Meiketz -- Genesis 41:1–44:17

ThisJosephWebThe majesty of the American Jewish experience,” according to Canadian-American businessman, Edgar Bronfman, Sr. (1929-2013), “is in its success marrying its unique Jewish identity with the larger, liberal values of the United States. There is no need any more to choose between assimilation and separation.

The story of Joseph is still caught within the crucible of assimilation and separation. Joseph’s prowess continues to grow, given his gifts as dream interpreter as well as financial advisor to Pharaoh. In short order, Joseph is promoted to governor of Egypt and marries into the royal family. His wife, Asenath, (ironically, the daughter of Potiphar), bears him two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim.

The wheel turns as famine spreads throughout the region, forcing Joseph’s brothers to come to Egypt to purchase grain from the prodigal son they had all but forgotten about. Joseph recognizes them, but they do not recognize their brother, who walks, talks, and for all intents and purposes is a fully assimilated Egyptian governor and citizen.

Accusing his brothers as spies, he demands Benjamin but settles for Simeon as hostage. Jacob sends Benjamin as an envoy only after Judah assumes responsibility for him. In a highly melodramatic turn, Joseph now receives his brothers hospitably, releasing Simeon, inviting them to dinner, only to then plant a magical goblet into Benjamin’s sack. Pursued and searched the next morning, as the goblet is discovered the brothers are arrested. The price for their freedom is giving up Benjamin as a collateral enslaved to Joseph. Reminiscent of his father Jacob, Joseph is remarkably adept at outmaneuvering his family and the society he has quickly assimilated into.

While the Sages claim that Jacob remained fastidiously observant during his service to Laban, it is clear his favorite son, Joseph, followed in his father’s footsteps only so far and embraced the blessing of assimilation. Finding that balance in our lives allows the ongoing drama to continue.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Image credit: Uncredited illustration of Joseph reuniting with his family; from cover of Harold Paisley's This Joseph