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    Just a boy – Mikketz

    Joseph interprets Pharaoh's dream, by James Tissot

    We cannot entirely agree that the king’s butler had good intentions when he recommended Joseph as a person who could explain Pharaoh’s dream. He said that when he was in prison, “with us was a Hebrew boy, a servant” (Gen. 41:12).

    Rashi says, “Cursed be the wicked, because even their favours are incomplete”.

    The butler was guilty of not one but three insults. He called Joseph a boy – a mere stripling without education or finesse; a Hebrew – a foreigner, not one of us; and a servant – a lowly member of society unfit to enter the front door of the palace.

    One of the modern commentators even reminds us that na’ar which in Hebrew means a boy is a fool in Yiddish and that the numerical value (g’matria) of na’ar is the same as shoteh, an idiot.

    It is true that Joseph was a Hebrew but he was neither lowly nor an immature fool. He had been the manager of Potiphar’s estates, and such positions call for judgment and capacity. Even in prison he had been entrusted with responsibilities (Gen. 40:22), which again indicates that he was nobody’s fool.

    If being a foreigner suggests that he was unaware of Egyptian ways or the Egyptian language, the facts prove otherwise.

    What was in the butler’s mind when he belittled Joseph?

    To be charitable, it may have been that he was afraid that if he sang Joseph’s praises too much the king might be insulted at the thought of consulting a prisoner and the butler would lose his head.

    But it was probably more than this. During his time in prison the butler might have clashed with Joseph and now saw an opportunity of doing him harm.

    Or was it that the butler was simply a nasty human being who didn’t know how to be gracious or grateful?

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