Parashat Mikeitz: Joseph Weeps

Image: A man crying. (Daniel Reche / Pixabay)

Parashat Miketz begins and ends with tests.

The first test: Pharaoh summons Joseph from prison to interpret his dreams. In telling Joseph about the dreams he changes tiny details in the dreams to see if Joseph is really the seer that the servants claim. (Midrash Tanchuma, Miketz 3) Joseph passes the test: in his interpretation of the dreams, he smoothly corrects the details without comment. Pharaoh trusts him immediately, declaring that he is full of ruach Elohim, the spirit of God, and appoints him vizier of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh himself. Thus Joseph passes Pharaoh’s test.

The second test: At the conclusion of the Torah portion, Joseph tests the brothers who sold him into slavery. His brothers arrive and do not recognize him; he has disguised himself in Egyptian finery. (Genesis 42:7) Seeking to see if they have changed, Joseph administers an elaborate test, holding first one brother and then the other hostage.

Joseph’s mistrust runs deep. He is so overcome with emotion that at one point he leaves the room to weep. By the end of Miketz, he is still testing, wondering if these men have changed, if he can trust them enough to reveal himself as their brother.

In the first test, Joseph is supremely capable and at the same time humble. He shows no anxiety. In the second test, his emotions overcome him. What is the difference? In the first case, he has little to lose and everything to gain. In family matters the stakes are much higher. The secular world encourages us to focus on career and accomplishments, but trouble in family relationships reduces even the Vizier of Egypt to tears.

Here in the United States we have all but made a god out of business. The Supreme Court has ruled that corporations are people. Business ethicists tell corporations that their first duty is to stockholders, over all the other stakeholders in a situation. Civic leaders have been given a false choice between “the economy” and “curbing the pandemic” as if money and human beings are an equal exchange.

He turned away from them and wept.

— Genesis 42:24

The second most powerful man in Egypt wept over his estrangement from his family. Nowhere else in the long Joseph story does Joseph weep: not when his brothers dump him into a pit to die, not when he is sold into slavery, not when his employer’s wife framed him for rape and sent him to prison. Only at the sight of these brothers is he moved to tears.

We human beings are social creatures. Relationships are key to our spiritual lives and our physical health. People are more important than business. People are more important than money.

Human life and relationships are priceless. Whenever we talk about the good of the economy over the good of human beings, we flirt with the grave sin of idolatry.

Ask Joseph. He knew.