One word appears throughout the story of Yosef and his brothers – הכר – to recognize. The word is first used at the lowest point in their relationship. In Parshat Miketz however, it marks a turning point in the brothers’ ability to recognize each other’s distress and take steps toward healing.
First, when Yosef is taken down to Egypt, the brothers deceptively dip his famed coat in animal blood. They then show it to Yacov as evidence of Yosef’s death and ask “haker na?!” “Do you recognize this coat?” Later Tamar says the exact same words to Yehuda, in an attempt to get him to recognize her suffering and take responsibility for her. In parshat Miketz this word is used again, when the brothers come down to Egypt during a famine looking for sustenance. They find themselves standing before Yosef. However, “Yosef recognized (ויכר) his brothers, but they did not recognize (הכירוהו) him.” The midrash Tanhuma interprets their lack of recognition as referring to the past, when the brothers did not recognize Yosef, meaning they didn’t have mercy on him. Yet here, Yosef rises above the past and recognizes them and has mercy on them.
Interestingly, the same word is used in the Mishna Brachot’s teaching of when one can begin to say the Shema in the morning: “from when one can distinguish (משיכיר) between blue and white…” Perhaps, “הכר” is used here both literally and figuratively. As the new day begins and daylight dawns, we should also look around and be mindful of those who need some recognition and care. This relates to Hanukkah candles as well. Hanukkah is a time to focus on seeing and recognizing, as we increase the light of the candles each night and banish the darkness. May this be a Chag Urim Sameach and Shabbat Shalom! – Karen Miller Jackson