In this Torah portion, Pharaoh has two troubling dreams, and at the suggestion of his baker, who remembers Joseph from prison, Pharaoh brings Joseph to interpret them. Pharaoh is so impressed by Joseph that he makes him his adviser. There is a famine, and Jacob sends his sons, minus Benjamin, to Egypt to buy food. The brothers do not recognize Joseph when they meet him, and Joseph tests them by accusing them of being spies. Joseph arrests Simeon and demands the brothers bring Benjamin to Egypt to prove they are not spies. When Benjamin arrives, Joseph puts a goblet in Benjamin’s bag and accuses him of stealing it.
The painful past casts a long shadow on Parashat Miketz. A father’s insensitive treatment of his sons — and the resulting sibling rivalry — form the backdrop to this tale. Though the women are never explicitly mentioned here, Jacob‘s relationship to his sons’ mothers underlies his attitude toward their children. Among his wives, Jacob loves Rachel only, paying scant attention to Leah and the sisters’ maidservants.
Likewise, Jacob dearly favors Joseph — Rachel’s firstborn — showing little evidence of affection toward his other children. Blind to the difficult family dynamic he engenders, Jacob had sent Joseph alone to check on his brothers (Genesis 37:13-14), setting up a situation rife with the potential for disaster. Joseph’s ensuing disappearance does nothing to stop Jacob from now favoring yet another son, Benjamin, Rachel’s second (see Genesis 42:4).
But healing and transformation also begin here. A hint of what is to come is encapsulated in the name Joseph chooses for his first son, Manasseh (also spelled Menasheh), “For God has made me forget all the troubles I endured in my father’s house” (Genesis 41:51). Clearly Joseph has not forgotten his troubles if they form the basis of his son’s name. Rather, it seems that the past is no longer a burden to him. He is able to thrive despite the horrors he suffered in the pit where his jealous brothers threw him (Genesis 37:24). The name of Joseph’s second son, Ephraim, expresses this forward movement: “For God has made Me fruitful in the land of my affliction” (Genesis 41:52). His marriage to Asenath (also spelled Osnat) indeed bears fruit: their children will become tribes of Israel.