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Parsha Perspectives

  • Joseph Freed From Prison


    ויהי מקץ שנתים ימים ופרעה חולם

    “And it was after two years, Pharaoh dreamed…” (Bereishit 41:1).

    Joseph had been imprisoned in Egypt for an extra two years because he put his faith in Pharaoh’s butler, not solely in G-d (Bereishit 40:23, Rashi). Toward the end of his sentence, Pharaoh had a dream and called on Joseph to interpret it. In the blink of an eye, Joseph was whisked from the depths of servitude and disgrace and propelled into the upper echelons of Egyptian society and circles of power.

    This story sounds like a fairy tale! How could such a transformation take place — and in such a short time? The reference to these two extra years in the same passage as Pharaoh’s dream seems to convey a deeper connection to the dream than just a chronological one.

    Rabbi Yitzchak Zev Soloveitchik offers the following explanation. Often, we see events in the world and wonder — why? How could a certain good thing happen to such a bad person, or vice versa? Thoughts such as, “I worked so hard, how could I not have succeeded?” or “Why was my flight late, when I had such an important meeting?” surface, frustrating and confusing us.

    Then it happens — a hidden piece of the puzzle emerges, completing the picture. We suddenly see how the seemingly random pieces fit together, how it all makes sense.

    As human beings, this revelation can only occur in retrospect. But the same cannot be said about G-d, who has no limitations. Events that we may view as coincidence — perhaps even as a series of challenging obstacles — is not happenstance; it is a step-by-step plan, perfectly calculated and executed.

    Joseph was not freed from his dark, hopeless prison because Pharaoh had a dream that he was able to interpret. Pharaoh had a dream because G-d decided it was time for Joseph to be freed, and this was the way He orchestrated that his freedom would come about.

    Let’s say you’ve just finished the best murder mystery ever written. You reread the last chapter over and over, marveling at the way the author brings all the various pieces together, ties up all the loose ends, and gives you a perfect sense of closure. Your friend, seeing how much you are enjoying the book, begs to borrow it. Imagine your surprise when he returns it ten minutes later saying, “I read the last chapter, and it was completely unrealistic. I can’t understand what you see in this book.”

    We come into this world in the middle of a story. We’re here for just a few short chapters, yet we presume that we should be able to understand everything that happens.

    To us, it may seem impossible for a man to go from the deepest darkness to the most brilliant light in an instant. But G-d is limitless. He can do anything.

    This Shabbat is also Chanukah, when we commemorate the time when a few kohanim – priests – with nothing but their faith in G-d were able to topple the world’s greatest power. In an instant, they emerged from the darkness of persecution to the light of their destined redemption.

    This year, when you light the menorah for Chanukah, pause for just a moment to reflect on your actions. In an instant, with but a flick of the wrist, a dry stick becomes a small but powerful flame, and a few pieces of wax become a glowing beacon of light.

  • Preparing for the Future


    ויאמר פרעה אל יוסף אחרי הודיע א-לקים אותך את כל זאת אין נבון וחכם כמוך אתה תהיה על ביתי ועל פיך ישק כל עמי רק חכסא אגדל ממך

    “Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘Since G-d has informed you of all this, there can be no one so as discerning and wise as you. You shall be in charge of my palace and by your command shall all my people be sustained…’” (Bereishit 41:39-40)

    After languishing in jail for 12 years, Joseph suddenly finds himself not only free but also the second-highest ranking official in Egypt. The swiftness with which this change occurred was nothing short of a miracle. How is it possible for Joseph to have transformed himself from that of a prisoner to a world leader, seemingly without any preparation?

    Let’s take a look at the sequence of events: Pharaoh had a dream that no one can interpret properly. Joseph, who has demonstrated the ability to interpret dreams, stands before Pharaoh and correctly interprets the message G-d intends for Pharaoh via his dream. Having gained Pharaoh’s attention, Joseph then takes the opportunity to offer some unsolicited advice on how to prepare for the upcoming famine, and ends up being appointed to the second highest position in the country.

    To the outside observer, Joseph’s ascent raises a number of fundamental questions. Why should Joseph’s ability to correctly interpret a dream and offer a few rather obvious suggestions with regard to the coming famine, have qualified him to become the second most powerful man in Egypt?

    Was it wise for a nation to choose an untested leader whose background was unknown?  Other than his dream-interpretation skills, what truly qualified Joseph to lead the most powerful nation on earth at the time?

    Rabbi Bahya ibn Paquda, author of the well-known book, Duties of the Heart, makes use of a parable that sheds light on why Joseph was indeed fitting for this position of leadership: A child washed up one day on the shore of a country. To his surprise, a committee welcomed him and promptly crowned him “king.” They then proceeded to provide him with his favorite food, royal garments, and attend to his every need.  A cabinet of wise advisers surrounded him at all times.

    Eventually, the young king asked his advisers how long he will rule. The wise men informed him that he will remain king until a new king washes up on shore. Through a telescope, they showed him a deserted island, which would be his future home. Shocked, the king immediately began to prepare the desert island for his eventual arrival. Over the years, he built beautiful buildings, established libraries, and planted lush gardens and orchards on the island.

    When a new child washed up on shore, the old king graciously yielded his reign and departed in joyful anticipation for his treasure-full island. The new king however, was not so wise as his predecessor. He became intoxicated with power, and forgot to ask some basic questions. When he was suddenly confronted with the end of his reign, he resisted violently, was forced into a small boat and set adrift.

    This parable, which holds a powerful lessons about how to use our time properly during our own lifespan, also points to an important insight into Joseph’s situation. Prior to becoming viceroy of Egypt, Joseph had spent a lifetime preparing for leadership. He was raised in the house of Jacob, where he first became aware of his inner potential.  Later, though sold into slavery, he ran Potiphar’s estate. When he was sent to prison, he was chosen to run the jail for the warden.

    When the time came, Joseph was in fact ready to stand before Pharaoh and assume such incredible power, precisely because he had developed his inner potential for so many years beforehand. Like Joseph, each of us has vast potential waiting to be expressed. Our task is to make sure we continually grow and develop in the direction we truly wish to go. Even our apparent setbacks should not detract us from the larger goal of achieving our aspirations.

    This is something to be mindful of not only with regard to ourselves, but also with regard to our spouses, children, students, co-workers, and friends.  Helping others develop their potential is one of the greatest acts of kindness we can bestow on another human being.

  • Who Gets the Blame?


    ותעש הארץ בשבע שני השבע… ותחלינה שבע שני הרעב לבוא כאשר אמר יוסף

    “The earth produced during the seven years of abundance by the handfuls… And the seven years of famine began approaching just as Joseph had said.” (Bereishit 41:47,54)

    In what is perhaps the greatest and most radical transformation in history, Joseph was extracted from his dungeon-like jail cell where he languished as an accused felon and elevated into one of the most powerful leaders in ancient history.

    It began one night when Pharaoh had two successive dreams. In each, undernourished organisms (in the first, cows, and in the second, ears of corn) devoured their well-fed, succulent counterparts, with no apparent change; they remained just as emaciated as they were at the beginning of the episode.

    Despite their presumed ability to interpret the unexplainable mysteries of life, Pharaoh’s sorcerers were dumbfounded. It took the prodding of Pharaoh’s disgraced butler to haul Joseph up from prison and present him before Pharaoh as the one true dream interpreter.

    With G-d’s help, Joseph interpreted the succulent stalks and cows as representing seven years of plenty followed by seven years of drought and famine which would consume the bounty. Pleased by this interpretation, Pharaoh elevated Joseph to viceroy of Egypt. He followed Joseph’s plan of action to prepare for the boom and the bust.

    The Torah relates how the predictions came true and describes the Egyptians’ reaction to plenty and shortage. But let’s contrast the description of the good and the bad years. The good years are predicted as follows: “The earth produced during the seven years of abundance by the handfuls” (Bereishit 41:47). The bad years are predicted with these words: “And the seven years of famine began to approach, just as Joseph had said” (Bereishit 41:53-54).  Joseph’s predictions are only associated with disaster. Why?

    The late physicist Albert Einstein delivered a discourse on his theory of relativity at the prestigious Sorbonne. After reviewing his theory and its ramifications on the future of civilization, he ended his speech, “If my theory is proven correct, the French will say I am a citizen of the world and the Germans will say I am a German. If I am wrong, the French will say I am a German and the Germans will say I am a Jew.”

    Rabbi Reines (the Lida Rav) explains that when the Torah describes the ancient story of plenty and famine, the narrative is presented through the eyes of those who experienced it. The good years just “came”; it seemed a mere coincidence, in no way associated with the man who foretold their arrival. When the suffering began, however, it was “as the Jew said.”

    How often do we hear of individuals and groups responsible for murder of historic proportions where their ethnicity and national origin are completely obscured? When a Jew, however, commits a crime, his religion is plastered all over the media — despite the fact that his behavior is an anathema to Judaism and a flagrant violation of the Torah’s exacting ethical code.

    By associating only the famine to Joseph’s prediction, the Torah is reminding us that this phenomenon is part and parcel of our history. Instead of getting sidetracked by the unfair attribution of only the bad news to Jews, we can see it as a reminder of our uniqueness and the special standard we are meant to live by.

  • Be True to Yourself


    ויאמרו שנים עשר עבדיך אחים אנחנו בני איש אחד בארץ כנען והנה הקטן את אבינו היום והאחד איננו ויאמר אלהם יוסף הוא אשר דברתי אלכם לאמר מרגלים אתם

    “And they (the brothers) replied, ‘We, your servants, are twelve brothers, the sons of one man in the land of Canaan…’ But Joseph said to them, ‘It is just as I have declared to you: You are spies!’” (Bereishit 42: 13-14)

    In this week’s parsha, the Torah records that after Joseph ascended to power, his brothers descended to Egypt because of the famine that was prevalent in the Land of Canaan. When the brothers appeared before Joseph, he accused them of being spies, an allegation that they vehemently denied. The brothers responded to Joseph that they had arrived in Egypt to purchase food for their family.

    They buttressed their claim of innocence by declaring that they were truthful people and had never been spies. Joseph rejected their defense, reiterating his claim that they were spies.

    This dialogue between Joseph and his brothers is confusing. Joseph accused his brothers of being spies without presenting any evidence. The brothers’ response to this accusation, that they were twelve sons of one father and that they came to Egypt intending to purchase food, did not address the claim that they were spies. Neither the charges nor the defense seem comprehensible.

    This mystery brings to mind an incident with the practice in Europe where Tzena Urena, the Yiddish language commentary on the Torah, was read aloud in the Synagogue each week following the public Torah reading. After the reader related the incident of how Joseph aroused his brothers’ jealousy and how they subsequently threw Joseph into a pit, a woman shouted, “It was coming to Joseph! They did the same thing to him last year, and he should have learned his lesson!”

    When reading the dialogue between Joseph and his brothers as an account of an ordinary conversation, one can easily get caught up in the drama and miss the idea that the “stories” described in the Torah are anything but ordinary stories.  Rather, the stories are laden with multiple layers of Divine life-lessons that hold meaning for each and every one of us – in every generation.

    When Joseph accused his brothers of being spies, he obviously never believed they were spies. He made this accusation to help them realize the inherent inconsistencies in their words. The brothers stated that they were all from one father, on a mission to take care of their family needs. They were implying that they were a wholesome, united, and family-oriented unit – lacking no motive other than the well-being of their family. Joseph’s groundless accusation simply mirrored their cavalier claims of complete wholesomeness and innocence. While it was true that they were all sons of one father, they weren’t genuinely united, and certainly not innocent.  Like spies who mask their true purpose and motives, the brothers’ portrayal of themselves as family people was in stark contrast to individuals who could sell their own brother as a slave and cause such immense distress to their father.

    If we stop to contemplate some of these embedded messages in the story of Joseph’s interaction with his brothers, we will likely come to realize how easy it is to deceive oneself about one’s level of honesty or true motives. In addition to helping his brothers realize that they weren’t being honest with themselves, the “story” of Joseph teaches how important it is for us to be consistently true to our values in our relationships with family, friends, and with G-d.

Table Talk

For Discussion Around the Shabbat Table

“And Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘I dreamt a dream, but no one can interpret it. Now I heard it said of you that you comprehend a dream to interpret it.’ Joseph answered Pharaoh, saying, ‘That is beyond me; it is G-d Who will respond with Pharaoh’s welfare.’” Pharaoh proceeded to detail his dream, which Joseph interpreted as a foreshadowing of seven years of abundance followed by seven years of famine. Joseph suggested that “‘Pharaoh seek out a discerning and wise man and set him over the land of Egypt. Let Pharaoh proceed and let him appoint overseers on the land, and he shall prepare the land of Egypt during the seven years of abundance.’” (Bereishit 41:15-16, 33-34)

1) Joseph’s interpretation of his dreams convinced Pharaoh that Joseph was highly skilled at interpreting dreams. What gave Pharaoh the confidence that Joseph possessed the leadership and managerial skills to implement his proposal – let alone to become the chief administrator of Egypt’s economic affairs?

2) Joseph was called upon to serve as a dream interpreter – not as a financial planner. Why would Joseph have believed that offering such guidance was appropriate?

3) As king, Pharaoh likely had the means to appoint someone to develop and implement a plan for addressing the upcoming famine. Unless Joseph had ulterior motives, why would he have written a job description that appeared to place himself as the candidate of choice?


Joseph called his firstborn son Manasseh in appreciation of G-d’s help in allowing him to forget his father’s house (Bereishit41:51). Why would he want to forget his father’s house, and why was that something for which he thanked G-d? (Outlooks and Insights by Rabbi Zev Leff Parshas Vayechi)


Bracing for the famine that had struck the entire region, Joseph’s brothers descended into Egypt to buy grain from the Egyptian stockpiles. When they came before Joseph, who had risen to become the viceroy (second-in-command) in the Egyptian government, he treated them harshly and accused them of being spies. Only after a detailed explanation — and a three day stint in prison — were they sent on their way.

  1. All the time that Joseph was viceroy in Egypt, he did not communicate with his family. All those long years, his father Jacob presumed he was dead. And in the Torah portion this week, when Joseph’s brothers were traveling back to Jacob, he forfeited a golden opportunity to send word back to his beloved father that he was alive and well — forfeiting as well the opportunity to fulfill the mitzvah of “honor thy father.” What might have been the reason for Joseph’s silence?
  2. Years ago, Joseph dreamt that his brothers would all bow down to him (Bereishit 37:9). This dream was very significant; it had inflamed their jealousy and prompted them to sell Joseph into slavery, initiating a chain of events that led to Joseph becoming the viceroy. However, when Joseph’s brothers bowed to him, making him recall this prophetic dream (Bereishit 42:9), Joseph recalled this dream that he dreamt “for them.” Why was this dream seen as a prophecy concerning the brothers but not Joseph himself?


When the brothers first appear before Joseph they do not recognize him and assume he is an evil ruler.  Joseph uses this to his advantage and orchestrates events so that his brothers will eventually repent for having sold him into slavery.

1) In their first interaction, the Torah states that Joseph “recalled the dreams that he dreamed about them, so he said to them, “you are spies! To see the land’s nakedness you have come.” (Bereishit 42:9) What connection is there between Joseph recalling the dreams and the specific accusation lodged against them that they were spies?

2) The brothers answer Joseph by stating that they are all sons of one man, that they are truthful, and that they have never been spies.  As the brothers were trying to defend the accusation against them that they are spies, how would saying that were all sons of one man show that they were not spies?


On Chanukah we add a paragraph, known as Al HaNissim to the Shemoneh Esrei (Amidah) prayers thanking G-d for the miracles He performed at this time. The prayer focuses on the miraculous military victory, with no mention of the miracle of the oil. As the miracle with the oil is so central to Chanukah – in fact it is the miracle which we commemorate each day of Chanukah – why is no mention made of it in the Al HaNissim prayer? (Taima D’Kra by Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky)

Parsha Tidbits

Jumping Points for Discussion and Further Study



    “And Pharaoh sent and called for Joseph and they rushed to extract him from the pit and he shaved and changed his clothes and he came before Pharaoh.” Bereishit 41:14

    Extract him from the pit – This occurred on the first day of Tishrei, Rosh Hashanah. – Talmud, Tractate Rosh Hashanah 10b

    And they rushed – All instructions of the King were carried out in a hurry. – Rabbi Joseph Bechor Shor

    And they rushed – All salvations that emanate from the Almighty occur in great haste for it is never a matter of His being capable of bringing them about, but rather, whether we have merited them yet. Thus we find that the Exodus from Egypt also occurred in hasty fashion which did not allow their dough to rise. – Sforno (Rabbi Ovadiah Sforno of Italy, 1470-1550)

    Sforno adds that the final redemption too will come about in speedy fashion (once it finally arrives).  Therefore, we are constantly praying that Mashiach should come, “B’meheirah B’yamainu” – speedily in our time. We’re not only asking that he arrive soon, but in hurried fashion, in the manner of all the salvations that the Almighty begets.


    “And the brothers of Joseph descended, ten of them, to purchase food from Egypt.” Bereishit 42:3

    The brothers of Joseph – Why doesn’t it refer to them as “the sons of Jacob,” instead? This teaches us that they regretted having sold him and decided to spare no effort to ransom him and treat him once again as their brother. – Rashi

    The brothers of Joseph – The Egyptians were descendants of Cham which meant that they were dark skinned. Joseph and his brothers, on the other hand, were fair skinned and it was easy to tell that they were brothers. To dispel this notion, Joseph immediately accused his brothers of spying, so that they wouldn’t immediately associate him with them. – Sifsei Kohein

    Ten of them – Why did all ten brothers descend? In order to pray with a minyan on behalf of their mission to locate Joseph and return him home. A gathering of less than ten men does not generate the Divine Presence. – Rabbeinu Bachya

    The Medrash tells us that Joseph, hoping to somehow locate his brothers, mandated that no one enter or leave a city without giving his name and the name of his father. When the brothers showed up and identified themselves as the sons of Jacob, Joseph immediately knew that they were in town. He closed all of the storehouses but one, and instructed its administrators to direct these people to him if they showed up. When three days passed and they had not yet presented themselves, he sent out detectives who found them in an unsavory location. They were looking for Joseph and thought that perhaps his handsome appearance and charm had led him to work in a house of prostitution. Suspecting him of the worst, no doubt, interfered with their ability to recognize him while they stood before him in the palace. Even after all their feelings of regret, they never doubted for a moment that his dreams of glory and kingship were nothing other than childish fantasies and that they were correct in their initial estimation of him.


    “And Joseph recalled his dreams that he dreamed about them and he said to them, ‘you are spies who have come to see the nakedness of the land.’” Bereishit 42:9

    You are spies – Why, of all things, did he accuse them of spying? Joseph suspected that they had come to locate him and he wished to hamper their ability to do so until he was prepared to reveal himself to them. By accusing them of spying, he effectively cut off all possibility of their canvassing Egypt to inquire for further information. – Kli Yakar (Rav Ephraim Luntshitz of Lemberg 1550-1619)

    You are spies – Joseph prophesied here about the future and accused them of being spies (i.e. partaking in the foolish plot to spy out the Land of Israel after the Exodus), but maintained his own innocence since the spy chosen from his tribe was Joshua who did not participate in their evil scheme. Judah too, who responded, “No, our Master, we have come to purchase food…” also alluded to his own tribe’s lack of participation in this nefarious plot, for their emissary was Calev, who also refused to participate. – Baal HaTurim (Rabbi Jacob ben Asher)

    What connection did this conversation have with the ill-fated plot to spy out the Land of Israel which only occurred hundreds of years later? The Talmud tells us that the night the spies returned with their malicious report about the Land, was the night of Tisha B’Av, and all future catastrophes that occurred on that dreadful night could be traced back to that event. In reality, the tragic episode of the spies had its roots in the story of Joseph and his brothers. What occurred here was a microcosm of future events. Thus, within this tale lies an allusion to the future to help us draw parallels between these events and decipher their deeper meaning.


    “If you are speaking truthfully, then let one of your brothers be incarcerated in the prison in which you are now…” Bereishit 42:19

    If you are speaking truthfully – Joseph feared that so many years had passed since he’d seen his younger brother Benjamin, that he would no longer recognize him. He also suspected that perhaps his brothers would not bring Benjamin, but rather, knowing how Jacob felt about him, they’d substitute another man in his place. Therefore, he held one of the brothers until Benjamin would be brought down, to determine whether the two would recognize each other. – Panim Yafos

    One of your brothers – This was Simon. – Bereishit 42:14

    One of your brothers – Simon was the one who instigated the plot against him and cast him into the pit, now he would be cast into a dungeon. – Rashi 42:14

    Simon, who together with his brother Levi, lead the plot against Joseph, paid for his indiscretions dearly. Just as he caused Jacob’s son Joseph to be sold to Egypt where he was faced daily with terrible temptations to sin in the most immoral manner, Simon experienced a similar fate with his offspring. Following the incident of Dina and Shechem, he married Dina who bore him a son named Saul. This son had another name, Zimri, and it was he who was later faced with a temptation to sin with the Midianite woman named Kosbi. Unlike Joseph who withstood his temptations, Zimri failed to do so and was killed by Phinehas, a scion of Joseph!


    “And he searched: he began with the older brother and concluded with the younger, and the goblet was found in the sack of Benjamin. And they rent their garments and each man repacked his donkey and they returned to the city.” Bereishit 44:12, 13

    They rent their garments – This was not the traditional act of rending a garment which is performed upon the passing of a loved one. Rather, it was a sign of their great anguish over the discovery of the goblet in Benjamin’s sack. – HeEmek Davar

    They rent their garments – Benjamin failed to ensure that he and his brothers would not be the target of false allegations. His recompense came many generations later when his descendant Mordecai heard of the terrible plot hatched by Haman to destroy the Jews, and had to rend his garments in response. He also donned sackcloth and fasted in order to derail the terrible decree. – Midrash Rabbah, Esther 8:1

    They rent their garments – The brothers caused Jacob to rend his garments in anguish when they pretended that Joseph had perished. In response, they too, rent their garments when a false accusation was lodged against Benjamin. – Daas Zekeinim

    Daat Zekeinim adds that Manasseh, too, played a key role in this incident. He was the messenger sent by Joseph to search their sacks and lodge the false complaint against Benjamin. Since his actions caused the brothers to tear their garments in half, a similar fate occurred to his children. Just prior to entering the Land of Israel, the tribes of Reuben and Gad requested to remain in the land that they had captured on the other side of the Jordan River. Moses agreed, but stipulated that they must be joined by half of the members of the tribe of Manasseh. For having caused Joseph’s brothers to be split; his own children were split, as well. Our actions have consequences that far exceed anything our imagination can conjure up at the time of their execution. Yet, these chapters of the Torah remind us how careful we must be when dealing with our fellow man.


    “And now, let your servant sit [in prison] in place of the lad, and be a servant to my master, and the lad will ascend with his brothers.” Bereishit 44:33

    And be a servant to my master – Judah was the one who had initially suggested that they sell Joseph as a slave to the Ishmaelites. Now, he was placed in a position in which his best hope would be to offer himself as a slave instead of Benjamin. – Pardes Yosef in the name of the Rebbe of Ger

    Pardes Yosef adds that nothing ever came of this offer because in truth, Judah had acted in Joseph’s best interests and was not obligated to repent. Joseph hinted to this when he told his brothers, “And now, do not be saddened, nor should you reproach yourselves for having sold me here, for the Almighty sent me here to be a source of food for you.” When a person intends to do a good thing, even if it may appear to have turned out negatively, the Almighty has a plan that supersedes all our strategies and ensures a positive result.

Hey, I Never Knew That


There is a famous expression in Hebrew: “Yeshuat Hashem k’heref ayin” — “The salvation of G-d is like the blink of an eye” (Pesikta Zutreta, Esther 4:17). In Parshat Miketz, this week’s Torah portion, after Joseph spent two years in an Egyptian jail, falsely accused of attacking his master’s wife, he was quite suddenly freed. “And they quickly took him out of the pit, and he shaved and changed his garments and was brought to Pharaoh” (Bereishit 41:14). In a very short time, Joseph went from being a prisoner to being the equivalent of the prime minister of Egypt. The Sforno comments, “This is the way of G-d in all of His salvations; they happen in a moment… as at the Exodus, when the Jews didn’t even have time to let their bread rise before they left Egypt, and as will happen in the future (redemption of the Jewish People), where the verse states, ‘Behold, I send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me; and the L-rd, whom you seek, shall suddenly come to his Temple…’ ” (Malachi 3:1).


Joseph named his first son Manasseh and his younger son Ephraim (Bereishit 41:51-52). In the books of the Prophets, Ephraim is sometimes used as a term for the Jewish people as a whole, and more commonly used as a term for the ten tribes of the northern kingdom of Israel (Jeremiah 31, Hosea 4-12). Why is this so? In one of the collections of comments by the Tosafists (12th Century French school of commentators on the Babylonian Talmud) on the Torah they address this question. The author points out that the name Ephraim is actually the Hebrew plural of epher, ashes. The Jews are named after Abraham, who referred to himself as epher (Bereishit 19:27) when he prayed to G-d for Sodom. The Jews are also named after Isaac, who was brought as an offering on the altar by Abraham, and because he and Abraham were completely prepared to go through with his sacrifice, the sages refer to the “ashes of Isaac” (Brachot 62b) as though he was sacrificed (Midrash RabbaBereishit 94:5).

Word of the Week

  • אברך — avreich

    Pharaoh elevated Joseph to a high position in his government and proclaimed him an אברך — avreich. Rashi quotes the Aramaic translation of Onkelos, who explains the word avreich as a composite of the Hebrew אב — av — father, and the Aramaic רך — rach — king, meaning that Joseph was the king’s father, or senior advisor. He also cites an argument between the sages about the meaning of the word avreich. Rabbi Yehudah explains the word as a composite of two Hebrew words, אב — av —father and רך — rach — young (or soft), so that Pharaoh proclaimed Joseph as being a “father” of wisdom, even though “young” in years. Another sage maintains that the word is related to ברך —berech — knee, and the title describes someone before whom all knees bend. Based on Rabbi Yehudah’s interpretation it has become common to refer to a young Torah scholar as an avreich.


    After Joseph accused his brothers of being spies, they replied, “We are all the sons of one man, we are כנים  — keinim and your servants are not spies” (Bereishit 42:11). This Torah portion is the only one in which the word keinim appears, and it does so five times. The word is translated by Rashi as truthful, based on the root כן — kein, meaning yes or indeed. Targum Yonatan similarly translates the word as trustworthy. Rabbi David Kimchi (Sefer Hashorashimkun) relates the word to נכון — nachon, which means correct. Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan renders the translation as honorable (The Living Torah).

Dear Rabbi

What is the origin of the popular saying “The salvation of G-d is like the blink of an eye” — “Yeshuas Hashem k’heref ayin”? 

The expression is mentioned in this exact wording in the Pesikta Zutra on Esther (4:17); however the origin of the idea that G-d’s salvation is sudden and quick seems to appear first in this week’s Torah portion. Joseph was languishing in prison in Egypt, but after correctly interpreting the dreams of Pharaoh’s butler and baker, he is mentioned to Pharaoh as a candidate for interpreting Pharaoh’s dream. The verse then says, “They rushed him from the dungeon” (Bereishit 41:14), and in the space of a very short time, Joseph went from prisoner to president. The Sforno comments, “In the manner of all G-d’s salvations, which happen in a moment, as the verse states, ‘For my salvation is quick in coming’ (Isaiah 56:1), and also as the redemption happened from Egypt where there was not even time for the dough to rise, and as will occur in the future redemption where the verse states, ‘Suddenly, the L-rd Whom you seek will come to His sanctuary’ ” (Malahi 3:1).


Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (Igrot Moshe, Orach Chaim 4:66) rules that there is no legal prohibition in using a non-Hebrew or non-Jewish name, even though it is preferable to use one’s Jewish or Hebrew name. Rabbi Yekusiel Yehudah Halberstam (Responsa Divrei YetzivLikutim, 102), however, maintains that it is actually forbidden to use a non-Jewish name. He cites a verse in the Torah portion this week as evidence. The verse (Bereishit 41:45) states that Pharaoh renamed Joseph “Tzaphenat Pa’aneach,” an Egyptian name. Yet, in that same verse, after having been given his new name, the Torah states, “and Joseph went out into Egypt,” thus indicating that he still referred to himself by his original Hebrew name, Joseph. However, in defense of Rabbi Feinstein’s ruling, this does not constitute a definitive proof for two reasons. First, according to many commentaries the name “Tzaphenat Pa’aneach,” is actually also Hebrew and therefore would not be relevant to the discussion. Secondly, some commentaries say that it was not a name at all, but a title, and therefore there is nothing surprising about Joseph still being called by his original name.

Parsha at a Glance

Pharaoh dreamt two dreams. In one, seven unsightly cows ate seven fine-looking cows; in the other, seven thin ears of grain swallowed up the seven healthy ears. He tried to find an accurate interpretation of the dreams, but was unable to do so. The cupbearer recalled Joseph’s success in interpreting his dream. Pharaoh called upon Joseph and asked him to interpret his own dreams. The dreams, he explained, foreshadowed seven years of abundance, followed by seven years of famine. Pharaoh would have to appoint people to accumulate sustenance during the years of abundance and store it for consumption during the following seven years.

Pharaoh recognized that Joseph carried the spirit of G-d and placed him in charge of his palace and in command over all of Egypt. He gave Joseph the Egyptian name, Tzafnat Paneach, and a wife. Joseph’s wife gave birth to Manasseh and Ephraim.

The famine began, but the land of Egypt had sufficient bread due to the large amount of grain Joseph had stored during the previous seven years. The hungry citizens were instructed by Pharaoh to approach Joseph.

Hearing of the provisions that were available in Egypt, Jacob sent his remaining sons – except for Benjamin – to acquire food for their family there.

Joseph recognized his brothers when they approached him, but pretended not to know who they were. They did not realize that this was their own brother. He accused them of being spies and demanded that their youngest brother (Benjamin) join them. He suggested that one of the brothers be confined until they would bring food to their family and return with the youngest brother.

The brothers speculated that this ordeal came upon them because of how they had treated Joseph. Joseph overheard this conversation and regretted how he had acted with them. Nonetheless, he stood by his orders and had Simon imprisoned.

The brothers returned home and informed their father that they couldn’t obtain any provisions unless they would take Benjamin back with them. Jacob refused. When their food supply was almost depleted, Jacob instructed his sons to return to Egypt to obtain food. Judah reminded Jacob that their ability to acquire food was conditioned on bringing Benjamin back with them, and promised to shoulder the blame if Benjamin would not be returned to him.

The brothers returned to Egypt, and prepared for a meal they were to have with Joseph. Simon was released.

Joseph inquired if their father was well and alive, and they responded in the affirmative. Upon seeing Benjamin, he ran into another room to cry out of compassion for him. Benjamin’s portion during the meal was five times greater than the portions of his brothers.

Joseph instructed his attendant to place his silver goblet in Benjamin’s sack. On the brothers’ journey the following morning, this attendant, following his master’s orders, followed the brothers and accused them of thievery. He searched their sacks and found the goblet in Benjamin’s bag. The brothers returned to the city, and Judah apologized on their behalf to Joseph, offering themselves as slaves. Joseph said that the brothers could all return home, and only the perpetrator, Benjamin, would serve as his slave.