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    The king’s father – Mikketz

    Joseph, by Lawrence Alma-Tadema, 1874

    Joseph, by Lawrence Alma-Tadema, 1874

    Official titles don’t always mean what they say.

    A verse in this week’s reading says (Gen. 41:43) that the populace called Joseph Avrech, translated by Targum Onkelos (followed by Rashi) as abba l’malka, “father of the king”.

    This is an absurd translation if you read it literally, since Joseph was a young foreigner and could not possibly have sired the king.

    One possibility is that as in many other cases av means captain or chieftain. In that sense it is a metaphor for high status.

    Even in English this meaning is found in the printing trade phrase, “father of the chapel”.

    Possibly avrech is from berech, a knee, and the word means “Pay homage!”

    Some modern scholars think it is Egyptian for “Attention!”.

    The Midrash thinks the word is a combination of two words and indicates a bright young student, av b’chochmah v’rach b’shanim, “a father in wisdom, tender in years”. In this sense it indicates – in modern religious parlance – a Talmudic student.

    Fortunately the proliferation of Torah study is a great growth industry.

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