To understand the Haftarah and what it teaches us about the Parsha, we need to step back a few verses. Earlier in the same chapter, we read about Shlomo’s prophetic dream, where God offers him to bless him with anything he needs. Instead of asking for power or wealth, he requests wisdom to judge his people. God approves of his request and grants it, using this phrasing:
הִנֵּה נָתַתִּי לְךָ לֵב חָכָם וְנָבוֹן אֲשֶׁר כָּמוֹךָ לֹא הָיָה לְפָנֶיךָ וְאַחֲרֶיךָ לֹא יָקוּם כָּמוֹךָ
…I will give you a wise and perceptive heart, the likes of which has never existed before you, and after you, will not occur again. (Melachim I 3:12)
The Haftarah of Miketz begins by describing his waking up from this experience and realizing that it is a dream.
וַיִּקַץ שְׁלֹמֹה וְהִנֵּה חֲלוֹם
Shlomo woke up, and it had been a dream. (Melachim I 3:15)
This is followed immediately by a story that demonstrates the wisdom and perceptiveness that he had been granted, the famous “Mishpat Shlomo” (Solomon’s Judgment). Two women, prostitutes sharing a home, come to the king for justice. The plaintiff claims that the defendant’s baby died in the night, and she switched the babies, claiming the live one as her own. The defendant denies it. Shlomo commands to bring a sword and cleave the baby in half. One of the women pleads to spare the child, and the other says, “Neither one of us will have it!” Shlomo declares the true mother of the child to be the one who was willing to give the baby up to save his life, and “the Judgment of Solomon” becomes a by-word forever after.
We are so familiar with this story that it is hard for us to imagine not knowing how it ends. But let us put ourselves for a moment in the court of the inexperienced young king. Imagine the reaction of the onlookers when he said, “Bring me a sword.” Imagine the shock when he said, in all seriousness, “Cut the child, and give half to one and half to the other,” as if it were a monetary dispute that can be resolved that way. They did not think that he was bluffing. They thought he was going to murder the child and claim that it was justice.
It was the stress of this shock that caused the women to drop their defenses and reveal their true feelings. Shlomo intentionally set up the circumstances for that shock and manipulated them into dropping their guard. This showcased the “wise and perceptive heart” that G-d had promised him in his dream.
The term “wise and perceptive” appears also in Parshat Miketz, as do dreams. Pharaoh dreams of the fat and skinny cows and fat and skinny sheaves, after which we are told:
וַיִּקַץ פַרְעֹה וְהִנֵּה חֲלוֹם
Pharaoh woke up, and it had been a dream (Bereishit 41: 7)
As a result of that dream, Pharaoh meets Yosef, who advises him:
וְעַתָּה יֵרֶא פַרְעֹה אִישׁ נָבוֹן וְחָכָם וִישִׁיתֵהוּ עַל אֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם
Now, let Pharaoh see to finding a man who is perceptive and wise and place him over the Land of Egypt. (Bereishit 41:33)
The dream leads Pharaoh to appoint Yosef to be the “wise and perceptive man” overseeing all of Egypt.
Surprisingly, the Parsha spends very few verses showing how Yosef, in his wisdom, overhauls the economy of Egypt and saves its population from starvation. In contrast, it spends entire chapters describing how Yosef manipulates his brothers, causing them stress and shock. From accusing them of beings spies, to jailing Shimon, from demanding that they return with Binyamin, to replacing their money in their bags, from seating them in age order, to accusing Binyamin of having stolen the goblet, it looks like Yosef is toying with them, and it is not clear why.
One of the solutions offered by the commentaries is that Yosef felt it necessary to make his original dream, the one with all his brothers bowing down to him, come to pass, which could only happen if all eleven of his brothers did so, including Binyamin. Other commentaries question this idea. Even if there is value in making dreams come true, could that justify what appears to be cruelty on Yosef’s part?
We can learn more from looking at Yosef’s reaction to Pharaoh’s dream. When Yosef interpreted Pharaoh’s dream, his first thought was how to ameliorate its ill effects. He did not worry about making it come to pass, he worried about fixing the trouble it foretold. If that was his concern for Pharaoh’s dream, it was probably his concern for his own dream, too. Yosef searched for a way to ameliorate it, to take out the potential ill will, jealousy, and hatred that comes from having to bow down to a member of your own family. When he saw his dream coming to pass in part, he did not think, “Oh, one brother is missing, how do I get him to come?” He thought, “Oh, they will never be able to look me – or each other – in the eye, how do I get us to be a family that can survive living in exile in Egypt?”
This where the “wisdom and perception” comes in. Like Shlomo, Yosef created situations where his brothers’ defenses came down, and their true feelings were revealed.
In that process, they expressed their remorse at what they had done to Yosef:
וַיֹּאמְרוּ אִישׁ אֶל אָחִיו אֲבָל אֲשֵׁמִים אֲנַחְנוּ עַל אָחִינוּ אֲשֶׁר רָאִינוּ צָרַת נַפְשׁוֹ בְּהִתְחַנְנוֹ אֵלֵינוּ וְלֹא שָׁמָעְנוּ עַל כֵּן בָּאָה אֵלֵינוּ הַצָּרָה הַזֹּאת:
They said to each other, “But we are guilty toward our brother, that we saw his anguish when pleading with us, and we did not listen; that is why this trouble has come upon us.” (Bereishit 42:21)
They took responsibility for Binyamin:
אָנֹכִי אֶעֶרְבֶנּוּ מִיָּדִי תְּבַקְשֶׁנּוּ
I will vouch for him; from my hand you will demand him … (Bereishit 43:9)
They were willing to put themselves in danger rather than leave Binyamin alone in Egypt:
הִנֶּנּוּ עֲבָדִים לַאדֹנִי
… we will all be your slaves.. (44:16)
And, finally, they expressed their concern for their father’s reaction to the loss of his favored son:
כִּי אֵיךְ אֶעֱלֶה אֶל אָבִי וְהַנַּעַר אֵינֶנּוּ
“How can I go up to my father, and the boy is missing?!” (34:44)
Did Yosef know, when he first saw them, that they had this in them? Most likely, they themselves did not know. Until it was expressed, through words and actions, their sense of family unity and mutual responsibility had been uncertain. Yosef manipulated them, shocked and stressed them, so that what they revealed would be their innermost truth. It was not easy for any of them, and caused much grief and many tears, but ultimately, they bowed down to Yosef, fulfilling the dream of his youth, without rancor and with hope for reconciliation.
It is this achievement that showed most clearly that Yosef, like Shlomo after him, was a “man who is perceptive and wise.”
Copyright © Kira Sirote
In memory of my parents, Peter & Nella Rozenberg, z”l
לעילוי נשמת אבי מורי פנחס בן נתן נטע ואמי מורתי חנה בת זעליג ז”ל