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The Torah reading today takes up from last Shabbat when Joseph had properly interpreted the dreams of the Baker and Cupbearer. Two years later, Pharaoh has a dream, a double-feature (so to speak) and no one in all the kingdom can interpret it. The Cupbearer remembers Joseph, and he is brought to Pharaoh. Joseph says God is the one who interprets dreams, and God gives Joseph the proper interpretation of the well-known dream: the 7 sickly cows eating up the 7 healthy cows and the seven sickly ears of corn eating up the seven full and ripe ears of corn. Joseph also consults Pharaoh on how to store the surplus from the good years to provide food during the famine to come. Pharaoh appoints Joseph ruler over all of Egypt, gives him a wife and before the famine hits Joseph has two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim.
Eventually, his brothers are sent to Egypt by Jacob in order to get food due to the famine. Joseph immediately recognizes them but they don’t know him, and he treats them as spies, locking up Simeon (Rabbinic tradition says he picked Simeon because Simeon was the one who first suggested they kill him) and demanding that they bring their youngest brother before him to prove their story, while secretly restoring their money before they leave. Of course, Jacob doesn’t want to part with Benjamin, but sooner or later he has to in order for them to get more food. Reuben offers to give his children as a sacrifice if Benjamin doesn’t come back, but Jacob won’t do that. When Judah offers to take total responsibility for Benjamin, Jacob finally relents and lets them take Benjamin to Egypt.
Once back in Egypt, Joseph has the brothers taken to his house to eat, restores Simeon to them and sets a trap for them. When they leave he has his servant hide a cup in Benjamin’s pack, along with all their money and sends them away. Soon after they leave he sends after them and they find the cup in Benjamin’s pack, bringing all the brothers back to face the charge of theft. Joseph says Benjamin will become his slave and tells the other brothers to return home, and that is where this parashah stops.
If you aren’t aware of this, every parashah is followed with a Haftorah, which is a reading from other parts of the Tanakh which is related to the message found in the Torah reading. The Haftorah for Mikketz is 1 Kings 3:15- 4:1. This is the story (also well-known) of the two prostitutes who come before King Solomon to argue who is the rightful mother of a child who they both claim is their own. When Solomon says to bring him a sword and he will divide the child, the real mother gives up the child in order to save its life, after which Solomon judges she is the true mother.
What these two stories have in common is that people recognized the wisdom that Joseph and Solomon displayed could only have come from God. Pharaoh said of Joseph (Genesis 41:38):
And Pharaoh said unto his servants: “Can we find such a one as this, a man in whom the spirit of God is?”
and when Solomon revealed the true mother of the child, we are told (1 Kings 3:28):
And all Israel heard of the judgment which the king had judged; and they feared the king; for they saw that the wisdom of God was in him, to do justice.
God uses people, ordinary people like you and me, to intervene in human affairs in order to bring about his plans much more often than he uses angels. And when God imbues us with his wisdom or power, it is something that even the spiritually empty can recognize as coming from some supernatural source. Joseph and Solomon are just two examples of this; throughout the Bible, there are many examples of God giving people the gifts, power, and talents they need to achieve God’s plans.
There is a problem, though- how do we know that the person doing these things, making these judgments, or teaching us God’s word are really getting it from God? We are told that there will be false prophets and false Messiahs, as there have been over the millennia, even to modern days: think of Jim Jones, Father Devine, Jim Bakker, or even ‘the Rebbe’ Menachem Schneerson! They were all charismatic, had many followers and were considered to be either prophets or, in the case of Schneerson, the Messiah, himself. Yet, they have all proved to be false.
It is a hard thing to know the fake from the genuine, especially when the fake is going to be empowered supernaturally by the Enemy of God to perform miraculous feats, just as God empowers his prophets and messengers. The Bible tells us that if a prophet says something will happen, and it does then the prophet is proven to be from God, but sometimes prophecies don’t come about for a long time: I mean, look how long after Isaiah told us about Yeshua until he actually came. Hundreds of years! And the Enemy will make sure that what his messengers prophesize will happen.
So, again we ask, how do we know who is the true messenger of God?
My answer is that the only way to really know the difference is to know God as best as we can, and the way to do that is through his Word! God tells us in the Bible who he is, what is important to him, and how he expects us to behave. He gives us a really good idea of what is godly and what is not. It is up to us to read the Bible, daily, and to know what God has said so that we can hold up anyone that says they are from God against the biblical template God has provided for us.
Finally, for those of you who are like me, a teacher of the Word, we must be subjected to the highest level of scrutiny. This is why James warned us when he said (James 3:1):
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, since you know that we will be judged more severely.
I often have said, in my posts and when I spoke to my congregation, that everything I say must be verified by God’s word. And it is the responsibility of the one hearing my speech, as much as it is mine, to make sure that what I say is proven correct by God’s word. There is a basic model of communication that has three parts: the speaker, the hearer, and noise. The “noise’ is what is between the speaker and the hearer, and it can be anything from measurable sound to bias thinking to total ignorance. The Enemy will make a lot of noise when we try to hear God, and both the one speaking and also the one hearing must work to filter out that noise.
Let me leave you with what I always say when I am complimented on a post or a sermon: if what I do or say is received as being good and just, it is not me but the Holy Spirit working through me. When I totally screw something up, then I can take full credit.