Miketz is a wonderful portion. It acts as a sort of bridge in the Joseph cycle, moving the story along, capturing Joseph as he rises to power in Egypt and has the first reunion with his brothers. Again, several Genesis themes remain, such as dreams and famine. There are several aspects of the story that have occupied commentators for years. The attempted seduction by Potiphar’s wife. The assimilation of Joseph into Egyptian society. His use of trickery on his brothers. In reading this through in preparation for our JCC Torah class, I was struck also by the possible connection between two verses.
In Genesis [41:51] we read that Joseph names his first-born Manasseh, coming from the notion of having forgotten the suffering of his father’s house. In the text, it is God who causes this forgetting. It sparked, however, a thought that many of us face moments in life when, in order to move on in life, we must. forget. Have we ever chosen to “forget” a painful moment, a difficult relationship or event in order that we could “move on” with life? We know, I would imagine, people who can never “let go” of the past hurt or slight, or encounter and in holding on to that, they are unable to move on and really live. This is very difficult. But age teaches us, at times, that to be prisoners of the past enslaves us and binds us to inaction.
Yet, there is something else that challenges us from this portion. In that first encounter of Joseph and his brothers, Joseph asks about this collection of men before him. He is told that the youngest remained with the father and one “is no more” ([42:13]). The Hebrew here is “aynenu”. It is from a sense of nothingness. Nothingness! This triggered some discussion about the link between forgetting and nothingness which reminded us of one of the great fears that many of us have as we age. We do not wish to be forgotten. We do not wish to be “nothing”, invisible. Indeed, the American society, which we know has ageism as one of its challenges, too often relegates elders to being invisible, as if they are “no more”. That reinforces our own fears of being no more and forgotten. One of the gifts of having the Kaddish at services is to remind us that as long as someone says Kaddish for us after we die, we, in some way, remain.
This fear of being forgotten, of being “no more” has given rise to an increase in congregations developing spiritual autobiography programs and teaching about the importance of an ethical will. This fear of “aynenu”, I think, is imbedded in the recesses of our souls, for it touches the root cause of religion, the fear of death, the fear of “aynenu” of being no more and of being forgotten. So, as we light the Hannukah candles this week, maybe let those lights stand also for our loved ones, now gone, and maybe we can remember them and those times when they helped us or were witness to the Menorah. In some small way, then, we can not forget them and they remain present.
Shabbat shalom and Chag Sameach
Rabbi Richard F Address