"God has made me a father to Pharaoh, and master of all his household and a ruler over all the land of Egypt" Genesis 45:8

By Rabbi Yisroel Fine, December 22, 2009

For Joseph to describe himself as a ruler over all Egypt was blatantly untrue and yet it is only this description that the brothers used when they conveyed the news of Joseph’s survival to their father Jacob.

However, the brothers understood this phrase as Joseph had intended: “The land of Egypt has not conquered me. I still maintain my Judaism and the traditions from my father’s home”. The brothers knew that Jacob would not want to know of Joseph’s success in business, if at the same time he had forsaken his faith.

When Jacob heard that Joseph “rules over all the land of Egypt” he proclaimed, “My son Joseph is alive” (Genesis 45:28). Jacob was reassured that the son with whom he would be reunited would be as steadfast in his beliefs and principles as he had been when he left the family home.

The Talmud enigmatically states that Joseph points an accusatory finger at the wealthy. Those who claim that the challenge of making a livelihood or amassing wealth necessitates compromising religious principles, have Joseph to confront them. No one had a more difficult time than Joseph. How easy it would have been for him to forget who he was. His example inspired multitudes of Jews in Egypt to remain loyal to their faith.

With this theme in mind, we can understand why, according to the Midrash, the Red Sea divided on seeing the coffin of Joseph. It was Joseph who showed that the world of Torah and the secular world, deemed never to meet, could in fact be combined. Likewise, in his merit, the opposite banks of the Red Sea were joined by dry land, through which the Children of Israel could walk.

Last updated: 3:01pm, December 22 2009