Moshe Kempinski
Moshe KempinskiCourtesy

Mikeitz Genesis 41:1–44:17

The sons of Jacob come into Egypt to obtain food because the famine that Joseph had spoken of had ravaged their land as well.

"So the sons of Israel came to purchase among those who came, for the famine was in the land of Canaan.Now Joseph was the ruler over the land; it was he who sold grain to the entire populace of the land, and Joseph's brothers came and prostrated themselves to him, with their faces to the ground. And Joseph saw his brothers, and he recognized them, but he made himself a stranger to them, ...Now Joseph recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him.(Genesis 41:5-8)

These words need to be explored,"Now Joseph recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him"

Why would that be?

They knew that they had sold their brother to traders who worked in the area. Their feelings of remorse and guilt should have had them expecting to see him around every corner. Yet they lay there "with their faces to the ground.(Apayim Artza)". They were so overwhelmed with fear and their own impending darkness they could not see beyond the veil .

We so often only see what we expect to see or are frightened to experience. The deeper truth is then lost.

The struggles of our forefathers always seem to be entangled in veils and disguises. In the Torah portion of Mikeitz, Joseph begins an intricate subterfuge wherein he accuses his brothers of spying . He sets them up so that they must again face either standing courageously or risking the life of another brother. It is not just any brother, but actually whom they think is the only remaining child born to Rachel.

This is not the first instance of camouflage and subterfuge in the text of the book of Genesis. Jacob disguises himself as his brother and Leah disguises herself as her sister. Tamar, the daughter in law of Judah, disguised herself as a harlot and now we meet Joseph, hidden behind the disguise of an Egyptian viceroy.

Yet it is not about veils and disguises but rather about the urgency to look beyond and discover truth. The book of Breishit/Genesis which describes the beginning of a people is actually about teaching and revealing the necessity in life of seeing beyond the camouflage and beyond the covering darkness.

The curtains, appearances and enveloping darkness have always been the greatest challenge of humanity. Seeing beyond has always been the greatest challenge. We see it so clearly in our own time as Truth and spiritual destiny have been covered over by fake news, political correctness and finely tuned jargon and speech.

When we succeed to have the vision to “see beyond” then Divine purpose is rediscovered and the pain and pitfalls of the convoluted search for that purpose is avoided.

This is how despite the unknown, Abraham finds G-d and it is how Sarah understands the spiritual danger of Ishmael. With that vision Rebecca loves Jacob and fears Esau. It is also how Jacob understands the powerful subtext of Joseph's life.

The great spiritual changes in our history are always precipitated by mankind’s innate desire to find what was lost, to discover that which was hidden. It is in fact behind that curtain that man finds his inner strengths .

When the brothers of Joseph arrive in Egypt to garner provisions for their families, we read "And Joseph saw his brothers, and he recognized them, but he made himself a stranger to them, and he spoke to them harshly, " (Ibid 42:7).Essentially, Joseph sets them up so that they must again face giving up or risking the life of another brother. It will become the great challenge for this family as this is not just any brother, but Benjamin, the only remaining child born to Rachel in their minds. We see an intricate plan which again pits the sons of Leah against the sons of Rachel. In order for this people to become a people, this is a challenge that they must overcome.

The fact that Joseph was hidden from his bothers was part of the journey that brought about the healing.

In fact the truth that G-d is only seen in the clouds is part of the journey of spiritual healing for all of mankind, "And Moshe went up to the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. And the glory of Hashem rested on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days, and He called to Moshe on the seventh day from within the cloud."(Exodus 24:15-16)

That fog or partition over reality, on the one hand becomes the ultimate obstacle between meeting and relating to G-d and thereby becoming part His ultimate plan.

Yet it is a hiddenness that G-d Himself sets into place when He declares “And I will surely hide My face in that day”(Deuteronomy 31:18) This Divine “hiding” is more than a response to man’s actions in this world. It is a critical and vital step in the plan for the fashioning of mankind’s purpose.

Hashem’s creations need to yearn to “see”.

It cannot simply be there in plain sight as it was in the garden of Eden, they need to yearn and hope . Therein lies their destiny.

Looking back at the just ended holiday, we realize that this is the lesson of the Hanukkah lights as well. We celebrate the victory of the small army of Maccabees over the oppressive Greek warlords. It was the victory of the small group of faithful against the large hordes of the faithless. Miraculously, the few overwhelmed the many. Yet, the focus of the festival seems to highlight the smaller miracle of the jar of oil. The little jar of oil that was found untouched and pure, and that had enough oil to last for one day, lasted, in fact, for the eight days needed to produce more oil.

The Maharal asks the question why such emphasis is put on such a wonderful yet small miracle, which has much less impact than the victory of the few against the many. The military victory represented the end of spiritual and physical domination, while the jar of oil "simply" ensured the continuance of the light.

The military victory, the Maharal explains, was a great miracle. Yet, the source of such a great miracle can usually be confused with military power and tactics. The Divine origins of such a victory can be lost amid the din of the pompous self- adulation of the victors, G-d used a jar of oil as a signature, to clarify the author of all miracles.

The victory itself can be the ultimate veil. We today, just as the Hellenists in the past ,can become so enamored of our technical know-how and our military prowess, that we can , G-d forbid, miss G-d. Joseph too, could have been awed at the power he amassed and the wisdom he possessed, but Joseph's time in prison had taught him much. In our own personal and corporate lives, we contend with much darkness and much camouflage .Yet when we succeed to survive and pass the test, we will come away with an eternal truth.

The same truth taught to Zechariah in the haftara we read on Shabbat Hanukkah “This is the word of Hashem unto Zerubbabel, saying:'Not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit,' says Hashem Tzvakot.”

LeRefuat Yehudit bat Golda Yocheved

Lilui Nismat Avi Mori Harav Baruch ben Moshe Avraham Z”L

Rabbi Moshe Kempinski, author of "The Teacher and the Preacher", is the editor of the Jerusalem Insights weekly email journal and co-owner of Shorashim, a Biblical shop and learning center in the Old City of Jerusalem, www,