In this week’s Parashah, we read the famous story of Yosef’s rise to prominence in the kingdom of Egypt. As we left off in last week’s Parashah, Yosef is at his lowest of lows, sitting in a jail cell waiting and hoping for his release. His serendipity finally comes in this week’s Parashah, when Par’oh has very troubling dreams and calls upon Yosef to decipher them. After Yosef interprets that there will be seven good years of abundance and seven bad years of famine, Yosef begins to be seen favorably in the eyes of Par’oh. In fact, he is appointed to head the entire operation of conserving the grain during the seven years of abundance, so as to be able to provide during the seven years of deprivation.
When first appointing Yosef to his prestigious position, the Torah states (BeReishit 41:44), “VaYomer Par’oh El Yosef Ani Par’oh UVil’adecha Lo Yarim Ish Et Yado VeEt Raglo BeChol Eretz Mitzrayim,” “Par’oh said to Yosef, ‘I am Par’oh, and without you no man may lift up his hand or his foot in all the land of Egypt.’” Rashi (ad. loc. s.v. Ani Par’oh) explains that when Par’oh states the obvious, namely, that he is Par’oh, he means to say that he is Par’oh and that he has the right to issue a decree upon his kingdom; as such, he decrees that no man may lift up his hand without Yosef’s permission. Based on this Rashi, it seems that Yosef’s power emerges from Par’oh, a human king. How can the Torah possibly indicate that power comes from anyone other than Hashem?
One possible answer to this difficulty was offered by Rav Yehuda Amital. He explains that when Par’oh promotes Yosef to be the prime minister of Egypt, the Torah emphasizes that the first thing Par’oh does is dress Yosef in clothes reflecting the importance of Yosef’s position. Therefore, when Yosef puts on these new clothes, it’s not just that he is accepting his new position of prestige and Chashivut –he is also symbolizing the greatness of HaKadosh Baruch Hu. As Rav Amital understood, “Judaism recognizes the importance of physical and material trappings and encourages us to acknowledge this significance as well. Not only do they provide grandeur for God, but they remind a person that he is created in God's image and must behave in an appropriate manner.” Therefore, according to Rav Amital, when Yosef accepts his position from Par’oh and all the prestige that comes with it, he is really putting the image of God into the minds of the Mitzriyim while allowing himself to maintain his Emunah in Hashem, in a country in which monotheism is a very foreign concept.
Based on this explanation by Rav Amital, we now have an answer to our question posed on Rashi. While on the surface it seems that Yosef might be working for Par’oh and not for Hashem, Yosef, perhaps unbeknownst to even Par’oh, is really working for Hashem. Indeed, Yosef appears to be taking orders from Par’oh and is beneath Par’oh in terms of esteem in Egypt. However, in reality, Yosef recognizes that he is representing Hashem when he wears the beautiful clothing and when he uses his power. By taking the position, Yosef is attempting to spread the ideas with which Hashem has influenced him, to effectively spread the word of Hashem whether the Mitzrim are aware or not.
We can learn a very important lesson from the appearance-versus-reality situation in Parashat Mikeitz. Today, we are not completely surrounded by Jews who understand what it means to be a servant of God alone, and we therefore must find a way to successfully retain that concept while at the same time functioning, for example, in a workplace with people who don’t share our beliefs. For Yosef, this means wearing the clothing of a king to embrace the kingship of Hashem. There is no uniform way of doing this; rather, each and every person in a situation where he or she must answer to a person on a higher level must in his or her own way recognize and embrace the oneness of Hashem. With this, may we merit to be not only known as descendants of Yosef HaTzaddik, but as an entire nation of Tzaddikim.