וַיְהִ֕י מִקֵּ֖ץ שְׁנָתַ֣יִם יָמִ֑ים וּפַרְעֹ֣ה חֹלֵ֔ם וְהִנֵּ֖ה עֹמֵ֥ד עַל־הַיְאֹֽר:
It came to pass at the end of two full years that Pharaoh was dreaming, and behold! he was standing by the Nile.
[Bereishit (Genesis) 41:1]
בִּשְׁנַ֤ת שְׁתַּ֙יִם֙ לְדָרְיָ֣וֶשׁ הַמֶּ֔לֶךְ בַּחֹ֙דֶשׁ֙ הַשִּׁשִּׁ֔י בְּי֥וֹם אֶחָ֖ד לַחֹ֑דֶשׁ הָיָ֨ה דְבַר־יְקֹוָ֜ק בְּיַד־חַגַּ֣י הַנָּבִ֗יא אֶל־זְרֻבָּבֶ֤ל בֶּן־שְׁאַלְתִּיאֵל֙ פַּחַ֣ת יְהוּדָ֔ה וְאֶל־יְהוֹשֻׁ֧עַ בֶּן־יְהוֹצָדָ֛ק הַכֹּהֵ֥ן הַגָּד֖וֹל לֵאמֹֽר:
In the second year of King Darius, in the sixth month, on the first day of the month, the word of the Lord came to Chaggai, the prophet, to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jehozadak the High Priest, saying …
דבר אחר: בשנת שתים לדריוש. מה ראה הקדוש ברוך הוא להזכיר לציון בשנת שתים, אלא את מוצא שכל מה שאירע ליוסף אירע לציון… יוסף נפדה לשתי שנים, מיום שפתר חלום לשר המשקים, ויהי מקץ שנתים ימים, וציון נפדה לשתי שנים בשנת שתים לדריוש המלך (חגי א, א), לפיכך דוד אומר: “גאלת בזרוע עמך בני יעקב ויוסף סלה (תהלים עז, טז)”
Another thing: “In the second year of Darius” – why did the Holy One, blessed be He see fit to remember Zion in the second year? Because we find that everything that happened to Joseph happened to Zion … Yoseph was redeemed in the second year after he interpreted the butler’s dream, (as Scripture states) “It came to pass at the end of two full years,” and Zion was redeemed after two years, “In the second year of King Darius.” Therefore David says “You redeemed Your people with Your arm, the sons of Yaacov and Yoseph forever.” [Tehillim (Psalms) 77:16]
[Aggadat Bereishit 68]
The Connection Between Zion and Yoseph
The Midrash quoted above sees a close connection between the events in the life of Yoseph and events related to Zion, the heart of Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel). With this approach, the Midrash finds a solution to a problem with the simple meaning of the text of Chaggai: why was the prophet urged by God to hurry to return to rebuild the Beit Hamikdash (Temple) specifically in the second year of Darius’ reign? The answer is that the redemption of Zion is comparable to the redemption of Yoseph, which took place at the end of the second year.
What is the nature of Yoseph’s connection to Zion/Jerusalem? What is it about this connection that relates the two redemptions to each other? How are we to understand the Midrash’s statement that everything that happened to Joseph happened to Zion (which the Midrash expands upon in detail)?
First Answer – Both Yoseph and Zion/Jerusalem Have an Aspect of the Collective Nation and of the Land
In his book Akeidat Yitzḥak, Rabbi Yitzḥak Arama (1420-1494) notes that several verses indicate that Am Yisrael (the Nation of Israel) in its entirety is associated with the name Yoseph. For example, the verse in Tehillim [80:2]: “O Shepherd of Israel, hearken, He Who leads Yoseph like flocks…” presents a parallel between the “Shepherd of Israel” and “He Who leads Yoseph.” Based upon this fact, Rabbi Arama explains that various details of the life of Yoseph which the Torah presents and which are seemingly unnecessary are indeed relevant as hints of what will happen to Am Yisrael in the end of days. Rabbi Arama notes that the name Zion too relates to the Collective Israel, as we find in numerous sources. For example, the verse in Isaiah [51:16] “And to say to Zion ‘you are My people’,” on which Zohar comments: “This teaches that Israel is called by the name Zion.” [Parashat Tzav, 35]
Thus, the Clal Yisrael (Collective Israel) is known additionally both as “Zion” and as “Yoseph.”
Yoseph as Israel’s Leader and Zion as the Land’s Leader
Yoseph had a leadership role for Am Yisrael, as is hinted in Yaacov’s blessing to him: “From the hands of the Mighty One of Yaacov; from there he sustained the rock of Israel” [Bereishit 49:24]. Chazal (Our Sages) expound the verse to mean that Yoseph was worthy of having the twelve tribes descend from him [Gemara (Talmud) Sota 36b]. Thus, the meaning of the verse is that Yoseph, though Yaacov’s son, is considered as a father to Am Yisrael, in the sense of leadership, and he received the power to lead the nation from God, Who is “the Mighty One of Yaacov.”
Indeed, Yoseph supported and sustained all of Israel in Egypt during the years of famine and following the famine. The Mashiach ben Yoseph (Messiah of the House of Yoseph) as well will be charged with supporting and sustaining the Clal Yisrael (Collective Israel), as Alshich comments [Bereishit 49:24]. Even though the Gemara states that only three men may be considered the Avot (fathers) of Israel, nonetheless, Yoseph has the leadership aspect of paternity of Israel, despite being one of the tribes, a son of Yaacov.
Zion, as well, has a leadership role for all Israel, as the posuk (verse) says “כי מציון תצא תורה” (“Instruction shall go forth from Zion”) [Isaiah 2:3]. The posuk in Tehillim [146:10] states “ימלוך ד’ לעולם אלוקיך ציון לדור ודור הללויה” (“The Lord will reign forever! Your God, O Zion, to all generations. Hallelujah!,”) implying that God’s reign is limited to Zion, while Zachariah [14:9] prophesied “והיה ד’ למלך על כל הארץ” (“And the Lord shall become King over all the earth”). Radak explains that the teaching which comes out of Zion will enlighten the entire world and then God will “become King over all the earth.” Thus, Zion has a leadership role not only for the Holy Land, but for the entire earth.
It is this strong connection between Yoseph and Zion which brings the Midrash to explain the two year delay in Zion’s redemption as being related to the two year delay in Yoseph’s redemption.
Second Answer – The Tribe of Yoseph Loves the Land
Midrash Yalkut Shimoni [Parashat Pincḥas 773] notes that Yoseph loved Eretz Yisrael and therefore made his brothers swear to bring his remains from Egypt to Israel: “So Yoseph made the Israelites take an oath: ‘When God comes to your aid, you are to carry my bones up from here.’” [Bereishit 50:25] The Midrash remarks that Yoseph’s descendants, as well, loved the Land, as we find the daughters of Ẓelophchad (of the tribe of Menashe, the elder son of Yoseph) requesting of Moses “Give us a portion (of the Land) along with our father’s brothers” [Bamidbar (Numbers) 27:4]. The tribe of Yoseph demonstrated a unique connection to and love of Eretz Israel. Therefore, it is not surprising that Moshe dispatched half of the tribe of Menashe to remain with the tribes of Gad and Reuven east of the River Jordan. As the Jerusalem Talmud notes, the request was not initiated by the tribe of Menashe itself, but was Moshes’ initiative. [Bikurim 1:8]
The connection between a lover and loved one creates a certain resemblance between them. For example, study partners are likely to take on aspects of each other’s behaviors. Similarly, concerning the mitzva “You shall cling to Him …” [Devarim (Deuteronomy) 10:20], Rambam writes: “שצונו להדבק עם החכמים ולהתייחד עמהם ולהתמיד בישיבתם ולהשתתף עמהם בכל אופן מאופני החברה במאכל ובמשתה ובעסק כדי שיגיע לנו בזה להדמות במעשיהם ולהאמין הדעות האמתיות מדבריהם” (“He commanded us to cling to the Sages, to spend time with them and to participate with them in all social matters, in eating drinking and in commerce; in this manner we will resemble their actions and believe in the true traits which are learned from their words”) [Sefer haMitzvot, Positive Mitzva #10].
Thus, we can understand the Midrash’s equation of the events of Yoseph’s life and the events of Zion to reflect the love of Yoseph and Zion, and due to this love, Yoseph adopted some of the Land’s qualities and the Land adopted some of his. Since Yoseph and Zion are so closely connected, it is appropriate that they have similar experiences.
Summary of the Answers
We presented two reasons the Midrash equates the events of the life of Yoseph and the events of Zion:
1) Each has a collective aspect – Yoseph and Zion each has a role in connection with the collective: Yoseph as the sustainer and leader of the Clal Yisrael (Collective Israel), during the famine in Egypt, and in the future redemption; Zion as the leader of Israel through the Torah which emanates from her to Am Yisrael.
2) Yoseph loved Eretz Yisrael – there is a connection of love between Joseph and Zion, which creates a special closeness and similarity between them as lover and loved one.
The Midrash deals in part with events that have already transpired and in part with those which are still in the future and destined to occur with the completion of our redemption. The Gemara comments that when one is judged in the עולם העליון (Upper World), one of the questions to be answered is “Did you anticipate salvation?” [Shabbat 31a] Rashi comments that the question includes anticipating fulfillment of the words of the prophets. Ran adds that one must anticipate salvation in is his own days. In his address in honor of Israel’s Independence Day 5764, Rabbi Avraham Elkana Kahana Shapira zt”l asked where we find the obligation to anticipate fulfillment of prophecy within our lifetimes. Rabbi Shapira answered that Sefer Mitzvot Katan [Mitzva 1] saw the source within the first of the Ten Commandments: “I am the Lord, your God, Who took you out of the land of Egypt.” [Shemot (Exodus) 20:2] Since this verse is part of the עשרת הדברות (Decalogue), it must convey a mitzva, and that mitzva consists of believing that God will redeem us as He promised through His prophets, as He saved us and took us out of Egypt.
May it be His will that we perceive how the words of the prophets are being fulfilled for our benefit, and that the prophecies of suffering have already been fulfilled. In this way, we will merit the complete salvation, speedily in our days, Amen.