The First Cliffhanger

Saturday night, December 4, 2021

In the Jewish Tradition we read a portion of the Torah every week on Shabbat (Saturday) morning, completing the Five Books of Moses each year. The weekly portions were established prior to the division of the Hebrew Bible into chapters (which was developed by Christian clergy in the 13th century). There are several times when the end of one Torah portion gives us a preview of what’s to come, but this week’s portion is definitely a “page turner” – or perhaps a scroll-roller!

Picture credit: Sweet Publishing /

This morning, in the Genesis portion called Miketz (“AT THE END of two years…”), we read the continuation of the Joseph Cycle, which began last week. Miketz starts with Chapter 41 (Pharaoh’s dreams) and ends with Ch. 44, verse 17, when Joseph says to his brothers: “Only he in whose possession the goblet was found (i.e. Benjamin) shall be my slave; the rest of you go back in peace to your father.” Stay tuned for next week’s drama!

Even though for over 60 years I’ve known how the story unfolds, every year my eyes well-up with tears hearing-and-reading the several times when the mighty viceroy of Egypt, Joseph, breaks down and cries several times in private – at least up until this point.

And then the portion leaves us with a cliffhanger! What’s going to happen to poor Benjamin?! What’s Judah going to say to his father Jacob (AKA Israel)?

So this morning – as if I didn’t know how the story develops – I found myself having my annual sneak preview, reading ahead in next week’s portion, Vayigash, to the end of Ch. 41 and into Ch. 45 – at least through verse 16. Here Joseph breaks down and cries in the presence of his bothers, who were dumbfounded by Joseph’s revelation. Then Joseph cries on Benjamin’s shoulder (literally: the back of his neck) and those of the rest of his brothers. Get out the tissues!

Why does the story affect me so much? Maybe it’s because of my namesake (though “Yosef” is not my given Hebrew name; long story), or the fact that, like the protagonist, I’m the penultimate child in a large family (in my case there were 6 children, Joseph had 11 brothers and a sister). Maybe it’s because I cry at weddings and movies – sometimes because the latter are so bad! Or perhaps it’s because this is some of the best literature ever written.

Want to spend a fascinating few minutes? Take a look at the text and trace the circumstances in which Joseph cries. What does it say about Joseph? What does it say about leadership? What does it say about us?

Many wishes are in order: Shavua tov (have a good week), Hodesh Tov (have a good month of Tevet), and Happy Hanukkah (Happy Hanukkah!). Other season’s greetings to follow.


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