Shabbat-Table Talks: Miqes

To read last year's Table Talk on Miqes click here.


By: Rabbi Ralph Tawil <>


Value: Humility. Attributing ones talents and abilities to God, even while one uses them to benefit others. True humility, as opposed to self-effacement, requires an awareness of one’s abilities and talents, while at the same time not taking credit for these abilities. This awareness coupled with the approach that it is God who gave me these abilities, allows the person to perform the way he should to benefit people with his talents without becoming haughty about them. This value is one that is so lacking in the public and private spheres in our societies. People are only too quick to make sure that praise and the attendant rewards accrue to them because of their talents and abilities. When we recognize that what we have all comes by the will of God, and it is in His service and for His ends that we were given the abilities and the opportunities to help, then we will not take personal credit for using them to help people. We will be happy to be able to be God’s agent to carry out His will.


Background: Yosef was forgotten and alone in jail. He had helped the Pharaoh’s chief steward by interpreting his dream, yet the chief steward forgot him. This is typical of court life in the palace. What doesn’t advance your own goals, even if it is to help another, is not important. When the chief steward sees that he might benefit from revealing the information, he lets Pharaoh know about the Hebrew slave who correctly interpreted his dream. Yosef is preened for the meeting with Pharaoh. Pharaoh immediately heaps praise upon Yosef. Yosef, breaking with the pattern in court of seeking praise and power, rejects Pharaoh’s compliments.


Text: Beresheet 41:14-16

Thereupon Pharaoh sent for Joseph, and he was rushed from the dungeon. He had his hair cut and changed his clothes, and he appeared before Pharaoh. And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I have had a dream, but no one can interpret it. Now I have heard it said of you that you but hear a dream and interpret it.


Joseph answered Pharaoh, saying, Not I! God will see to Pharaoh’s welfare.


Analysis: Recall Yosef’s situation. He was but a slave and a jailed one at that. He was at the very bottom of Egyptian society. He was called in front of Pharaoh and was praised very highly by one of the most powerful people in the world. Yet, he deflects this praise. Yosef is imminently aware that his talents and abilities come from God. No praise and compliments are due him. Yosef was not seeking to advance himself. He was seeking only to serve in the way that he was able. The fact that his advancement followed soon after, does not change the fact that Yosef was interested in helping Pharaoh to understand the message that God had for him. This was a vast change from the younger Yosef, who received in his father’s home, significant rewards from his abilities. Even when he interprets the chief steward’s dream, he asks something in return. However, in front of Pharaoh, Yosef was satisfied with just doing what he was able to do, without thought of his own benefit. It is this time that he advances—when he was least seeking it.


Yosef doesn’t suffice with interpreting the dream. He continues by offering Pharaoh a plan to survive the years of famine. This is not done in an act of haughtiness. Rather, Yosef, being aware of the proper steps that had to be done, advised Pharaoh. Humility includes having an awareness of your abilities. As was once said: Awareness of both your limitations and your potential enhances humility.


Discussion: Discuss with your children and guests the various abilities that you and they have. Speak about how you feel when you are recognized for your abilities. If we are to emulate Yosef, then our feeling should be one of being glad to be of service with the abilities that God has given us.


[Note to parents: encourage your children to think of their abilities other than their achievements in school. Remember, grades measure only a small aspect of the whole person. We are much more than the grades that we achieve in science, math or even Torah. What kind of person are we? How do we relate to people? Are we sensitive, caring and compassionate? Are we ethical? Are we creative and insightful? There are no grades for these qualities that are many times more important than whether we know trigonometry or not.]


What brought Yosef to the ability to say: “It is not I”? (His previous experiences when he sought the benefits from his abilities that ended up in dismal failure.)


Realizing one’s abilities and then realizing that they come from God, Who has a purpose in giving them to you is an important process of growth and responsibility. What are some of your abilities? (Start small, thinking about abilities that you have in common with other people, then moving to abilities and talents that distinguish you.)  What can you do with those abilities? Why do you think that God gave you those abilities? What does he want you to accomplish? (These things do not have to be monumental as in Yosef’s case. They could be the simple, everyday things that we have the ability to do. For example, if I know some of the material taught in class and my friend is struggling, I have the opportunity, and the obligation, to offer my help to the other person. If I have been given a beautiful voice, I should consider how I might please other people by becoming a hazzan, to use my voice to bring people closer to God through their prayer.) When I think about my abilities in this way, I do not accept any praise for them. In using my abilities in the service of others and in the service of God, I am merely doing what I am supposed to. There is no reason to be praised for that.


Discussion with older children: Taking stock of your abilities in order to choose a career.


How do we know where to expend our efforts in life? We might ask ourselves what we like to do and what we are good at doing? In other words, what abilities do I have? The answer to this question could point the way to the solution of the question of what career or profession to choose.


Another aspect to the question is what do I consider worthwhile doing with those abilities? Not always do the abilities point to a single direction of how to actualize them. Asking oneself this question as well, could help a person home in on how he wants to contribute to society.


Working on Humility


One might claim: "what does it mean that 'God gave me the abilities.' I know that I worked hard and practiced hard to attain the abilities that I have." God made it possible that with some work you could attain the things that you have. The fact that you worked to achieve something does not remove God from the picture, it just makes him more discreet.


Example: Imagine that you are the driver of a very important leader. You drive him around in a nice car. You did not receive the car for yourself, but just for your service of the leader. Likewise, the talents and abilities that God has given us are for us to carry out His will with them. God’s vast plan requires that a person with your abilities be on the “stage” of life. You might affect whole communities and nations, or you might affect your family and friends—the scope of where you are best suited to act, is less important than that you carry out His will with diligence, sincerity and humility.

To read last year's Table Talk on Miqes click here.


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