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  • Writer's pictureRabbi Skorka

Miketz- The importance of recognizing

The succinct stories of the Bible are characterized by the terseness of their words. Each word has a meaning that goes beyond the literal level of the text and suggests deeper dimensions. The key verb to interpret the story of Joseph and his brothers is: to recognize/to know. The first time it appears is when his sons ask Jacob: "We have found this [bloody] robe. Do you recognize if it is your son’s? And he recognized it” (Gen. 37:32-33). Perhaps the text insinuates that Jacob was coming to recognize his error of having shown more love to Joseph than to his other sons, and that robe was a sign of it (37: 3).

In the story of Judah and Tamar, which is inserted within the larger Joseph saga (Gen. 38), the verb to recognize/to know has great significance. Tamar urges her father-in-law to recognize the personal belongings of the man who got her pregnant, and “Judah recognized them” as his own (38: 26). He recognizes his responsibility for his behavior he had towards her forgetting that she had to be the wife of his son Shelah.

In this parashah we are told how after Joseph had become a prince in Egypt, his brothers come to buy grain to alleviate their hunger during a famine. “When Joseph saw his brothers, he recognized them; they did not recognize him” (42:8). Although Joseph recognized them, he treated them as strangers (42:9). The Hebrew root of knowing is NKR, which in the Hitpael declination means to behave as a stranger, as one that do not recognize.

When Joseph finally reveals himself to his brothers, the text uses the verbal form Hitvada (45:1), “he made himself known,” which is the opposite of treating someone as a stranger.

This story presents some very hard questions, such as: When the brothers show Jacob the bloody robe, did they not think of the pain they would cause their father? When Joseph had achieved power in Egypt, why did not he rush to see his father? And so on. Beyond all possible explanations, are questions that arise from the human heart and are without easy answers: they refer on the no recognition of the other and his pains.

In the next parashah, when Judah advocates for Benjamin's freedom, the grieving figure of the father emerges as the central figure. Family peace is achieved only when the parties know each other and recognize the conflicts they must overcome.

Shabbat Shalom!


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