In a society without books or recordings we cannot skip ahead to see what happens next. It is the theatrical process of a “cliff-hanger” episode. This is what we do each week when we read the Torah Sedra by Sedra. In another sense, the lighting of the candles in our Chanukiot, day by day, also lights our path; step by step.
Can we influence what is ahead? That is the classical question of free will against predetermined fate. Joseph had been in prison for many years but despite his interpretation of the steward’s dream and his plea for freedom he remained in prison. Without the intervention by God in the form of Pharaoh’s dreams, he would have stayed there.
The Parasha begins
It came to pass at the end of two full years
וַיְהִ֕י מִקֵּ֖ץ שְׁנָתַ֣יִם יָמִ֑ים
Joseph lived in Potiphar's house for about 11 years and was in prison for 2 or more years. He was 17 years old when he was sold and at 30 had become Visier of Egypt. It would be at the second year of the famine, 9 years later that he would have the first encounter with his brothers. By that time he had married Asenath, daughter of a priest and had two sons. He seems to have put his family behind him when he called his first son Manasseh saying
for God has caused me to forget all my toil and all my father's house
When his brothers first appear before him he chooses to deceive them and to treat them harshly. When he hears them admitting guilt for what they had done to him he chooses to reward them by returning their money together with the grain they had sought. But, by keeping a hostage, he seeks to reunite with Benjamin. Towards the end of the Sedra Benjamin is being held by Joseph who wants to impose his own will on events. However it will be the covenant made by God with Israel that will prevail. He will not “forget his father’s house”.
The Haftorah is from Zechariah and not only does it describe the Menorah but it also faces the question of free will. We can choose to guide our own
Fate like the Maccabees but
לֹ֚א בְחַ֙יִל֙ וְלֹ֣א בְכֹ֔חַ כִּ֣י אִם־בְּרוּחִ֔י אָמַ֖ר יְהֹוָ֥ה צְבָאֽוֹת:
'Not by military force and not by physical strength, but by My spirit,' says the Lord of Hosts