TWO YEARS OF DAYS
At the beginning of our Torah Portion we read: at the end of two full years Pharaoh dreamed. There is a slight difference when read it in Hebrew: MiKetz Shnataim Yamim (מִקֵּץ שְׁנָתַיִם יָמִים) – at the end of “two years of days”. The word yamim – days – doesn’t occur in any translations. Translations speak only about “two years” (two full years, in some translations) while the original text speaks about “two years of days”. Why?
The Hebrew text here conveys a very profound truth: for Joseph, these two years in prison consisted of many single days – days full of anguish, pain, new hopes and new disappointments. Every day he had to choose to trust God, no matter how exhausted or disappointed he was. The word “days” assures us that God saw every single day of Joseph’s imprisonment: He knew the pain and the anguish of each of these days. The beauty and the depth of Hebrew make this message very clear: our life is measured by years, months or weeks, – however, these years, months, or weeks consist of days full of challenges and choices, hopes and disappointments, and God sees and knows every single one of these days.
JOSEPH’S NEW NAME
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 has not been an interpretation accepted by all. The ancient Jewish interpretive tradition, however, derives the name Zapheath-Paneah from Hebrew (and not Egyptian) roots:פִּעְנֵחַ צפן (paneah and tsaphan). What are the meanings of these roots?
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”. That really could be the name that Pharaoh would give to Joseph – after all, he interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams.
But this name might also be translated 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!
THE FIRST MEETING
When we read about Joseph’s first meeting with his brothers in Egypt: “Joseph saw his brethren, and he knew them, but made himself strange unto them…” –nothing strikes us as unusual in this sentence in English. However, when we read it in Hebrew, we discover something very intriguing: The verb for ‘he knew them’, and the verb for ‘he made himself strange unto them’ (וַיִּתְנַכֵּר אֲלֵיהֶם) are derived from the same root! How can it be?
This is an exceptionally beautiful example of how deep and multifaceted the Hebrew language is and how profound His Word is. 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 Hebrew verbs 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. Nevertheless, being derived from the very same root, they all have something in common—they all relate to the very same “essence”.
Thus, these two actions, completely opposite in a sense – “to recognize” (וַיַּכִּרֵם) and “to disguise” (וַיִּתְנַכֵּר אֲלֵיהֶם) – in Hebrew, are expressed with verbs coming from the very same root. Yes, Joseph made himself a stranger, and yet, out of his disguise, this amazing root of knowing and recognition touches the hearts of the brothers with something familiar. And this incredible dynamic is reflected in those two verbs, derived from the same root: hikir – hitnaker.
THE SECOND MEETING
In Genesis chapter forty-three, we see the brothers, having traveled to Egypt together with Benjamin, standing again before Joseph. Ten of them had already been here before and this whole scene was an unpleasant déjà vu for them. Worn out from the uncustomary dependence, they looked forward with agonizing impatience to the finale. Only Benjamin, laying eyes for the first time on the one about whom he had heard so much, with open curiosity examines this strange man. Who is he? Why has he been so insistent on his, Benjamin’s, coming? And what is even more peculiar, now that Benjamin has finally come, why does he not even bother to look at him?
Have you noticed this point that must have amazed Benjamin so much? From the moment the brothers come before Joseph and he begins to speak with them, until the moment he lifted his eyes and saw his brother Benjamin, his mother’s son, an entire eternity passes. Four verses of Scripture can make up several very long moments in real life. Could it possibly be that Joseph really did not notice Benjamin until now? The astute heart understands, however, how much these long, drawn-out minutes mean. This single dramatic detail is enough to show how infinite is the love Joseph has for his brother. Who among us has not at least once experienced something similar? When someone or something, the object of your tireless expectations and dreams, is finally before you, having so passionately and for so long dreamt about this instant, you are now afraid to lift your eyes in that direction for fear that the mirage might dissolve, or that you will be overwhelmed and your heart explode, afraid lest it all turn out to be a dream… or lest you rush too quickly headlong into the swelling tides of limitless mind-boggling happiness which now threaten to engulf you in their power. Joseph, who doubtless had noticed Benjamin from the second he entered, continues to converse with the others as if unaware of the newcomer. With all his might he refrains from looking over at that brother before the right time comes, because he recognizes that when he does he will no longer be able to speak, unable to resist being swept away on the wave of emotions that overpower him. Only after all the obligatory words of welcome are pronounced does he allow himself this indulgence. He permits himself for the first time to look fully upon his mother’s son. He allows himself to lift his eyes and see his brother Benjamin36 and to look, forgetting everything and everyone, absorbing these infinitely dear features… until they become suspiciously foggy, until they begin to swim about and his eyes burn with something unbecoming and impermissible, something indecently warm and salty.
The description of Joseph’s feelings is acutely intense in the Hebrew:
Now his heart yearned for his brother (כי-נכמרו רחמיו אל-אחיו)
This is one of the strongest, if not the strongest, expressions in the Tanach to describe the feelings which permeate a loving person. When King Solomon, for example, was determining the mother of the infant and made as if to have the child divided in two with the sword, it is said of the real mother:
She yearned with compassion for her son  (נכמרו רחמיה אל-בניה)
It is interesting that not only the root רחם means “womb”, but also the words “compassion”, “mercy”, and “lovingkindness” are derived from this root. The combination of these two definitions makes that deep-down love that besieges the soul. It describes the emotion with which Joseph is overcome, like a wave swallowing him from head to foot. Now his heart yearned for his brother; so Joseph made haste and sought somewhere to weep.
 Even today, in Hebrew the word ”days” is often added when one speaks of time: a week of days, a month of days. שבוע ימים. חודש ימים.
 This chapter is taken from my book “If you are the Son of God”
 Gen. 43:29
 1 Kings 3:26; the NASB translates this phrase as, ‘She was deeply stirred over her son.’
If you like the articles on this blog, you might enjoy also my books, you can get them from my page: https://blog.israelbiblicalstudies.com/julia-blum/ . Also, I wanted to let you know that I am preparing the book with all these Hebrew insights into Torah, the book will be published and available in January -2019.
The insights you read on these pages, are typical of what we share with our students during DHB (Discovering the Hebrew Bible) or WTP (Weekly Torah Portion) classes. If these articles whet your appetite for discovering the hidden treasures of the Hebrew Bible, or studying in depth Parashat Shavua, along with New Testament insights, click on this link to get more information (and also a teacher’s discount for new students) regarding eTeacher courses:
Finally, even though I didn’t publish anything on Hanukkah this year since I didn’t want to interrupt my Torah Portion series, you can read my posts on Hanukkah from the previous years (https://blog.israelbiblicalstudies.com/jewish-studies/came-drive-away-darkness-hanukkah-song/
Join the conversation (One comment)
Julia I love the way you write, the vocabulary you choose, it is so beautiful. You truly do know how to express the beauty and richness of the Hebrew. Such a blessing;)
Shabbat Shalom Sister