- Judah pleads with Joseph to free Benjamin and offers himself as a replacement. (44:18-34)
- Joseph reveals himself to his brothers and forgives them for selling him into slavery. (45:1-15)
- Although the famine still rages, Pharaoh invites Joseph's family to "live off the fat of the land." (45:16-24)
- Jacob learns that Joseph is still alive and, with God's blessing, goes to Egypt. (45:25-46:33)
- Pharaoh permits Joseph's family to settle in Goshen. Pharaoh then meets with Jacob. (47:1-12)
- With the famine increasing, Joseph designs a plan for the Egyptians to trade their livestock and land for food. The Israelites thrive in Egypt. (47:13-27)
Last week, weather.com posted an interactive map with California rainfall since the year 2000 and challenged the reader to find the pattern. A quick glance showed an approximate seven-year cycle, two years of above average rainfall followed by about five years of near drought. If this cycle holds, our reservoirs could refill by 2016.
But will we have a Joseph for the five years likely to follow?
With no term limits, a two-year election cycle, and the routine of making decisions on a calendar year, seven year cycles are often neglected. Without a Joseph to direct us to re-open a costly desalination plant in Santa Barbara, or create new means of harvesting water, during times of plenty, we will be unprepared for the five dry years to come. One doesn’t need to dream to see the future: one just needs to keep his eyes open, and have the courage to be honest. Future planning often carries as much credibility as listening to the youngest child. And no one wants to listen to either.
I can identify with Joseph, as a youngest child married to a youngest child. My wife has it much worse than I, with five of her six older brothers living locally. We have had to accept the fact, in their eyes; we were never quite as wise, competent and experienced as the more brothers who came before us. While always given a voice and a vote, they never seemed to carry the same weight as those closer in age with more shared experiences. My own personal experiences as a teacher also support the belief that one’s position in the family has as much, or more to do with shaping a personality than any other factor.
So, my impression of Joseph in this week’s Torah portion differs greatly from those of the great rabbis (who traditionally are the oldest sibling): Joseph wanted to gloat.
Last week’s Torah portion showed Joseph to be the original Wall Street commodity trader. To fill the storehouse with grain during the years of plenty, a one-fifth tax would be imposed on all citizens. Could you imagine any ruler today imposing a 20% in times of plenty (Actually, this IS the exact rationale of Keynesian Economics.) Pharaoh knew it had to be done, so he did what any shrewd ruler would do… he made someone else collect it: Joseph! If it worked, Pharaoh would be a genius; if it didn’t, Pharaoh would have Joseph’s head. When the famine came, those in need of Pharaoh’s stores first gave up their livestock, and then their lands in exchange for food to eat. Joseph had made Pharaoh rich, largely due to his ability to increase the gap between the wealthy and the working class, and Joseph got a percentage of the proceeds. So, when Joseph’s brothers return, it was easy to forgive because he achieved far greater success without their guidance and wisdom. It’s easy to forgive when you’ve already been proven right. In fact, he sets them up in Goshen, a pleasant area of Egypt to tend their flocks, which not so coincidentally will afford them a view of their brother in the palace, a nice daily reminder of his superior position and ability. Not surprisingly, for the rest of their lives they feel uncomfortable in his presence based on their past actions.
Yeah, I can relate.
Today, Debra and I are considered pretty successful parents. In the past two years, both of our children were admitted to a top 20 University in the nation. One was valedictorian at Hart, the other salutatorian. One is considering running for Berkeley University Senate and maintains strong ties with the Jewish Federation in Los Angeles, the other has written four articles for the Daily Pennsylvanian in her first semester and given a news beat for her second. And of course, both have maintained excellent grades. I didn’t happen by chance, but there is no instant formula. The work we did to help them reach this state was performed many years before, much like Joseph’s storehouses, or our present need to stockpile water.
But the 18 ½ years it took to get there often felt like Joseph’s 20 years in prison, due to the advice of our older brothers. Based on limited observations at large family functions, several of them honestly believed that almost everything we were doing to raise our children was absolutely wrong. Suggestions that we use harsher discipline, send them to special schools, medicate them were frequently offered, and when ignored, we were seen as pompous and obstinate, much like Joseph. I (usually) patiently waited through the nearly two decades of dreading family gatherings watching my children’s behavior being constantly examined under a microscope.
Now, at family gatherings, I feel like Joseph in the palace. It IS good to be the king, or even the king’s right hand man. Our brothers who were most vocal about our lack of parenting skills now speak to me with the same emotions Joseph’s brothers used when set up in Goshen, always afraid of having their past actions and words pointed out to them. Vindication feels really good, and it should, since it is often the result of hard work in the face of opposition. (I imagine many of our own temple members feel the same every time someone says the words “Albert Einstein Academy”). And can you imagine how good we would all feel if we actually DID spend money to have more reservoirs for the next drought? We would feel intelligent, successful, vindicated for all we gave up.
Just like Joseph.