When we left Joseph last week, in Parasha Vayeishev, his brothers had sold him to a caravan of merchants on their way to Egypt. In Egypt, he was again sold, this time as a servant in the home of Pharaoh’s chief butcher, Potiphar. After a time, Potiphar was given custody of two other members of the royal household, the chief cupbearer and the chief baker, who had upset Pharaoh. Joseph served the noble prisoners.
Each of these courtiers had a dream. Joseph explained the dreams were from God, and asked about them. The chief cupbearer dreamt there was a grapevine with three branches and was bringing forth fruit, which he pressed into Pharaoh’s cup in his hand. Joseph interpreted the dream that in three days Pharaoh would restore the chief cupbearer to his post.
The chief baker then asked Joseph to interpret his dream, which was that there were three wicker baskets on his head, the top one filled with Pharaoh’s food, which birds were eating. Joseph explained that in three days Pharaoh would hang him.
Three days later, Pharaoh brought the chief cupbearer back to court, and hung the chief baker, just as Joseph had explained.
In this week’s parasha, Mikeitz, it is two years later. Pharaoh has a dream, and the chief cupbearer tells Pharaoh of Joseph, the Hebrew slave who can interpret dreams. Joseph tells Pharaoh that only God can explain the dream, and Joseph simply relates what God tells him the dream means. Pharaoh then describes the dream: He is standing by the Nile when seven fat cows emerge and graze. Then seven thin, poor cows emerge and eat the seven fat cows, but the poor cows still look thin. After that, Pharaoh sees seven strong ears of corn on a single stalk, which are then eaten by seven thin and scorched ears of corn.
Joseph explains God is telling Pharaoh there will be seven years of abundance, which will be followed by seven years of terrible famine. Joseph says Pharaoh should prepare during the seven good years by stockpiling food to last through the seven bad years. Pharaoh is so impressed the spirit of God dwells in Joseph he appoints Joseph his viceroy, to lead Egypt during the times of plenty and famine. Joseph masterfully organizes the Egyptians to preserve their excess food during the years of plenty.
The famine comes, and forces Joseph’s brothers to travel to Egypt for food. Only ten of the brothers come, leaving Benjamin, the youngest, behind. Joseph and Benjamin are the only two children of Rachel, and Joseph loves Benjamin very much. Because of Joseph’s position, the brothers arrange to see him to request help. Joseph is unsure how his brothers feel about him and how they will react to him, so he does not reveal his true identity to his brothers. Instead, he asks about their family, and inquires of their father so he can learn if Jacob is still alive. The brothers tell Joseph one brother is gone (Joseph himself) and one is at home (Benjamin). Joseph wants to see Benjamin, and tells the brothers they cannot return unless they bring Benjamin.
The brothers return to Canaan and after the food they brought is gone, tell their father they cannot return for more food unless they bring Benjamin. Jacob is afraid his beloved youngest son may not return to him, and only reluctantly permits him to go. The brothers go to Egypt, obtain food, and begin the journey back to Canaan. Joseph has his silver goblet hidden in Benjamin’s saddle bags, then sends a messenger to stop the brothers’ journey. They are brought back to Joseph, and he accuses them of theft.
This is a very mysterious story. Next week all will be revealed.