“And Pharaoh gave Joseph the name Zaphenath-paneah; and he gave him to wife Asenath the daughter of Poti-phera priest of On. Thus Joseph emerged in chare of the land of Egypt” Genesis 41:45

By Rabbi Miriam Berger, December 2, 2010

Pharaoh is often portrayed as the bumbling leader who needs to be shown the way by the dashing Joseph but in Parashat Mikketz we can see a shrewdness in Pharaoh that our politicians would be sensible to emulate.

When Pharaoh apparently stumbles across the answer to his problems and is told that some low-life prisoner is able to interpret his dreams, it is clear that Pharaoh does his homework before raising Joseph to a position of responsibility again. Is Pharaoh protecting his own family, is he protecting the reputation of the country's leadership against allegations of sleaze or is he helping to turn Joseph into the respectable man he needs to be in the eyes of the masses for such a long-term plan to work?

First of all, he changes Joseph's name to Zaphenat-paneah. Pharaoh is either trying to disguise Joseph's roots or using his name to give a message to the people. The Septuagint transcribed it Psonthomphanech, representing a late Egyptian word meaning "the sustainer of life." Only by listening to this man and following his orders will society survive. Convincing people to save at times of plenty is as difficult as convincing people of necessary cuts in times of hardship.

Next he finds Joseph a wife. Pharaoh perhaps remembers the difficulties which Potiphar experienced by having a single male in a position of power in his midst. Although in last week's sidrah, Joseph refuses the advances of Potiphar's wife, the protracted leyning note suggests the episode was not quite that clear cut.

With an appropriate name and now a wife safely by his side, Joseph is sent out to get familiar with the land he is about to govern.

Last updated: 4:02pm, December 2 2010