Parsha Mikeitz: Jewish tradition and Thanksgiving

This Thanksgiving weekend, we study in honor of our American Armed Forces men and women, wishing them a good holiday weekend and a safe return home, with thanks for their service.

Dear Scouts:

Happy Chanukah!  I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving.

In a very interesting article, Rabbi Dr. Meir Soloveichik of Yeshiva University points out a strong connection between Jewish tradition and the original Thanksgiving held long ago by the Pilgrims, and preserved as a national holiday by proclamation of President George Washington in 1789. Based on research by Nick Bunker in his book, Making Haste from Babylon: The Mayflower Pilgrims and Their World, Rabbi Soloveichik discusses the Pilgrims’ use of Psalm 107 as a prayer of thanksgiving for making it safely across the sea to America. Mr. Bunker discovered that the Bible belonging to one of the Pilgrims’ leaders, William Bradford, contained a description of the custom, found in the Talmud (Berachos 10:8) that Psalm 107 is recited by those who have survived a journey across the sea.

We are also studying about another journey in this week’s parsha, Mikeitz. Joseph has now been sold into slavery in Egypt and belongs to one of Pharoah’s chamberlains. He correctly interprets the dreams of two of Pharaoh’s other chamberlains, who are being held in custody by Joseph’s master. Two years later, when Pharoah himself has a dream that no one else can interpret, one of the chamberlains tells Pharoah of Joseph and his ability to interpret dreams. Pharoah calls for Joseph. Joseph explains that only God can give the interpretation of the dream, and God may reveal the dream’s meaning to him. God does so.

Pharoah’s dream has two parts. In the first part, seven fat cows are eaten by seven lean and poor cows. In the second part, seven good ears of corn are swallowed up by seven thin and scorched ears of corn. Joseph explains that God has sent Pharoah a message:  Egypt will have seven years of plenty, followed by seven years of famine. Pharoah is to find a wise man who will oversee preparations during the seven years of abundance, to have food set aside for the seven years of famine. Pharoah realizes that because God has given Joseph the ability to interpret this dream, no one is wiser than Joseph, so Pharoah makes Joseph his chief minister, in charge of preparing for the famine.

After seven years, the famine strikes not only Egypt but Canaan as well, and Jacob sends ten of his sons – all but Joseph (whom Jacob thinks is dead) and the youngest, Benjamin – to Egypt to buy food from the chief minister, Joseph himself. Joseph’s brothers do not recognize him, and Joseph engages in a “cat and mouse game” with them. Joseph asks them about their father (so he can find out if Jacob is well) and asks questions based on his deep knowledge of their family. He sends the brothers back to Canaan with food, but instructs them that they must bring Benjamin with them if they want more food. He dismays them by secretly putting their money back in their packs. Jacob does not want to send Benjamin back with the older brothers; because he believes Joseph is dead, Benjamin is the only son left of his beloved Rachel and losing him would break his heart. Judah promises Jacob that he will be responsible for Benjamin’s safe return, and all the brothers go to see Joseph. Joseph sends them back again to Canaan with food, but this time he hides his own silver goblet in Benjamin’s pack. As the brothers are leaving, Joseph sends his chamberlain to stop them, accuse them of taking his goblet, and make them return. Back at Joseph’s palace, the goblet is found in Benjamin’s pack, and Joseph says that Benjamin is to be his slave, but the other brothers may return to Canaan.

Will Joseph really keep his little brother Benjamin as a slave? How can the other brothers return to their father and tell them that the thing he feared most – that something bad would happen to Benjamin – had come true? What will happen to poor Jacob when he learns this news?
Join us again next week!

Shabbat shalom,

Nelson Block

© Nelson R. Block 2013  (P.S. – For various reasons, people have suggested that the weekly Derech Tzofeh be further protected under copyright laws by adding a copyright notice, as you see here.  Anyone is welcome to reproduce a weekly edition of Derech Tzofeh for their Scout unit, youth group, or family.)