Goblet of Fear: Miketz 2021

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: Have you ever been caught “red-handed”? How did you react? Were you able to acknowledge your misstep, or did you try to find some way to blame someone else, or to deny what other people could clearly see?

As Joseph’s brothers’ return to Canaan is foiled by the discovery of a royal goblet in Benjamin’s luggage, Joseph has a specific punishment in mind:

The Pitch: “But [Joseph] replied [to his brothers], ‘Far be it from me to act thus! Only he in whose possession the goblet was found shall be my slave; the rest of you go back in peace to your father.’” – Genesis 44:17

Swing #1: “It was God’s will that [Joseph’s brothers] be punished because of their real crime – selling Joseph into slavery. They bear the actual guilt and not the one in whose saddle bag the goblet was found. But Joseph pushes the issue; he wants to repeat the scene: He insists that Benjamin remain alone in Egypt as his slave, while the other brothers return in peace to Canaan. Benjamin, the extension of Joseph, will suffer as he did.” – Norman J. Cohen, Self, Struggle & Change: Family Conflict Stories in Genesis and Their Healing Insights for Our Lives

Swing #2: “Here is the most important part of the test which Joseph made his brothers endure: he wants to isolate them from Benjamin; he wants to prove them, to learn whether they will seize the opportunity to go free without Benjamin. Now they could again return to their father and announce to him the loss of a son; they could even justify themselves, for so far as they knew Benjamin alone was actually guilty and the balance of power was completely unfavorable to them.” – Gerhard von Rad, Genesis

Swing #3: “Seeing that the Torah focuses on the ten brothers and the grievous wrong they had done to their brother Joseph, it is not surprising that the Torah also uses this opportunity to hint at the historical consequences of the brothers’ behavior at the time. Our sages in [the Talmudic tractate of] Pesachim go so far as to say that the acceptance of God’s decree by the ten martyrs who died a cruel death at the hands of the Romans for a crime committed over fifteen hundred years earlier put these people into a class by themselves, one that could not be matched in piety/faith by anyone else previously.” – Rabbeinu Bahya

Late-Inning Questions: How do our commentators understand this verse in the context of the narrative of the book of Genesis? In the context of Jewish history? Knowing that Joseph planted the goblet in Benjamin’s luggage, is Joseph’s behavior justifiable? Is the book of Genesis just stories of one deception after another? What do we make of the idea that this formative text is filled with trickery?

On-Deck at Temple Beth Tzedek: Families are invited to join us tomorrow night starting at 5:15 p.m. for “Havdallah, Hanukkah, and Hash Browns” – featuring candle-lighting, songs, food crafts, and latkes!

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of trickery, it’s obviously difficult to create a labor agreement between players and owners when either side doesn’t trust the other. Let’s hope this lockout, at the very least, doesn’t lead to any games being cancelled.

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Hanukkah!