joseph challenges them to prove the truth of their words. “By the life of Pharaoh,” he swears, “you shall not go out of here unless your youngest brother comes here. Send one of you, and let him fetch your brother, and you shall be kept in prison, that your words may be proved . . .”
He throws them all into prison, but three days later he releases all except for Simeon, to be detained until they bring Benjamin to Egypt.
“Indeed we are guilty,” say Joseph’s brothers to each other, when faced with this new, unexpected trouble, “concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul, when he pleaded to us and we would not listen; therefore this distress has come upon us.”
To which Reuben responds: “Did I not speak to you, saying, ‘Do not sin against the child,’ and you would not hear? Therefore, behold, his blood is being claimed.”
They did not know that Joseph understood them, for he spoke to them by an interpreter. [Joseph] turned away from them and wept.
On the way back to Canaan, one of the brothers discovers that the money he paid for the grain he bought has been placed back in his sack; this greatly alarms the brothers, who worry what new libel is in store for them. (When they reach home, they all find that their money has likewise been returned.)
At first, Jacob refuses to let Benjamin go to Egypt. “You have bereaved me of my children,” he cries. “Joseph is gone, and Simeon is gone, and you will take Benjamin away . . .” But when the food they purchased in Egypt runs out, Judah makes the following appeal to his father:
“Send the lad with me, and we will arise and go; that we may live and not die, both we and you, and also our little ones.
“I will be his guarantor; from my hand shall you claim him. If I do not bring him to you and set him before you, then I shall be guilty towards you for all eternity.”
Jacob reluctantly gives his assent, and advises them to take along a gift for this mysterious stranger who is causing them so much trouble. The brothers journey to Egypt with Benjamin.
In Joseph’s House
In contrast to their prior experience, a most genial reception awaits them in Egypt. Joseph has left instructions that they be honored with an invitation to his home for the noonday meal; Simeon is restored to them; and they are told by the manager of Joseph’s household not to worry about the money they found in their sacks—“your money has come to me,” he reassures them.
When Joseph arrives at the house,
he asked them of their welfare, and said: “Is your father well, the old man of whom you spoke? Is he still alive?” And they answered: “Your servant our father is well; he is still alive.”
He lifted up his eyes and saw his brother Benjamin, his mother’s son. And he said: “Is this your younger brother, of whom you spoke to me? . . .”
Joseph hurried, for his affection was kindled towards his brother, and he wanted to weep. He entered into his chamber, and wept there.
He washed his face and went out, and restrained himself and said: “Set out the meal.”
They set out for him separately, and for them separately, and for the Egyptians who ate with them, separately; because the Egyptians cannot eat food with the Hebrews, for that is an abomination to the Egyptians.
Joseph astounds them by seating them around the table in the order of their birth, and exhibiting additional knowledge about them (which he claims to divine by means of his magic goblet).
They eat and drink together, and Joseph bestows many gifts on them. In the morning they set out to return to Canaan, but not before Joseph’s steward, acting on his master’s instructions, plants the “magic” silver goblet in Benjamin’s sack.
Soon Joseph’s steward is chasing after them. “Why have you paid back evil for good?” he accuses them. “Why, this is [the goblet] from which my lord drinks, and whereby indeed he divines. You have done evil in so doing.”
They said to him: “Why does my lord say these words? Far be it from your servants to do a thing like that. Behold, the money which we found in our sacks’ mouths we brought again to you out of the land of Canaan; would we then steal out of your lord’s house silver or gold?
“With whomever of your servants it be found,” they boldly proclaim, “he shall die; and we also will be my lord’s slaves.”
Then each man quickly lowered his sack onto the ground, and each man opened his sack.
And he searched, beginning at the eldest and ending at the youngest; the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack.
They tore their clothes; each man loaded his donkey, and they returned to the city.
When Joseph confronts them with their deed, Judah says:
“What shall we say to my lord? What shall we speak, or how shall we clear ourselves? G‑d has found out the iniquity of your servants. Behold, we are my lord’s slaves, both we and the one with whom the cup was found.”
To which Joseph responds:
“Far be it from me that I should do such a thing. The man in whose hand the cup is found, he shall be my slave; and as for you, go up in peace to your father.”
And with this test of the brothers’ loyalty the section of Mikeitz concludes.