Christmas Reflections On Genesis

Those following this blog for a while would already know that I love finding connections between the events of our lives and the Torah Portions read at these times. In particular, I love analyzing the Torah portions read during the Christmas and New Year.  I know some of my readers would not approve of this. Christmas is often denounced as a “pagan” holiday that has nothing to do with the Bible – and to be sure, nowhere does the New Testament indicate when Jesus was born.  We also know that the origins of Christmas cannot be traced back to the teachings or the practices of the first believers and that Christmas was not observed until about 300 years after Christ’s death. I don’t think many people believe today that Jesus was really born on December 25th. It is commonly known that the Church chose this day in an effort to adopt and absorb the traditions of the pagan Saturnalia festival. So, there is nothing to argue about, Christmas is indeed a festival established by men – but so is the Torah reading cycle, is it not? Yet, I happen to believe that the weekly Torah portions are divinely ordained and that God speaks to His people, and to each one of us personally, through these portions of Scripture—Parashot Shavua. In the same way, through this humanly established holiday of Christmas, those who have ears can hear God’s message – and we will hear very soon what an amazing combination of the Torah portion and Christmas we get this year!  A few years ago, I wrote an article about the “Christmas Torah portion Vayechi” because that year, this was the Torah portion that was read on Christmas week. Here is the link to this article: https://blog.israelbiblicalstudies.com/jewish-studies/christmas-torah-portion-vayechi/. Today, I want to share with you my Christmas reflections of this year’s current Torah portion, Miketz.

Miketz continues the story of Joseph which began in the previous portion. You probably know that over the centuries, this story has been perceived as one of the clearest foreshadowings of Christ in the Hebrew Bible. Even though there are many images in the Old Testament that are seen as types and shadows of Jesus Christ, still, most Christian Bible scholars believe that the life of Joseph is the clearest picture of Christ in many ways and that Joseph is definitely one of the most obvious types of Jesus. Numerous parallels have been pointed out between Joseph, beloved son of Jacob, and Jesus, beloved Son of God, who would arrive on the stage of human history centuries later. Most modern New Testament believers find it nearly impossible to examine the life of Joseph in the Old Testament and not see the similarities to events in the life of Christ.

Yet, today I am going to speak about some amazing details in the Torah Portion Miketz that one can only see in Hebrew, and therefore, as far as I know, they have never been connected to Jesus before. I will start with the amazing name that  Pharaoh gave to Joseph:  in Gen. 41:45, as a sign of Joseph’s new identity, “Pharaoh… gave Joseph the name Zaphenath-Paneah.”  There is no agreement among Egyptologists what this name may actually mean, and to this day there hasn’t been an interpretation accepted by all. However, there is a Jewish interpretive tradition, that derives the name Zapheath-Paneah from a Hebrew, and not Egyptian, from roots פִּעְנֵחַ צפן   (paneah and tsaphan) – and in this case, the meaning of this name becomes very profound, even prophetic.

 Tsaphan means “to hide, treasure or store up”. We find a good example in the well-known words of Ps.119: Thy Word have I hid in mine heart… (In Hebrew it’s: בְּ֭לִבִּי צָפַ֣נְתִּי  Belibi tsaphanti…).  Paneach means “to decipher; to figure out, solve; decode, interpret”. Thus, Zaphenath-Pa’neach, the Egyptian name of Joseph, might be translated as “he who explains hidden things”. Indeed, Pharaoh could have given such a name to Joseph – after all, he interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams. But there is yet another layer to this meaning, beyond the literal one: if we render this name as “the Revelation of the Hidden”, then it would reflect not only Pharaoh’s understanding of Joseph but the entire plan of God revealed in and through this story!

I’ve written a lot about the mystery of the Hidden Messiah: the mystery of the Messiah being hidden – disguised – recognized – revealed. The Torah Portion Miketz is all about this mystery, and it is here, in this Parashah, that we find the most beautiful and most profound biblical expression of it! In Genesis 42, we read about his first meeting with his brothers:

And Joseph saw his brethren, and he knew them, but made himself strange unto them, and spake roughly unto them[1]

In translation, nothing strikes us as unusual in this sentence. However, when we read this verse in Hebrew, we discover something very intriguing: in Hebrew, the verb for ‘he knew them’ (וַיַּכִּרֵם), and the verb for ‘he made himself strange unto them’ (וַיִּתְנַכֵּר אֲלֵיהֶם) are derived from the same root!  Can you imagine? These two actions, not only very different but in a sense, completely opposite – “to recognize” and “to disguise” – are expressed with verbs coming from the very same root.  How can that be?

Biblical Hebrew is primarily a verbal language, and the verbs are derived from the roots. Roots are three-consonant groups that comprise the “essence” of the word’s meaning.  Most of the verbs in Hebrew are formed from this three-consonant root by changing vowels and by adding different prefixes and suffixes, thus forming different stems. Depending on their stem (binyan), verbs from the same root can have very different meanings, as we see here in our text. Nevertheless, being derived from the very same root, they all have something in common, they all relate to the very same essence.

So, although Joseph made himself a stranger, although he was unrecognized and unrecognizable, yet out of his disguise, this amazing root of knowledge and recognition touched the hearts of the brothers with something imperceptibly familiar and dear. No wonder, from the very first meeting with this Egyptian viceroy, they knew it was all about Joseph, even though there seemed to be no connection at all between the stories. No wonder, after Joseph’s false accusation, and despite its complete lack of sense and logic, they said one to another, We are verily guilty concerning our brother… therefore is this distress come upon us. The Spirit of God touches their hearts, and their hearts are burning, even though their eyes cannot recognize – and this whole incredible dynamic is reflected in those two verbs—opposite in meaning but derived from the same root: hikir – hitnaker.

This interplay between hikir and hitnaker – between “recognized” and “made himself strange” – although completely lost in translation, is incredibly profound. Could the brothers have recognized Joseph from the very beginning?  Should they have recognized him from the very beginning? The fact that he ‘made himself strange unto them’, means that he didn’t want them to recognize him, right? Otherwise, his whole plan to bring them to complete repentance, based on bringing Benjamin to him, would have been ruined.  We know the story. We know they were not supposed to recognize him, and yet this common root, this common essence tells us that the mystery is even deeper than we thought. Joseph was hidden – he made himself a stranger and did not want them to recognize him – yet their hearts perceived what their eyes did not. Thus, the Torah Portion Miketz foreshadows the same mystery that Christmas celebrates: the birth of the Messiah which for a while is hidden from his brothers – yet, out of his disguise, he still touches their hearts with something imperceptibly familiar and dear!

Merry Christmas to all my wonderful readers!

May your hearts and your homes be filled with His Peace and His Light!

I LOVE YOU AND I AM VERY THANKFUL FOR YOUR FAITHFULNESS AND SUPPORT!

[1] Gen.42:7

I  would like to remind you, dear friends that eTeacher offers a wonderful course, where you can learn from Parashot Shavua commentaries along with their New Testament interpretation. As always, you are welcome to contact me for more information! 

Excerpts from my books are included in this article  (and many other posts here), so if you like the  articles on this blog, you might enjoy also my books,  you  can get  them   here 

About the author

Julia BlumJulia is a teacher and an author of several books on biblical topics. She teaches two biblical courses at the Israel Institute of Biblical Studies, “Discovering the Hebrew Bible” and “Jewish Background of the New Testament”, and writes Hebrew insights for these courses.

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  1. Greg Ray

    Dear professor Julia, Shalom from Australia, as a ex student of Hebrew studies from Israel I Thankyou from my heart for you biblical insight.Ss a Christian of over fifty years my world was changed 4 years ago. I lost my home ,my income . The Lord instructed me to give what little I had toward 4 scriptures. First of which was to 1 chron 12 .Then true to His promise He used you to direct spiritual guidance toward me . Your passion for His word has continually fed my spirit . My desert experience has not weakened my resolve. You have been the pillar of cloud by day and the fire by night.Restoration is at hand. Thankyou for being a large part of God’s promise, peace be with you and family

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you so much for your generous words, Greg! I am really glad to hear that my articles have been helpful to you in your journey. May His blessings be upon you and your loved ones! Happy New Year!

  2. Suliaman lbn Smith

    Merry Christmas to you too Prof. Julia May the Good Lord Bless you and your family for all the work you are doing for His Kingdom.
    Todah Prof. Julia.

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you Suliaman, many blessings to you and your loved ones too! Happy New Year!

  3. Nick

    Thanks Julia for this teaching. I think you’ve said it all!! Wonderful to be your student!
    Nick

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you, Nick, I can say the same: it’s wonderful to have such a faithful and knowledgeable reader and supporter! Have a very blessed 2021!