Mikketz 5782 – The Sources of Victory

D'var Torah | Genesis

After Joseph interprets the dream of the chief cupbearer to Pharaoh and tells him that he will be released from prison and restored to his position, Joseph asks him to bring his case before Pharaoh since he was kidnapped from his homeland and brought to Egypt against his will (Genesis 40:15) where malicious lies had caused him to be incarcerated. Yet after Joseph re-unites with his brothers, he assures them that he will not seek to avenge their mistreatment of him since everything that happened to Joseph was part of God’ plan (Genesis 45:5, 7, 8, 9). In his exchange with the cupbearer Joseph assigns his sorry condition to human malfeasance yet in his exchange with his brothers he assigns his circumstances to God. This stands as a textual contradiction and all textual contradictions demand resolution. To do otherwise would suggest an error in the text that, of course, the rabbis could never tolerate.


While a few commentators (Rabbi Joseph Bekhor Shor, Rabbi Ovadiah Seforno) concern themselves with explaining what Joseph meant when he speaks to the cupbearer, namely, that he was wrongly imprisoned, none of the classic commentators se to have addressed the problem of contradictory texts. It is left to contemporary readers to find a reasonable resolution.


Consistent with rabbinic methodology, contradictions can be resolved by denying their existence. In other words, what the reader thought was a contradiction is no contradiction at all. In this case, what Joseph told the cupbearer and what Joseph told his brothers are both true. Some events in life are in human hands and some events in life are in God’s hands. Consider Hanukkah and Purim.


The additional prayer “Al Ha-Nissim” recited throughout Hanukkah asserts that the victory of the Hasmoneans over the Syrian Greeks was a miracle ascribed to God. The “Al Ha-Nissim” prayer for Purim tries to make the identical point. Yet the Book of Esther omits any mention of God at all (although the Rabbis insist God is the agent behind the scenes). The story of Purim details for the first time in human history how a people saved itself from genocide without divine intervention. Of course the faithful will always see God’s fingerprints in everything. But taken together, Hanukkah and Purim illustrate how both possibilities may be true. Some actions remain in the human domain and others in the divine.








Words to Live By

What lies behind you and what lies ahead of you pales in comparison to what lies inside you.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

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