Mikketz: The End of a Cycle
This week, the week of Hanukkah, our focus turns to the portion of Mikketz. Mikketz means “the end,” and, in this portion, we see Joseph’s fortunes change. It’s the end of his time in prison. The Pharaoh has had a dream that he is desperate to understand, and so he calls upon many interpreters to help him unravel its meaning. None of them provide a satisfactory analysis and so they are (violently) dismissed. Then he hears Joseph’s explanation, and that changes everything.
In fact, he is so impressed by Joseph that he even makes him King of Egypt — which, as we know, was an event predicted by Joseph in his own dreams! Ironically, Joseph then encounters his brothers who have come to Egypt to ask for food because they’re suffering a famine. Why ironically? Because they are the reason that Joseph became a slave and a prisoner in the first place. We can see, then, that in this portion many things have come full circle for Joseph; it’s the end of an important era for him.
Joseph’s troubles began with a significant dream, and they ended the same way. But something has changed in between. The first dream, a prophecy that showed him his future as king, angered his brothers to the extent that they sold him into slavery. Yet it is another dream, the dream of the Pharaoh, that eventually liberates him from prison. Clearly, Joseph was placed in his situation to learn a lesson. The fact that he triumphs over his circumstances in this portion shows that he has learned it.
What has changed in the time between his own dream and the Pharaoh’s is that he has developed maturity. All of us mature throughout our lives in the sense of growing older and supposedly wiser; however, Joseph underwent a far more profound transformation. He developed spiritual maturity.
This is the deeper growth that we all must aim for as spiritual people. It’s when we have connected to the Creator and began to understand our purpose.
Joseph’s spiritual growth is evident in the way that he analyses the Pharaoh’s dream. It’s very different to the style in which he transmitted his own all those years earlier. He probably wondered what had disturbed his brothers so deeply that these righteous men would condemn him. Why did they deliberately subject Joseph to such miserable conditions? The answer is a painful one: they felt he was acting with ego. He was not ready to assume the role of king.
In this portion, he is made King. Therefore, he is now ready, and he shows a far more humble attitude. Before he gives his interpretation, he actually reminds the King that — as a creation of G-d — his analyses come directly from the Creator. Instead of displaying ego, Joseph credits G-d for his gifts. This is the correct attitude. We should all recognize that G-d is the source of our nourishment; otherwise, we are spiritually empty.
Joseph teaches us an important lesson, then: without spiritual maturity to guide us, our blessings can become curses. Joseph’s gift as an interpreter of dreams brought him nothing but strife when he wasn’t ready to use it. However, through an intensely difficult learning process, he becomes able to employ his gifts in a righteous way. He helps people. He fulfills his potential. This is why we should all learn from his journey.
How can we apply these teachings to our own lives? By showing gratitude for what we have, even during difficult times. By treating those times as necessary and important steps on our respective journeys. Ultimately, if you don’t become a better person as a result of the challenges you overcome, then your pain is a wasted opportunity. Like Joseph, you must realize that obstacles are placed on your path to help you grow. Without confronting struggle, it is impossible to fulfil your potential. That’s why we thank G-d for those obstacles!
Another way we can connect this portion to our own experiences is by reflecting on our own personal gifts and whether we are employing them to the fullest or neglecting them entirely. Remember, the last time Joseph used his gift, it resulted in significant personal pain, causing him to be rejected by his brothers and forced into a terrible situation. We can imagine that Josept felt apprehensive about approaching the Pharaoh for this reason, although he knew that he could help him. So why did he take the risk?
The answer is simple: because he could no longer bury his gift. Our gifts are given to us by the Creator. There may be many understandable reasons that we stop using them: like Joseph, we may have felt rejection in the past, and so resolved that life is easier without them. Maybe we think it’s better to flatten ourselves and blend in than to face criticism and scorn as our fullest selves. But this kind of life is only bearable for so long. We weren’t born to live this way.
The fact is that as human beings we are on this Earth to contribute. We are here to help one another, and we instinctively know this. Where we see a lack that we can fill, we are naturally driven to offer our services. This is how the world works! Joseph understood this. He knew the time had come to rediscover his gifts and share them, this time with a spiritually mature approach. Indeed, he felt called by G-d to do so.
In this way, this portion of Mikketz asks a question of us: what gifts have we buried? Where could we be making a difference if fear or laziness wasn’t holding us back? We are reminded that it’s our responsibility as spiritual people to make the most of the blessings G-d has endowed us with. These are not gifts that can be returned to the store! They are meant to be ours. They are destined to be used. And it’s not just us that needs them — the world does.
Let Mikketz — the end — inspire us to end this limited, negative way of living. Maybe before we weren’t ready to receive our gifts, but we can be, right now, if we choose to be. Like Joseph, let us take risks. Let us celebrate and share what we have; let us help one another. In life, we are constantly learning and growing. Let our spiritual maturity guide us in our actions. After all, this is the most crucial work of all.
Why? Because it is by coming together in love, faith, and hope that we can make the world a better place. Happy Hanukkah to all.