Fear Without Loathing: Miketz 2017
by Adam J. Rosenbaum
Pre-Game Chatter: Does it ever bother you when athletes or entertainers thank God when they win a competition? Does it feel like they’re preaching at a moment that should otherwise be secular? Or do they teach us that God can be brought into any moment of our lives?
In our portion this Shabbat, Joseph, now royal vizier of Egypt, toys with his older brothers when they ask for food (not realizing they were speaking to Joseph), mentioning God either casually or intentionally:
The Pitch: “On the third day Joseph said to them, ‘Do this and you shall live, for I am a God-fearing man. If you are honest men, let one of you brothers be held in your place of detention, while the rest of you go and take home rations for your starving households; but you must bring me your youngest brother, that your words may be verified and that you may not die.’ And they did accordingly.” – Genesis 42:18-20
Swing #1: “Why should Joseph have boasted that he feared God? In order to instill the fear of the Lord into his brothers so that they might be led to repent. When he told them that he feared God, they were gripped by fear and soon cried out: ‘We are truly guilty concerning our brother.’” – MaHaRaM of Amshinov
Swing #2: “By declaring his fear of God – Joseph is almost surely not referring to the God of his ancestors; he is, as we learn in a moment, speaking to them in Egyptian and using a translator – Joseph indicates that he is moved by the demand not to abuse strangers, at least more than is absolutely necessary. He claims to be moved by a concern for the starving family members back home: perhaps only for Benjamin, perhaps also for Jacob, perhaps for the innocent women and children. … In addition, if Joseph is testing his brothers to see if they have changed since dry-gulching him, then a proper test demands that he replicate the circumstances. Testing whether one brother would sacrifice everyone isn’t really the same as testing whether nine brothers would – as they did before – sacrifice one.” – Leon R. Kass, The Beginning of Wisdom: Reading Genesis
Swing #3: “I am a God-fearing man, therefore I will not detain all of you seeing that your families are starving and I would be to blame for this. I will only detain one of you in order to put your claim to the test.” – Radak
Late-Inning Questions: Do our commentators seem to believe that Joseph’s mention of God is genuine? Does it seem like an extraneous detail in the story? Or, perhaps, is Joseph trying to hint to his brothers who he really is?
On-Deck at Emanu-El: Our annual Night of Giving provided almost 1,600 pounds of food for the Kosher Food Pantry. Thank you to everyone who donated and worked to make the program a success. What a perfect way to spread the light of Hanukkah to those in need!
The Big Inning at the End: The Miami Marlins are once again the laughingstock of baseball, once again trading many of their standout players for underwhelming talent. This is at least the fourth “fire sale” in the team’s 25-year history. Is this any way to keep their fans engaged?
Shabbat Shalom and Happy Hanukkah!