For the week ending 19 December 2020 / 4 Tevet 5781

Parashat Mikeitz

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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It is two years later. Pharaoh has a dream. He is unsatisfied with all attempts to interpret it. Pharaoh's wine chamberlain remembers that Yosef accurately interpreted his dream while in prison. Yosef is released from prison and brought before Pharaoh. He interprets that soon will begin seven years of abundance, followed by seven years of severe famine. He tells Pharaoh to appoint a wise person to store grain in preparation for the famine. Pharaoh appoints him as viceroy to oversee the project. Pharaoh gives Yosef an Egyptian name, Tsafnat Panayach, and selects Osnat, Yosef's ex-master's daughter, as Yosef's wife. Egypt becomes the granary of the world. Yosef has two sons, Menashe and Ephraim.

Yaakov sends his sons to Egypt to buy food. The brothers come before Yosef and bow to him. Yosef recognizes them but they do not recognize him. Mindful of his dreams, Yosef plays the part of an Egyptian overlord and acts harshly, accusing them of being spies. Yosef sells them food, but keeps Shimon hostage until they bring their brother Binyamin to him as proof of their honesty. Yosef commands his servants to replace the purchase-money in their sacks. On the return journey they discover the money, and their hearts sink. They return to Yaakov and retell everything. Yaakov refuses to let Binyamin go to Egypt, but when the famine grows unbearable he accedes. Yehuda guarantees Binyamin's safety and the brothers go to Egypt. Yosef welcomes the brothers lavishly as honored guests. When he sees Binyamin, he rushes from the room and weeps. Yosef instructs his servants to replace the money in the sacks and to put his goblet inside Binyamin's sack. When the goblet is discovered, Yosef demands Binyamin to be his slave as punishment. Yehuda interposes and offers himself instead, but Yosef refuses.


A Candle in the Dark

"Yet the chamberlain of the cup bearers did not remember Yosef, but forgot him." (40:23)

"Raiders of the Lost Ark" was one of the biggest box-office hits of all-time. As the title suggests, the story centers on the “Lost Ark,” which is none other than the Holy Ark that Moshe constructed to house the original Torah and the tablets of the Ten Commandments.During the movie’s climax, the villain garbs himself in the vestments of the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) as he battles with the movie’s hero, Indiana Jones.

Truth, as they say, is stranger than fiction, for there seems to be a fascinating real-life connection between the Jewish People and Indiana Jones!

In 1911, Hiram Bingham III discovered the legendary Inca city of Macchu Picchu in Peru. Indiana Jones, the hero of "Raiders of the Lost Ark", was patterned after Hiram Bingham. Hiram had a son called, not very imaginatively, Hiram Bingham IV.

A number of years ago, the American Secretary of State Colin Powell gave a posthumous award for "constructive dissent" to Hiram (or Harry) Bingham IV. For more than fifty years the State Department had resisted any attempt to honor Bingham. To them, he was an insubordinate member of the US diplomatic service, a dangerous maverick who was eventually demoted. Yet now, after his death, he has been officially recognized as a hero.

In 1939, Bingham was posted to Marseille, France as American Vice-Consul. The USA was then neutral, and, not wishing to annoy Marshal Petain's puppet Vichy regime, Roosevelt's government ordered its representatives in Marseille not to grant visas to any Jews. Bingham decided that this was immoral, and, putting his conscience before his career, did everything in his power to undermine the official US foreign policy.

In defiance of his bosses in Washington, he granted more than 2,500 US visas to Jewish and other refugees, including the artists Marc Chagall and Max Ernst, and the family of the writer Thomas Mann. He sheltered Jews in his Marseille home and obtained forged identity papers to help others in their dangerous journeys across Europe. He worked with the French underground to smuggle Jews out of France into Franco's Spain or across the Mediterranean. He even contributed to their expenses out of his own pocket.

By 1941, Washington had lost patience with Bingham. He was sent to Argentina. After the war, to the continued annoyance of his superiors, he reported on the movements of Nazi war criminals. Not unsurprisingly, eventually he was forced out of the American diplomatic service completely.

Bingham died almost penniless in 1988. Little was known of his extraordinary activities until his son found a series of letters in his father’s belongings after his death.

Subsequently, many groups and organizations, including the United Nations and the State of Israel, honored Bingham.

Bingham is like a candle in the dark.

Many are the stories from the Spanish Inquisition onward of Jews who gave away their fortunes to sea captains for the promise of safety, only to find themselves robbed and betrayed by those they trusted. Change the year to 1940 and the same story could be repeated, with equally chilling results, in Nazi Europe.

"Yet the Chamberlain of the Cup bearers did not remember Yosef, but forgot him."

If the chamberlain "did not remember" Yosef, why did the Torah also write "but forgot him"?Rashi comments that the chamberlain "did not remember" him that same day, and subsequently he also "forgot him."

One could perhaps forgive the chamberlain for forgetting Yosef on the day of his release. It is human nature to be so overjoyed at escaping the purgatory of prison that one might forget his benefactor. However, when the excitement had died down, why didn’t the chamberlain keep his promise to Yosef?

This classic ingratitude echoes to us down the ages, in Spain, in Europe, in Russia and in Arab lands.

When we find a Hiram Bingham, we should proclaim his kindness to the hills.

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