Each year we eavesdrop on Joseph as he eavesdrops on his clueless brothers. He has placed a “melitz” or interpreter between them in order to extend the ruse that he is a foreign potentate rather than their brother. And so he learns that Reuben tried to rescue him from the pit. This is presumably why Joseph chooses to take Simeon hostage—the next oldest brother will have to be punished. From the perspective of the brothers, this development is rather stunning. How does the Egyptian vizier know so much about them? Clearly, this must be a divine intervention. In verse 28, they fearfully ask, “What is this that God has done to us?” They think that events are governed by the mysteries of heaven, but they miss the clues that they are playing out a very human drama, and that they have become puppets in the hands of their own brother.
The word “melitz” recurs in the book of Job, in Elihu’s speech of reprimand to Job and the three older companions. In Job 33:22, Elihu speaks of an angel who is a “melitz yosher,” an advocate of the person’s rectitude. Even in the most desperate of circumstances, one angel who is “melitz yosher” can prevail over many opponents, bring grace and redemption. In b. Shabbat 32a, Rabbi Eliezer teaches that even if the odds are stacked 999:1 against a person, if s/he has one angelic defender, they will be rescued.
Throughout the centuries, the Jewish strategy for survival often depended on finding one patron, whether at the royal court, or among the gentile clergy, or in the business elite, who could be an advocate and rescue the Jews in their time of need. To this day we speak of important donors as “angels” who provide the support necessary for Jewish organizations to do their important work. Beyond financial support, the encouragement of well-connected leaders validates the activities of the Jewish community, which can often feel peripheral to the larger developments of society. Continue reading