by Ruth Balinsky
Parshat Miketz is a story of extremes. Egypt faces seven years of abundance, followed by seven years of famine. Joseph is almost instantly transformed from a prisoner in a dungeon to a ruler over all of Egypt. The brothers fear for their lives, only to discover that the supposed offender is actually their brother, who protects and provides for them. Jacob fears that he will lose the second son of Rachel, while, in fact, both are alive and thriving.
Perhaps the biggest contrast is that of abundance and famine. Pharaoh's famous dreams of seven healthy, sturdy cows and solid ears of grain consumed by their ugly and gaunt counterparts befuddle even the wisest Egyptian magicians, and only Joseph is able to interpret them. He correctly predicts the upcoming seven years of such plentiful abundance that all of the grain in Egypt cannot be measured, to be followed by a famine so severe that it spreads to the whole world. Joseph tells Pharaoh the meaning of the dreams, and then recommends that Pharaoh appoint officers to harvest the grain in the next seven years of abundance and store it so that they will not starve for the seven years of famine. Pharaoh remarks that Joseph has the "spirit of God" and claims that "there is none as discerning and wise" as he. This reaction is a bit odd; after all, isn't Joseph's proposed solution fairly obvious? Yet Pharaoh is so impressed with Joseph's wisdom that he insists that Joseph himself oversee the whole project. Joseph succeeds in this endeavor and constructs storage units for the grain, and while Egypt certainly does not remain immune to the famine, they do maintain a grain supply that lasts them for some time.
Our current economic situation eerily mirrors this story. We are much like Pharaoh; there were clues laid out before us warning us of impending disaster, yet none of us could piece them together. We had no Joseph, no one to take charge and enact preventative measures. As a result, we have suffered, and continue to do so. But the situation is far from hopeless; the challenge that we will face as we recover from the economic crisis will be to find the Joseph within us. We must locate the parts of ourselves that are able to prepare for the future instead of just our present pleasures. If we are able to ration our consumption in times of great abundance and recognize that surplus is temporary, we will be able to provide for ourselves in times of deprivation and greatly reduce future suffering.