Thursday, December 21, 2006

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Click here for a pdf printable version of the summary of Parshat Miketz

Click here for a pdf printable version of the d'var Torah on Parshat Miketz

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D'var Torah for Parshat Miketz.

Choice and Responsibility

Pharaoh summons Yosef from the dungeon and tells him, ‘I have dreamed a dream, and there is none that can interpret it. I have heard say of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it’. Yosef answers, ‘Not from me (biladai). G-d will answer Pharaoh’ (Genesis XLI; 15-16). With Yosef’s first word to Pharaoh, biladai, he states his credo. Whatever happens, good or bad, it is G-d who is running the show. Therefore if G-d gave Pharaoh a glimpse of the future through a dream, He will also provide an interpreter to explain it. If Yosef has been divinely chosen to fulfil that task then he will be given the insight to do so, if not someone else will be found who will interpret it.
Yosef’s whole life was affected by factors beyond his control, and at each step of the journey he understood that this was the Divine plan, and therefore he should make the best of the situation, without questioning. His two dreams led to the brothers selling him, Potiphar’s wife’s false accusations led to him being imprisoned as a slave in a foreign land. Unquestioningly Yosef tried to do what was required of him in each situation, and he saw G-d’s blessing on everything that he did. Similarly he knew that G-d has many messengers to perform His will. If G-d chose Yosef to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams he was only acting as G-d’s agent. The only time that Yosef tried to take control of his destiny was when he asked the butler to remember him to Pharaoh after he was reinstated to his duty. Rashi explains (40; 23) that because Yosef placed his trust in a person rather than in G-d, he had to remain in jail for a further two years. We are commanded to serve G-d in everything that we do, but whether we achieve the results we had hoped for is not in our control. To expect to be in control of our destiny shows a lack in our faith in G-d. The Mishna summarises this idea beautifully, “It is not for you to complete the work, neither are you free to desist from it” (Avos 2; 21).
This also explains why Yosef never sent word back to his father that he was alive in Egypt. Even if he was unable to do so while a slave, or in prison, why did Yosef not end Ya’akov’s mourning upon his appointment as viceroy? The Midrash states that when the brothers sold Yosef they made a decree of excommunication on anyone who would reveal the truth to Ya’akov. Since Reuven and Binyamin were not with them, and Yosef did not take part, they needed a tenth for the minyan to give the decree validity. Therefore they included G-d as the ‘tenth’, which is why He never revealed the truth to Ya’akov prophetically. Yosef understood that if the Divine plan called for Ya’akov to remain in mourning for the 22 years until he was reunited with his son, then Yosef himself would have been powerless to inform him until the plan was complete.
There is a Yiddish saying to the effect that ‘people plan and G-d laughs’. We have no idea what lies in store for us or how events will pan out. In these areas we have no free choice, and all we can do is rely on G-d that everything is for the best. Our free choice lies only in how we make use of the opportunities which G-d has given us. We are commanded to follow His commandments to the best of our abilities, and try to live up to our potential. Everything else is ‘not from us’. This idea which was personified by Yosef can be very comforting. If we attribute our successes to G-d and acknowledge that we are only acting as His emissaries, then we are also not culpable if events don’t work out as we had planned. Those things that we consider failures often lie in areas which are beyond our control. The only failure for which we must take responsibility is not trying our best, or doing as much as we could. Judaism considers failure or success not on the outcomes, which is the yardstick of Western culture, but on the effort which we put into doing our best.

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