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MIKETZ: Pharaoh’s Dreams, Joseph and His Brothers in Egypt, Deception and Character Tests, and Beethoven’s Birthday

We have arrived at the Torah portion of Miketz/The End (of two years’ time), and the drama of our Torah based personalities is intense and complex! The portion opens with the famous story of Pharaoh’s dreams. Pharaoh has two dreams that neither he nor his advisors can fully understand and interpret. In the first, seven thin, emaciated and ugly cows standing next to the Nile River step forward and eat seven fat and contented cows. Next, seven dehydrated ears of grain consume seven healthy ears of grain. Thanks to the intervention of Pharaoh’s chief cup bearer, the young Joseph, imprisoned due to the false testimony of Potiphar’s wife, is brought before Pharaoh to decipher his two dreams. In prison, Joseph earned a reputation as a skilled interpreter of dreams, and the cup bearer is aware of this young man’s wisdom. Joseph is brought to Pharaoh, and he reveals the obvious: Egypt will live through seven years of plenty followed by seven more years of famine, drought, and misery. Pharaoh listens carefully, and then appoints Joseph as his viceroy to guide the country through the coming 14 years, first of manifold bounty and then deprivation.

Meanwhile, Jacob/Israel and his family are enduring the same famine in Canaan. Jacob sends his ten sons to Egypt to purchase food for the family, but he keeps Benjamin, his youngest child and the only surviving son of his beloved wife, Rachel, with him.

Joseph’s brothers come to Egypt, and they address their brother, second in importance only to Pharaoh, with their food needs. Fourteen years have passed since they threw him in anger and jealousy into a pit to be devoured by wild beasts. Now he is viceroy of Egypt! Although Joseph recognizes his brothers immediately, they do not realize that this Egyptian ruler and nobleman is their brother whom they had abandoned years before.

Initially he accuses them of being spies! He demands that they return to Canaan to bring back Benjamin, his younger brother and son to his mother, and he keeps Simeon as a hostage. When the brothers return with Benjamin, Joseph begins a series of character tests for his brothers, placing money in their sacks, and secretly putting his own goblet in Benjamin’s sack.

Each time that the brothers have an audience with Joseph, he inquires, “How is your aged father of whom you spoke? Is he still in good health?” They replied, “It is well with your servant our father; he is still in good health. (43:27-28)” After three such queries, the brothers still have no idea that they are talking with their long-lost brother, Joseph. We could surmise that Joseph was both eager for news of his father, Jacob/Israel, and was giving his brothers hints about his real identity!

After the third interaction, the brothers are at their wits’ ends. They did not steal Joseph’s goblet, yet it was found in Benjamin’s bag. “Judah replied, ‘What can we say to my lord? How can we plead, how can prove our innocence? (44:16)’” All the while, Joseph is dealing with his own residual anger at his brothers’ treatment of him many years earlier.

These convoluted series of faked robberies and character tests will have their resolution in next week’s portion.

The events in Miketz are depicted in the very first musical play written by Tim Rice and the youthful soon to be superstar composer Anthony Lloyd Webber. Originally written for a London school in 1968, the show has been several times expanded to a full-blown Broadway show and feature length movie and has been presented on Broadway and all over the world. The songs are written in a variety of contemporary styles, including early rock and roll, calypso, Latin, and other pop based musical forms. Here is one of my favorite moments.

Pharaoh, king of Egypt, is portrayed as Elvis, king of Rock and Roll. He sings about his enigmatic dream in a distinctly 1950’s king of Rock and Roll style in the song, “Song of the King.”

Finally, I would be remiss not to mention the 250th birthday of Ludwig von Beethoven, on Wednesday, December 16. So many serious composers and performers consider Beethoven to be the greatest composer who ever lived in the history of Western music. In 1989, immediately after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Leonard Bernstein conducted a historic performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony from a site in front of the Berlin Wall. He told the chorus to substitute “Freiheit/Freedom” for “Freude/Joy” in the last and most famous movement. This sentiment is worthy of the Hasmonean family, Mattathias, his five sons, including Judah, as they fought the Greeks in order to establish Jewish religious freedom.

Ellen and our family wish all our KI friends a joyous conclusion to Hanukkah and Shabbat Shalom.

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