As I consider Parashat Miketz, I see a gathering of energy. To me, it takes on the form of the waters receding from the shore as a great wave gathers. In the plot, it takes the form of several pivotal moments in the great story of the Jewish people: 1) Pharaoh dreams his dream foretelling the famine; 2) Joseph is finally brought out of prison and elevated to a status a hair’s breadth from Pharaoh himself; 3) Joseph becomes a father; 4) famine strikes the land, and his brothers return seeking sustenance.
In the midst of all of this, three seeming dichotomies present themselves to me:
Forgetting and Remembering
Affliction and Abundance
Good Luck and Bad Luck
As the parasha opens, Joseph is still in prison after having been arrested on the lie of attacking Potiphar’s wife. Presumably, this is because Pharaoh’s chief cupbearer forgot the promise he’d made to Joseph to remember Joseph to Pharaoh in return for the interpretation of his dream when he was also imprisoned. Finally, when Pharaoh dreams his distressing dream of seven sickly cows, the cupbearer remembers Joseph. This results in Joseph’s freedom and elevation.
Having been freed and elevated, Joseph establishes his own household, marrying and become a father of two. The firstborn, he names Menashe, meaning, “G8d has made me completely forget all my hardship and all the house of my father.” Joseph forgets - leaves behind - all affliction which has ever befallen him, as well as his birth home. By stating the two together, however, he links them. We see the trauma inflicted upon him by the events of years before. He wants to forget and start fresh.
His second son, he names Efraim: "G8d has made me fertile in the land of my Affliction." While, in the naming of his first son, he has defined his birth home as a place of affliction, he has also defined Egypt as the land of his affliction. However, in Egypt, affliction becomes abundance both for Egypt and for Joseph. We already know in this passage that Egypt will be afflicted. We also know, if we’ve read the story already, that in the midst of his abundance, Joseph will be confronted face-to-face with the memory of his childhood affliction and his birthplace when ten of his brothers show up seeking aid. The other thing we know about this confrontation is that, once again, affliction becomes abundance as, later, the whole house of Jacob relocates to Egypt and our saga builds to new heights.
All of this speaks to me of the apparent dichotomy of Good Luck and Bad Luck. When you take a good look at things (often with the benefit of hindsight, or of having read the story already), it can be much harder to tell the difference between the two. We can ride this trope all the way back to Eden.
Now, I invite you to take some time to reflect on these themes with a few questions as your guide:
Can you think of a time when you forgot something you were supposed to do at a particular time, only to remember later when, in fact, the timing seemed just right?
Can you think of a time when you had to forget a part of yourself to proceed forward in a productive way? Did it ever become important to remember that forgotten part?
Have you had an experience of seeming Affliction turn into clear Abundance or the other way around?
Has it ever been the case in your life that a stroke of bad luck, with time, became just the thing you needed to turn a corner?
Parashat Miketz asks us to keep our minds open to possibility. On this Shabbat, as the end of Hanukkah draws near, may your eyes and your minds be open to the infinite possibilities that lie before you.