Parshat Mikeitz

Parshat Mikeitz

Translations of kabbalistic texts are by Rabbi Larry Tabick, The Aura of Torah. Translations of the Torah and other commentaries are from Sefaria, except where otherwise noted.

Last week we talked about traditional modes of Torah interpretation, using the mnemonic PARDES, which stands for Peshat, Remez, Derash, and Sod. Peshat is the literal meaning of the text, and Sod is the mystical meaning. In practice, different writers use Remez and Derash inconsistently. Remez refers to the allegorical or homilectic (life-lessons) interpretation of the text. Derash involves a more advanced form of inquiry ranging between comparative, philosophical, or legal interpretations. Sod are mystical interpretations, which can be distant from any literal understanding and may involve aligning the text with different kabbalistic frameworks. We’ll keep these in mind as we continue our journey with Rabbi Tabick of Jewish mystical interpretation.

This week we are in deep in the story of Joseph. Joseph becomes imprisoned in Egypt. Through odd circumstances and dream interpretation he comes to the attention of a troubled Pharaoh. With remarkable ambition and ingenuity Joseph drives his opportunity to a position of great power in the Egyptian State. Back in Canaan, Jacob’s family experiences drought and famine, leading Jacob to send his sons to Egypt for food. Here, they encountered a mysterious and powerful Egyptian, who devises a cruel test to test their brotherly love, not knowing that the Egyptian is the brother they betrayed many years ago.

Bereishit 40:14-41:1

But think of me when all is well with you again, and do me the kindness of mentioning me to Pharaoh, so as to free me from this place. … Yet the chief cupbearer did not think of Joseph; he forgot him. After two years’ time, Pharaoh, dreamed that he was standing by the Nile …

Simcha Bunam of Pshische, 19th century, Poland

Simcha Bunam of Pshiche said the following: Every Jew should make an end to years of slumber, [and] instead, do everything in a revealed, wide-awake manner — this refers to repentance — and “stand by the light [‘or],” “standing by the ye’or” [a play of words on standing by the Nile as standing by the light]. “The commandment is a lamp and the Torah is light” [Proverbs 6:23]. … the enlightened person will understand.

In the Torah who is sleeping and who is forgetting?

What is the role of dreams and dream interpretation?

If repentance is doing everything in a revealed, wide-awake manner — what is the opposite?

How do we become enlightened? How do we wake up?

Bereishit 41:56-42:2

the famine had become severe throughout the world. When Jacob saw that there were food rations to be had in Egypt, he said to his sons, “Why do you keep looking at one another? Now I hear,” he went on, “that there is grain [shever] to be had in Egypt. Go down and procure grain for us there, that we may live and not die.”

How would read this as peshat? Are there any problems with the text from a peshat perspective? 

JPS translates shever as rations, while it is more literally translated as grain. Why might they do that?

Robert Alter uses the translation “provisions” provides the following translation comments:

Most of the biblical occurrences of this noun shever, as well as the transitive verb shavar (verse 3, to buy) and the causative verb hishbir  (verse 6) are in this story. The root means “to break,” and the sense seems to be: food provisions that serve to break an imposed fast, that is, a famine (hence “provisions to stave off the famine,” shever ra’avon, in verse 19). The term “rations” adopted by at least three recent translations has a misleading military connotation.

שֶׁבֶר can refer to breaking, grain, or the “breaking of a dream” — a dream interpretation.

Is there are a triple entendre in the text — broken, dream interpretation, and grain? Hold that thought!

At a Remez level, what might be the life-lesson? What is Jacob telling his sons? Is it good advice?

Are there analogies to this experience in Jewish history? (Did your ancestors leave Eastern Europe for a livelihood in America? What were they giving up?)

Back to shever — what are the different connections you can make in the Torah to the idea of food, breaking a fast, brokenness, and dream interpretation?

Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk, 18th century, Ukraine

“In [or, “with”] the beginning” (Bereishit 1:1)– with the Torah, called the “beginning of God’s way” (Proverbs 8:22), did the Holy One create the universe. Therefore, all the worlds were created through the Torah, and the power of the Actor is latent in that which has been acted upon. In that case, the power of the Torah exists in every world and in every thing, because it [represents] the power of the Actor, and hence it is written: “This is the Torah: a person” (Numbers 19:14), for a person is the Torah, as the Blessed One below. “The Torah and the Holy One are one;” therefore, the Holy One is in everything, as it is written: “And You give life to them all” (Nehemiah 9:6). God concentrated [the divine essence], as it were, down to the lowest level and placed “a portion of divinity from above” in the midst of the “tabernacle” of matter. Thus, every pleasure is, as it were, essentially a raising of lower levels upward, for “light is superior to darkness” (Kohelet 2:13).

This is the meaning of the descent of Joseph into Egypt [MITZRAYIM] — into the boundary of the sea [METZER YAM], meaning, the lowest level. We have already said that everything was created through the Torah, and that the power of the Actor is latent in that which has been acted upon, and that everything contains  within it the letters of the Torah that give it existence and life, and that without that, they would be nothing and chaos. Truly did the sages say, “The unripe fruit of the supernal wisdom is Torah,” for there is Torah that is “unripe fruit.”

Hence, “Then Jacob saw that there was grain [shever] in Egypt” … he saw that there was broken Torah [Torah shevurah] in Egypt, the “unripe fruit,” as it says, “So he said, … Go down there’ — for they went down there in order to repair, elevate, and bring it back to its life force. Hence, “that we may live.”

God and meaning is in everything, even the most broken parts of our world. Part of our purpose is to see that, and repair the broken parts of the world, to ripen them to their potential as something created by God.