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Parashat MiKetz 5773 — 12/12/2012

Parashat MiKetz 5773 — 12/12/2012

And Yosef remembered the dreams that he had dreamed about them [his brothers] (42:9)

In my opinion, however, the matter is exactly the opposite. For Scripture is saying that when Joseph saw his brothers bowing to him, he remembered all the dreams that he had dreamed about them and he knew that not even one of [the dreams] was yet fulfilled as of this time.  For he knew, based on [the dreams’] interpretation, that all his brothers would bow to him first, as was evident from the first dream, of which it is written, Behold, we were binding sheaves … and your sheaves … bowed down to my sheaf (above, 37:7), for the word we alludes to all eleven of his brothers;  And the second time, his father with his household and all his eleven brothers, as represented by the sun and the moon and eleven stars, would bow to him, as was evident from the second dream (above, 37:9).  And since [Joseph] did not see Benjamin with them, thus preventing the complete fulfillment of even the first dream, he devised this scheme, namely, that he would level a false accusation against them so that they would bring his brother Benjamin to him as well, to fulfill the first dream first. This is why he did not want to tell them immediately, “I am Joseph your brother,” and say, “Hurry, go up to my father,” and send the wagons to him as he did the second time they came to him (below, Chap. 45).  For had he done so his father would have undoubtedly come to him immediately.  But after the first dream was fulfilled, [Joseph] told [his brothers] all these things in order to fulfill the second dream by bringing Jacob to Egypt. (Ramban ad loc)

Gd will surely remember you (pakod yifkod) (50:25) [Yosef on his deathbed speaking to his brothers]

This [phrase] was given from Jacob to Joseph, and from Joseph to the brothers, as the sign of the redeemer.  So Gd in the next Parashah has Moshe use these words to validate his mission.  (Artscroll series Bereishit ad loc)

This week the quotes are long, so I will compensate by being short.  The comment from Ramban hit an issue that has always bothered me, about prophecy.  I first came across it actually from Christian tradition.  In their scriptures (Mark 11:1ff) it states that when he was about to enter Jerusalem, Jesus sent two of his disciples to fetch him a donkey in order to fulfill a particular prophecy about Mashiach (Zechariah 9:9).  In other words, actions were arranged to fulfill the prophecy, rather than the fulfillment’s coming in the natural course of events.  In other words, I had always thought of the fulfillment of a prophecy as being an innocent process, not open to manipulation; something perhaps that is only recognized in hindsight.

This is apparently the case with the phrase pakod yifkod / [Gd] will surely remember.  Yosef used this expression to his brothers (when he adjured them to take his bones for reburial in Eretz Yisrael) as he lay dying, and apparently indicated to them that this phrase would be used by the one who would come to remove the nation from Egyptian bondage and bring them up to Eretz Yisrael.  This knowledge then was passed on as a tradition among the Jewish people, perhaps among all the tribes, perhaps only among the Levites.  The Midrash goes to some lengths to figure out how it was that Moshe Rabbeinu did not know this tradition, and concludes that it was only passed down to adults, and that Moshe fled Egypt at the tender age of 12, prior to his Bar Mitzvah!  Now the issue here is not Moshe’s age, but why the Rabbis felt the necessity for Moshe to be ignorant of the more-or-less public knowledge among the Jews that their redeemer would use this phrase.  Clearly the question in the back of everyone’s mind had to be: What would stop any impostor from coming to the elders and saying “Gd told me pakad pakadti and here’s what He told me to do about it.”  In fact, why didn’t anybody do that?  And why, when Moshe Rabbeinu returned from Midian with Gd’s instructions, including the magic words, why did everyone believe him?

I think the reason that Moshe was believed was that in fact he was acting innocently.  If anybody had suggested that he used that phrase simply in order to win people’s confidence, he would quickly have been reminded that Moshe had left before this tradition would have been imparted to him (if in fact he would have been able to learn these traditions growing up in Pharaoh’s court) and had spent the past 68 years (the Torah specifies that Moshe was 80 years old when he returned to Egypt) in relative isolation in Midian – no email, no postal service, no Facebook.  Not only was Midian physically isolated, but Moshe had fled from Pharaoh’s wrath and was presumably keeping as low a profile as he could.

In contrast to this approach, Ramban appears to explain Yosef’s actions with his brothers as deliberate manipulation to fulfill his [prophetic] dreams.  When Yosef’s ten brothers (excluding Binyamin) bow down to him, Yosef realizes that he almost has had his first dream (of the [11] brothers’ sheaves of grain bowing down to his sheaf) fulfilled.  Apparently close doesn’t count in prophecy, for Yosef arranges a situation where the brothers would be forced to bring Binyamin with them the next trip to buy grain.  Why was he so concerned with exactitude?

There is a similar example in the Exodus story.  In giving the final instructions for the Paschal sacrifice, Moshe says “About” midnight Gd will kill all the firstborn.  Why did Moshe hedge his words a bit?  Does Gd not know when it’s exactly midnight?  Our Sages explain that Moshe was afraid that if he said “at the stroke of midnight” that Egypt’s astrologers might miscalculate the time, and according to them Gd would have in fact come and killed all the firstborn, man and beast, just as Moshe predicted, but they would have said Moshe was a liar, for he said “midnight” and according to them it was 11:59!  We thus see that the fulfillment of a prophecy must be exact, or it’s not prophecy at all!

I can only speculate why this should be.  Presumably a prophet is looking at reality from a much subtler level than the rest of us – a level closer to the Divine source of all creation.  On this level everything is in fact extremely exact.  A true prophet can take his vision and express it exactly on the more expressed level that the rest of us are operating on.  Whatever deep structure of creation Yosef saw in his dreams was a layer of spiritual reality much closer to the root of reality than could readily be expressed.  Yosef’s imaginative faculty (see Rambam on prophecy) converted these very fine perceptions into pictoral metaphors of sheaves standing up and bowing down.  The brothers clearly understood the meaning as they said, “Will we really bow down to you?!”  But in order to determine that his perception was real and unclouded, the deep structure had to manifest itself exactly.  If it didn’t, Yosef’s dreams would have been shown to be exactly what the brothers thought them to be – the feverish imaginings of an arrogant teenager.

Torah warns us to stay far away from falsehood.  Unfortunately, falsehood is too often proclaimed in Gd’s Name, by people who think they can speak for Gd.  We need to learn how to filter out the dross that fills our airwaves and the internet, and indeed most communications between imperfect human beings.  The best way to do that is systematically to refine our minds, our hearts and our behavior through Torah, until we can approach the level of prophecy ourselves.