For the week of December 19, 2020 / 4 Tevet 5781
Torah: Bereshit/Genesis 41:1 – 44:17
Haftarah: 1 Melachim/1 Kings 3:15 – 4:1
Originally posted the week of December 4, 2010 / 27 Kislev 5771
The following revised version taken from the book “Torah Light: Insights from the Books of Moses” by Alan Gilman (more info here)
Download Audio [Right click link to download]
After two whole years, Pharaoh dreamed that he was standing by the Nile. (Bereshit/Genesis 41:1)
The Torah—like the whole Bible, in fact—is not wordy. Perhaps that is due to the scarcity and cost of writing materials in the days it was written. In any case, the lack of lengthy description in no way diminishes its literary depth. So much is communicated in surprisingly few words. An example of this is found in the short phrase at the beginning of our verse: “After two whole years.” The Hebrew reads: “Va-yehi miketz shenatayim yamim,” more literally translated as, “And it was at the end of two years of days.” This expression underscores for us how long a time it really was. Our translation tries to get this across with “two whole years,” but since readers of English tend to take statements of time simply as calendar references, this may come across as nothing more than “two years later, Pharaoh had a dream.” By contrast, “two years of days” draws us into the experience of Joseph, who after correctly interpreting the dreams of his influential fellow inmates had to endure over seven hundred more individual days in a horrible dungeon.
Throughout the Bible we have stories of people who had to endure great hardship for long periods of time. When we read these accounts, the waiting periods fly by in an instant unless we stop to think about it. In Joseph’s case in particular, the wording, at least in the original Hebrew, draws our attention to what the passing of time must have been like for Joseph after all he had gone through. First, he was hated by his own brothers, who sold him into slavery, and then he was unjustly incarcerated in an Egyptian dungeon. While God was with him and gave him favor in these difficult circumstances, we cannot underestimate how difficult it must all have been.
God doesn’t work according to our expectation of time. If we had our druthers, we would get everything instantly. We think that getting something faster is almost always better. But that is not God’s way. Living things develop over time. Good food takes time to grow. Good food takes time to prepare. It takes time to manufacture quality products. Good character takes a lifetime.
It is likely that before Joseph experienced his hardships he wasn’t ready for the kind of leadership to which God destined him. I don’t think a person like Joseph, who had no issue telling on his brothers and broadcasting dreams that foretold his place of prominence among them, would necessarily treat his family (or anyone else) with the type of kindness he ended up extending to them. It is possible that the time delay was designed to allow for deep work in Joseph’s heart to take place. I am aware that the Torah gives no comment as to the work of God in Joseph’s life, but we do know he endured abusive and oppressive circumstances for a long time and that something about those last two years in particular was especially long.
Whatever God was doing in Joseph’s heart and life, is this not what many of us go through? There is a proverb that reads, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life” (Mishlei/Proverbs 13:12). Waiting for God-given expectations to be fulfilled can be sickening. Those of us who have experienced this may sometimes think we would be better off without the hopes than having to wait and be given glimpses of our hope’s fulfillment only to have to wait again. But God knows what he is doing. His timing is perfect. We will never know all that he is accomplishing during our periods of waiting, but we can be assured that if we truly love God, then he is doing everything necessary to accomplish his purposes in us and through us.
Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version