With Rabbi Ariel ABEL.
THIS WEEK’S reading begins with the dénouement in a story of dreams.
Joseph is ungraciously forgotten by Pharaoh’s butler, an ex-convict for negligent service to his master. Now, he is remembered owing to Pharaoh’s necromancers, whose inability to carry out their function force the king to consider releasing a prisoner of an alleged crime of passion to read the future. Joseph stands before the Pharaoh and explains the significance of seven fat and seven lean cows, seven plump and seven scrawny sheaves of grain. They are all one dream, he declares, and the reason for the repetition of metaphor is to indicate that the dream will reach fulfilment soon. Joseph is then raised to the position of viceroy. This rapid rise to power does not cloud his judgement. Joseph rules the people responsibly and manages well the economy on behalf of the King. He stockpiles food in advance of the expected famine. Famine first strikes Canaan and Joseph’s brothers are sent down to Egypt to buy food.
On arrival, they present themselves to Joseph, who recognises them – but they do not recognise him. He decides to test them and quizzes his brothers. When they reveal the existence of Joseph’s only full-brother, Benjamin, he insists they prove the truth of their story by fetching their missing brother and puts them all in custody.
In an exercise bordering on revenge, he then tests their brotherliness by obliging them to give up one brother in exchange for freedom. Joseph then binds up Simeon and takes him into custody, releasing the other brothers. According to tradition, it was Simeon who led the bid to sell Joseph off to Egypt-bound merchants 20 years earlier!
On their return journey to Canaan, the brothers are fearful when they find their money has been returned to the grain sacks they had purchased. Is this a trap? On arriving home, their father Jacob tells them to take compensation back to Egypt for the oversight and Benjamin is entrusted to Judah’s care.
Benjamin is presented to Joseph, who invites the brothers to a meal and then sends them all on their way with presents and five-fold for Benjamin – and his own silver goblet. Joseph then sends a rider to arrest Benjamin on a pretext of theft. The brothers are now in dread, and are brought in to an audience before Joseph, still wearing the mask of anonymity.
• Rabbi Ariel Abel is former Rabbi of Radlett United Synagogue and a Montefiore Scholar studying at Manchester University