Pharaoh [the epitome of a non-Jewish leader] wanted to control the river himself and be a god. My father and teacher of blessed memory [Rabbi Meir Kahane's father, Rav Yechezkel Shraga Kahane ztz”l] explained this beautifully: in Joseph’s day, Pharaoh dreamed [literally “is dreaming”] that he was standing by [literally “on”] the river (Genesis 41:1). But when he related his dream to Joseph, he said, And behold I was standing on the bank of the river (ibid. v. 17). Why did he change the wording? Furthermore, how could Pharaoh know that Joseph’s interpretation was true? After all, he had rejected the interpretations of all his soothsayers: the Midrash explains the verse, and none could interpret [the dreams] for Pharaoh (ibid. v.8) to mean, They would interpret, but their voice did not enter Pharaoh’s ear [i.e. he did not accept what they said] (Genesis Rabbah 89:6). But if this were the case, then why would Pharaoh accept the interpretation of a slave – and a Hebrew slave at that!? By way of answer, my father quoted a Talmudic passage which deals with dreams: A person is only shown what his heart already imagines (Berakhot 55b). What could Pharaoh possibly imagine, what did he not already have? One thing only he lacked, one thing only he desired that was beyond his control – the River Nile, the god of Egypt. This is why he is dreaming in the present tense – eternally dreaming of being the god of Egypt, in control of the river, on the river – above the river. But he did not want to reveal this, so he told Joseph, I was standing on the bank of the river. But Joseph understood, and interpreted the dreams to mean that the day would yet come when the river would betray those who worshiped it, and would cause a famine. Only if Pharaoh would heed Joseph’s words would he be able to supply his people with bread, and thus become their god. This was certainly what Pharaoh wanted to hear, and this was the interpretation that he accepted.
[See on the other hand Joseph, as an allusion to the qualities of a Jewish leader:] Joseph was sold as a slave. They afflicted his leg with shackles, his soul came in irons (Psalms 105: 18); and now, Joseph was the ruler of the land (Genesis 42:6). – Genesis Rabbah 30:8. In other words: come and see the providence of the all-powerful G-d. Yesterday, Joseph was brought to Egypt as a slave, iron chains shackling his soul – who could have foreseen that overnight, G-d would overturn his world, and renew his life, and transform this slave into a ruler?! Every “soul” of Israel must learn from this that just as Joseph, whose soul came in irons, became the viceroy of Egypt – so too, will they ascend from Egypt as a great and powerful nation. A Jewish leader’s greatness lies in his being on the one hand strong and uncompromising, able to control his own nature and overcome all obstacles, and, as G-d said to Joshua four times, be strong and courageous (Joshua 1:6, 7, 9, 18); while on the other hand, being humble in his private life and personal relationships, because G-d will never infuse His spirit into a conceited and arrogant person. And this is how Chazal describe Joseph: Even though Joseph achieved royal dominion, he never became arrogant towards his brothers or his father’s house. Just as he was insignificant in their eyes at the beginning, when he was a slave in Egypt, so he remained insignificant in his own eyes after he became king (Exodus Rabbah 1:7). True, the Talmud says: Why did Joseph die before his brothers? – Because he acted condescendingly (Berakhot 55a, Sotah 13b). But this was only in one specific instance, when his brothers referred to Jacob ten times as your servant, our father, and he did not stop them; and, as Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer (39) says, his life was shortened by ten years for this reason. But apart from this, he always acted with humility. See how strict G-d is with the tzaddikim! In fact, the trait of humility was immensely strong in Joseph. In the words of the Ohr ha-Chayim: When [Joseph] was in Egypt, it would have been natural for him to change…in light of what they did to him – they sold him, and were cruel to him; how could he not have changed, however slightly, towards them all?… And yet, the Torah teaches that he remained equal to them. [Even more so:] “Joseph recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him”. According to the simple understanding, the commentators explain that the brothers did not recognize Joseph because at the time when they sold him, he was young and without a beard, and now he had a beard. On the other hand, Joseph recognized his brothers because at the time he was sold, they already had beards. Rashi digs deeper, explaining that the difference between the two sides was not merely recognition of external appearances. When Joseph encountered his brothers on the fateful day in Shechem, they did not “recognize” him; that is, they did not act brotherly towards him and sold him to the Ishmaelites. But when the brothers were at Joseph's mercy, he “recognized” them; he acted brotherly towards them and did not take revenge for all the pain that they caused him.
[From this, there is a link to redemption: at the very end of his life, Joseph's last words ever to his brothers were] “G-d is sure to visit you [pakod yifkod] (Midrash HaGadol, Bereshit 50:24) He informed them of two visits. The first [pakod] referred to the time of Moses, the second [yifkod] to that of the Messianic king. This also serves as a paradigm of the final redemption, since the complete redemption will parallel the Exodus from Egypt. The Midrash there links every name mentioned with the redemption, and concludes: Joseph [Yosef] is thus called because in the future, G-d will yosif (“continue”) to redeem Israel from the wicked kingdom, just as He redeemed them from Egypt, as it says, And it will be on that day, the Lord will yosif (“continue”) to show His hand, to acquire the remnant of His nation (Isaiah 11:11). Kol HaTor says [regarding the allusion to the “Mashiach ben Joseph” and the complete redemption] (Ch. 2, Part 1:39): “Joseph recognized his brothers but they did not recognize him” (Gen. 42:8): This is one of Joseph's attributes. Not just in his generation, but in every generation, Mashiach ben Joseph recognizes his brothers and they do not recognize him. It is an act of Satan which conceals Mashiach ben Joseph's attributes, such that the Jews unfortunately do not recognize his footsteps, and in fact scoff at them... If not for this, our troubles would already be over. If Israel “recognized Joseph”, Mashiach ben Joseph's footsteps comprising the ingathering of the exiles, etc., we would already be completely redeemed.” Even before we examine our sages' words regarding Mashiach ben Joseph, we already have in hand several basic principles from the holy lips of the Gra: 1.) There are two Messiahs, Mashiach ben Joseph and Meshiach ben David. The first is called “the Inaugural Messiah”. He is involved in the whole physical side of redemption, the actual return to Zion, and he fights G-d's wars. The second completes the spiritual redemption. 2.) These two Messiahs exist among us in every generation, and if Israel only understood what they must do to bring redemption “in haste”, it would come speedily via these two Messiahs. 3.) Mashiach ben Joseph not only goes unrecognized, but Israel ridicules those who herald the truth of redemption and are fit to be Mashiach ben Joseph. If Israel only recognized him and his era, he would immediately begin complete redemption “in haste.”
Rabbi Meir Kahane's son, Rav Binyamin Ze'ev Kahane, HY”D, refers to this in his commentary on Haggadat Pesach [The Haggadah of the Jewish Idea]: Who is Mashiach ben Joseph? In every generation, there is a “candidate for the post” of Mashiach ben Joseph, as well as one who could be Mashiach ben David. It is the actions of the generation, and the subsequent judgement of G-d, that determine whether or not they be revealed. In any event, he who bears the soul of Mashiach ben Joseph strives, in every generation, to bring the physical redemption nearer; but it is only in our era that the generation has merited to see its implementation [the beginning of the ingathering of the exiles]. The [above mentioned, see Kol haTor] refusal to recognize Mashiach ben Joseph is actually refusal to take measures involving faith and trust in G-d, without fear of the nations, as the most important part of the general return to G-d and His Torah. And since Mashiach ben Joseph is ready to come every single moment, as we said above, it follows that due to Israel's refusal to repent, the Mashiach becomes like a prisoner, so to speak. The impoverished [meaning, not Torah observant] regime, whose conception and birth occurred in the alien culture of the nations, and who denies the Torah of Moses, has refused to apply the authority and sovereignty of the people and G-d of Israel upon all parts of Eretz Israel for fear of the nations. This constitutes a Chilul Hashem. A rebellion against and degradation of the holiness of Eretz Israel, large parts of which have remained under the authority of the nations. A condition for complete redemption through Kiddush Hashem is control and sovereignty of the G-d and people of Israel. Rav Binyamin Ze'ev Kahane ends his Haggadat Pessach commentary thus: We can but pray that all we have learnt about the Redemption will be actualized soon, swiftly and painlessly, that we may merit a hastened Redemption, that our merits may bring Mashiach ben David, who will complete the process of Redemption, Amen.
[A remark: The last shiur that Rabbi Meir Kahane, HY”D, held at the Yeshiva of the Jewish Idea before he was murdered by an Al Qaeda member in New York, dealt with Mashiach ben Joseph. More than 10 years later, when his son Rav Binyamin Ze'ev Kahane and his wife Taliyah, HY”D, were murdered in a roadside ambush by Arab terrorists north of Jerusalem, besides their car were found bloodstained sheets with the last Parashat Hashavua commentary that Rav Binyamin had worked on: A commentary on Parashat Vayigash, focussed on Israel's refusal to recognize Mashiach ben Joseph and his willingness to endure this out of love for his people.]
Compiled by Tzipora Liron-Pinner from 'Peirush HaMaccabee on Shemot' and 'The Jewish Idea' of Rabbi Meir Kahane, HY”D and from 'The Writings of Rav Binyamin Ze'ev Kahane HY”D', commentary on Parashat Vayigash, and from his 'Haggadah of the Jewish Idea'.