Ibn Ezra

Ibn Ezra: Name Recognition (Miketz)

The Torah Text

Pharaoh dreams inscrutable dreams, and finally Joseph is brought from prison to interpret them. Swiftly he impresses Pharaoh with his capable interpretation and strategic suggestions for taking action to prevent calamity-by-famine. Pharaoh promotes the man who had woken up in prison to second-in-command across all Egypt. Yet there is a problem. No one knows who he is. For Joseph to succeed, he will need to get people’s attention.

Pharoah gives Joseph the royal signet ring, fine linen to wear, and a gold chain (Genesis 41:42), a fancy chariot and people to announce his presence (41:43), even a new Egyptian name and a wife (41:45). Joseph has all the trappings of power.

Then the story tells us וַיֵּצֵ֥א יוֹסֵ֖ף עַל־אֶ֥רֶץ מִצְרָֽיִם “And Joseph went out upon the land of Egypt.” What does it mean to go out upon the land? How does this action help Joseph become known so he can bring his strategy to fruition?

Ibn Ezra’s Teaching

ויצא יוסף. יצא שמו. כטעם ויצא לך שם בגוים או יצא ועבר על כל מקום והכריזו עליו כדי שיכירוהו

Genesis 41:45 AND JOSEPH WENT OUT. His name went out, as in “And your name (i.e. renown) went forth among the nations” (Ezekiel 16:14). Or it means he went out and traveled throughout the land and they announced who he was that he might become known. (Translation Strickman and Silver)

Reflections for the Path

Ibn Ezra has two ideas. First, what goes out upon the land is Joseph’s name, meaning his reputation. After a royal makeover, Joseph makes waves among the surprised and awed Egyptians. Word spreads fast, and his new Egyptian name quickly becomes the talk of every town around.

Ibn Ezra’s second idea is that Joseph actually goes on a tour in person, meeting and greeting, being seen, perhaps offering stump speeches.

Together, these two strategies for communicating and becoming well-known as a person continue to resonate. Getting one’s name out virtually has splintered into dozens of channels – from newspapers and tvs to Instagram, Facebook, viral videos, and so much more. And yet people still travel in person, whether on a book tour or a campaign trail.

Yet what isn’t mentioned are the quiet one-on-one conversations with key people in every domain, the slow trust-building that happens when stories are shared, priorities and passions are explored, and commitments are given. Perhaps Joseph engaged in community organizing, with his unique experience giving him the ability to connect to the rich and powerful as well as to the little people.

Perhaps he did not, relying on his new source of influence to coerce rather than collaborate. I imagine he did not, haunted still by a shadow of brotherly betrayal and suspicious of so-called coalitions.

But if he had been as interested in other people’s names as in spreading his own, it’s possible the Israelite descendants would not have been enslaved by a Pharaoh “who did not recognize Joseph” (Exodus 1:8), a tragically revealing statement about the limits of reputation not built on relationship.

For more on Abraham ibn Ezra:
1. Read my introduction.
2. Listen to ibn Ezra’s opening prayer poem for his Torah commentary.
3. Explore the five paths, ibn Ezra’s introduction to his Torah commentary.