Torah Weekly

For the week ending 24 December 2011 / 27 Kislev 5772

Parshat Mikeitz

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair - www.seasonsofthemoon.com
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

Overview

It is two years later. Pharaoh has a dream. He is unsatisfied with all attempts to interpret it. Pharaoh's wine chamberlain remembers that Yosef accurately interpreted his dream while in prison. Yosef is released from prison and brought before Pharaoh. He interprets that soon will begin seven years of abundance followed by seven years of severe famine. He tells Pharaoh to appoint a wise person to store grain in preparation for the famine. Pharaoh appoints him as viceroy to oversee the project. Pharaoh gives Yosef an Egyptian name, Tsafnat Panayach, and selects Osnat, Yosef's ex-master's daughter, as Yosef's wife. Egypt becomes the granary of the world. Yosef has two sons, Menashe and Ephraim. Yaakov sends his sons to Egypt to buy food. The brothers come before Yosef and bow to him. Yosef recognizes them but they do not recognize him. Mindful of his dreams, Yosef plays the part of an Egyptian overlord and acts harshly, accusing them of being spies. Yosef sells them food, but keeps Shimon hostage until they bring their brother Binyamin to him as proof of their honesty. Yosef commands his servants to replace the purchase-money in their sacks. On the return journey, they discover the money and their hearts sink. They return to Yaakov and retell everything. Yaakov refuses to let Binyamin go to Egypt, but when the famine grows unbearable, he accedes. Yehuda guarantees Binyamin's safety, and the brothers go to Egypt. Yosef welcomes the brothers lavishly as honored guests. When he sees Binyamin he rushes from the room and weeps. Yosef instructs his servants to replace the money in the sacks, and to put his goblet inside Binyamin's sack. When the goblet is discovered, Yosef demands Binyamin become his slave as punishment. Yehuda interposes and offers himself instead, but Yosef refuses.

Insights

Do You Want To Hear A Good Story?

“Seven years of famine...” (41:27)

If you examine most classic Torah insights, they often start with an anomaly in a verse, be it in the spelling, the grammar, or the sequence of the words, and based on this anomaly the writer will draw a homiletic interpretation. And then he will write, “To what may this be compared?”, and finish with a parable to illustrate the point.

I have had the merit, thank G-d, to write these insights on the weekly Torah reading for nearly twenty years. Early on in my career I made a discovery that I would like to share with you.

My feeling is that nowadays many readers are resistant to inferences based on textual anomaly—but everyone wants to hear a good story. So very simply, I reversed the classic structure, starting with the story and finishing with the textual analysis.

The great spiritual master Rava would always begin a deep Torah discourse by telling a joke. Why? As soon as the yetzer hara notices someone getting up to speak divrei Torah, it sends a powerful sedative to the brain.

Rava knew that to grab the attention of his listeners he would have to outflank the yetzer hara.

You can’t get people to listen to you unless you can first grab their attention.

My intention was the same as Rava’s, the same as any teacher – to grab the attention of the audience before they hit the delete button.

So having told you the story, here’s the anomaly:

In this week’s Torah portion, when Yosef interprets Pharaoh’s dream, he starts off by first telling him about the seven years of famine. Chronologically, the seven years of plenty came first.

Why didn’t Yosef start be talking about them?

In a country as prosperous as Egypt, talking about seven years of plenty would have been about as interesting as watching wallpaper. Yosef deliberately started with the years of famine because he knew that such a cataclysmic disaster would be sure to make Pharaoh sit up and take notice of his advice.

In communicating your ideas to people, you must first gain their attention. Without that, the best arguments will fall on deaf ears.

  • Source: Ramban

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