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 and “Yosef recognized (ויכר) his brothers, but they did not recognize (הכירוהו) him.” In fact, it states twice that Yosef recognized them. Why this contrast? Rashi, citing Bereshit Rabbah, interprets the brothers lack of recognition as referring to the past, when the brothers didn’t recognize and treat Yosef as a brother when he was vulnerable. However, the Torah emphasizes that Yosef rose above the past when he recognizes them and has mercy on them.
Interestingly, this word is also used in the Mishna Brachot’s teaching about when one can begin to say the Shema in the morning: “from when one can distinguish (משיכיר) between blue and white.” The Talmud brings an alternative to this time indicator: “From the time when one sees his friend at a distance of four cubits away and recognizes him.” Perhaps here, like in the Yosef narrative, “הכר” is being used both literally and figuratively. As the new day begins and daylight dawns, we are encouraged to look around more carefully, and to be cognizant of and caring toward others. Shabbat Shalom /Hanukkah Sameach /Chodesh Tov – Karen Miller Jackson