Parshah Summary – P’shat
Joseph’s imprisonment finally ends when Pharaoh dreams of seven fat cows that are swallowed up by seven lean cows, and then of seven fat ears of grain swallowed by seven lean ears. Joseph interprets the dreams to mean that seven years of plenty will be followed by seven years of hunger, and advises Pharaoh to store grain during the plentiful years. Pharaoh is pleased with Joseph’s advice and appoints him governor of Egypt. Joseph marries Asenath, daughter of Potiphar, and they have two sons, Manasheh and Ephraim.
In time, as the famine spreads throughout the region, food can be obtained only in Egypt. Ten of Joseph’s brothers come to Egypt to purchase grain, but the youngest, Benjamin, stays home, for Jacob fears for his safety. Joseph recognizes his brothers, but they do not recognize him; he accuses them of being spies, insists that they bring Benjamin to prove that they are who they say they are, and imprisons Shimon as a hostage. Later, they discover that the money they paid for their provisions has been mysteriously returned to them.
Jacob agrees to send Benjamin only after Judah assumes personal responsibility for him. This time Joseph receives them kindly, releases Shimon, and invites them to dinner at his home. But then he plants his special silver goblet in Benjamin’s sack. When the brothers set out for home the next morning, they are pursued, searched, and arrested when the goblet is discovered. Joseph offers to set them free and retain only Benjamin as his slave
Torah of Awakening
וַיֹּ֤אמֶר פַּרְעֹה֙ אֶל־יוֹסֵ֔ף אַחֲרֵ֨י הוֹדִ֧יעַ אֱלֹהִ֛ים אוֹתְךָ֖ אֶת־כׇּל־זֹ֑את
אֵין־נָב֥וֹן וְחָכָ֖ם כָּמֽוֹךָ׃
Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has revealed to you all of this, there can be no one as understanding and wise as you.”
- Bereisheet (Genesis) 41:39, Parshat Mikeitz
A disciple asked Rabbi Simkha Bunam a question on this verse about the curse of the serpent in the Creation story: עַל־גְּחֹנְךָ֣ תֵלֵ֔ךְ וְעָפָ֥ר תֹּאכַ֖ל כׇּל־יְמֵ֥י חַיֶּֽיךָ׃ – On your belly shall you crawl, and dirt shall you eat, All the days of your life… - Bereisheet (Genesis) 3:14
The disciple asked, “Why did God put such a strange curse upon the serpent, that it should have to eat dust? Being able to eat dust, I think, would be a blessing, not a curse. If you could eat dust, you could find what you need to live anywhere you go!”
Rabbi Bunam replied, “God told humans that that they must eat their bread by the sweat of their face, and if they have no bread, they can pray to God for help. Thus, human beings are bound to God and can find a way to God. But to the serpent, which was the source of evil, God gave everything it requires, so that it might never have to pray for anything at all. Thus, God supplies the wicked with an abundance of riches.”
This remarkable teaching works on two different levels. On a simple level, it functions as a consolation to the impoverished disciple, giving an answer to the angst they must feel that for all their efforts in Torah, God continues to make them poor, while “wicked” Polish noblemen live in luxury. But on a deeper level, it gives voice to a profound paradox in spiritual practice: that it is precisely the experience of lack, of not having enough, that is necessary for the experience of true Wholeness to unfold. This is because both Wholeness and Incompleteness are constant dimensions of experience that live on two different and complementary levels of consciousness. The level of Wholeness needs the level of Incompleteness to be grasped and felt…
אֵין־נָב֥וֹן וְחָכָ֖ם כָּמֽוֹךָ׃ – there are none as understanding and wise as you… “Understanding and wise” are the two levels of consciousness from which Wholeness and Incompleteness derive, called Hokhmah and Binah on the Tree of Life – Wisdom and Understanding. Binah, Understanding, refers to the function of thought: the capacity to create images of reality in one’s mind, then manipulate the images so as to comprehend and predict things that wouldn’t otherwise be apparent in one’s immediate, present moment experience. We can and must do this in order to deal with the reality of lack.
For example, if my refrigerator is full in my immediate experience, I can nevertheless predict that it will eventually become empty in the future, and that I will starve unless I fill it with more food. At the moment I perceive the refrigerator as full, the empty refrigerator is just a thought, a mental image, not a reality. But, it allows me to navigate the objective world into the future, to work and earn a livelihood so that I can buy food, so that I can eat and survive. That is Binah, Understanding.
Hokhmah, on the other hand, is the space of consciousness within which thought, as well as the perception of whatever is happening, arises – in this case, the perception of a full refrigerator, along with the thought that soon it will become empty. On the level of Hokhmah, there is a sense of Wholeness, Fullness, Completeness, because it is the boundless openness of the field of awareness.
Awareness perceives: “There is the refrigerator, and there is the thought about how the refrigerator will be empty in the future.” Awareness is “above” or “transcendent” of all of it; it is beyond thought, as well as feeling and sensory perceptions – the entire spectrum of experience. Awareness is the “space” within which all experience lives.
But ordinarily, we are only barely aware of awareness, barely aware of the Wholeness within which experience lives; it glows faintly in the background, while our thoughts and feelings tend to dominate in the foreground. If we are worried that we might not be able to replenish our stores of food, as the hasidim probably did, we would likely be siezed by worry and anxiety…
וַתֹּאכַ֙לְנָה֙ הַפָּר֔וֹת הָרַקּ֖וֹת וְהָרָע֑וֹת אֵ֣ת שֶׁ֧בַע הַפָּר֛וֹת הָרִאשֹׁנ֖וֹת הַבְּרִיאֹֽת׃ – And the seven lean and ugly cows ate up the first seven cows, the healthy ones… Like the cows in Pharaoh’s dream, the Wholeness of awareness is “swallowed up” by the neediness generated by thought, the natural desire to understand and control things. The Wholeness is always there as the ground of our experience, but we fixate on the objects of experience, rather than the ground. This causes the experience of lack and incompleteness to dominate, and the “lean” and “ugly cows” win.
But, when we allow the present to come into the foreground, seeing our thoughts come and go within the open space of the awareness, then Hokhmah and Binah can function freely: recognizing that all experience arises and is perceived within that boundless field of awareness which is already whole and complete, we need not be trapped by our thoughts; we can perceive the uncertainty of the future without being gripped by worry and anxiety. After all, we are Hokhmah – spacious awareness – and from that realization, the mind can explore in its pathways of thought without becoming entangled by them – that is Binah operating properly. And from here, a bigger understanding can unfold…
הוֹדִ֧יעַ אֱלֹהִ֛ים אוֹתְךָ֖ אֶת־כׇּל־זֹ֑את – The Divine has revealed to you all of this… These words of Pharaoh to Joseph are ordinarily taken to mean that God revealed some special knowledge to Joseph. But it can also be read as kol zot – “all of this,” hodia Elohim – is “revealed” as “God!”
Meaning: when we are present to whatever arises, it becomes apparent that kol zot, the full and rich tapestry of experience as it arises in this moment – from sensory awareness of the outer world, to the rising and falling of feelings and thoughts, to the open space of consciousness itself – “all of this” is Elohim; everything is nothing but forms of the One Divine Reality. There is nothing but the Divine, always and only…
כִּי יהוה הוּא הָאֱלהִים בַּשָּׁמַיִם מִמַּעַל וְעַל הָאָרֶץ מִתָּחַת אֵין עוד
For Existence Itself is the Divine In the Heavens Above And Upon the Earth Below, there is Nothing Else!
- Devarim (Deuteronomy) 4:39
How do we accomplish this realization? How do we know ourselves as Hokhmah, as spacious awareness? The key is to embrace the truth of our experience in the moment; this is Presence. As long as we resist or are in denial, we are identified with and dragged down by thought and the reality of lack. But, the key to stop resisting and get out of denial is Prayer; Prayer is the alchemy that transforms the dross of dissatisfaction into the precious metal of closeness to the Divine, opening up the possibility of knowing ourselves at this deepest level.
Thus, the dual practice of Presence and Prayer form the path of this realization. Presence and Prayer are represented by the sefirah of Malkhut, the vision of the world as the “Kingdom of God” – the way of the spirit in the world of form...
Read past teachings on Mikeitz HERE.
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