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Parshat Miketz: The Underdog

This week’s Torah portion continues the dramatic saga between Joseph and his brothers. We read of the first meeting between Brother Joe and his siblings whom haven’t seen each other for 22 years. The Torah tells us that at this first encounter of the siblings, Joseph recognized his brothers but they, in turn, didn’t recognize him. 

How could they? The last they saw of him was as a 17-year-old concerned with his hair and clothes, who had what seemed like self-centered dreams of grandeur and who was being carted away as a slave. It could never have entered their minds that this high-ranking Egyptian officer and leader who stood before them could be their very own little brother. Joseph quickly gets to work putting his plan into place with the eventual revelation of his true identity that we will read of in next week’s parsha. 

It’s at this juncture in their lives, though, that we witness an enormous role reversal between Joseph and his brothers. In those earlier days, Joseph was completely dismissed by most of his siblings. The Torah tells us last week that they didn’t even wish to engage in any communication with him “…and they could not speak peaceably with him.” He was disdained, hated and eventual expelled from the family. 

But now, many years later, he is being anything but cast aside by his brothers. He is prominent, adored by the entire nation of Egypt and one of the most powerful men in the civilized world. Whereas Joseph was last seen by his brothers in a pit begging for his life, now it was them begging to purchase food from him, pleading for the life of their father and brother. 22 years ago they held all the cards but now everything had turned around and it was Joseph who was dealing the deck. 

This is not to suggest that this was Joseph’s goal and in fact we see it wasn’t from his noble and graceful words when he eventually reveals himself. “Now do not be aggrieved or angry at yourselves for having sold me here for it was so I could provide for you that God sent me here ahead of you.” No, this was not about revenge. But the fact still remains that their roles were completely reversed. The loser became the winner. The lowly one was now riding high.

How appropriate that we read this part of the Torah every year either on or very close to Chanukah because the lesson of Chanukah and the lesson of Joseph are one and the same. A small family within the tiny nation of Israel went to war against the Greek empire and was victorious. It was able to secure religious freedom and independence from the mighty Greek nation. As we declare in the Al HaNissim paragraph of our prayers when we thank God that “You delivered the strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few, the evil into the hands of the righteous.” Here too the losers turned around to become the winners. 

We see this pattern not only in Torah and history but in life as well. How often have we seen someone who was once a wall-flower end up becoming successful? Ever go to your high school reunion and notice that the cool guy way back then is now bald, has bad teeth and ended up as the greeter at Walmart? Meanwhile the nebbishy, chubby loser with bad acne lost tons of weight, his skin cleared up and he created an app or became a lawyer or is buying and selling real estate and earning millions and has a beautiful wife and kids and home. 

Pirkei Avot (Ethics of our Fathers) states: “Do not look down upon anyone for everybody has their hour.” Everyone has their hour. Everyone has their time. It’s just that for some it arrives later. And do you ever notice that the later it arrives, the better it usually is? 

King Saul, the first king of Israel, was described in Tanach as handsome and tall and looks like a total winner. But he ended up a dud and was impeached by God himself who, via His prophet, tells him to step aside and step down. On the other hand his successor, David was overlooked by everyone and not thought of as anything, yet ended up becoming the definitive King of Israel. So much so that we invoke his name in song at every happy occasion. 

And so it goes, the underdog, the overlooked, the dark horse – in Judaism and in life – so often they become the heroes and winners and take center stage. And doesn’t this define us as a nation? The most despised of all nations happens to be the most successful. Everyone hates Israel in its neighbourhood, yet it is more successful and prosperous than everyone else. Every nation that tried to wipe us out through the ages is now a mere footnote in history. And as we have seen lately, Israel pretty much stands alone against the dark, life-denying forces of evil, fighting not only Hamas but the world at large as well. 

Joseph, the Maccabees, King David, the Jewish nation – every one of them an underdog and every one of them a leader, a king and a winner. Never forget and never lose sight of the simple truth – that everyone has their hour, everyone has their time. And despite everything going on in our world, our time is now. 

I’ve paid my dues
Time after time
I’ve done my sentence
But committed no crime
And bad mistakes
I’ve made a few
I’ve had my share of sand kicked in my face
But I’ve come through

We are the champions, my friends
And we’ll keep on fighting ’til the end
We are the champions
We are the champions

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