Category Archives: Joseph

Joseph, Social Economist

Joseph, Social Economist

But while they prate of economic laws, men and women are starving. We must lay hold of the fact that economic laws are not made by nature. They are made by human beings. -Franklin D. Roosevelt

crops

Joseph correctly interpreted Pharaoh’s dream, warning of seven years of plenty followed by seven year of famine. Pharaoh was so impressed by Joseph’s abilities that he appointed Joseph as his Viceroy and put him in charge of the Egyptian empire. Joseph takes the reins of the kingdom and distinguishes himself by creating storehouses for the grain, overseeing the orderly sale and distribution of the grain during the famine, and successfully managing and developing the overall Egyptian economy.

Rabbi Hirsch, in his commentary on Genesis 41, points out two noteworthy economic policies that Joseph instituted during the years of famine.

The first policy was that people had to pay for the grain that he distributed. Though the storehouses of Egypt were overflowing with “uncountable” amounts of grain, Joseph still charged the starving population for it. Rabbi Hirsch explains that had Joseph handed the grain out for free, it would not be valued by the population. People don’t value or appreciate handouts as much as something that they have to pay for.

The second policy was that Joseph sold only enough grain to each family to feed that family. He did not sell wholesale. There were only retail sales. He wanted to prevent a situation of hoarding, speculative buying and enterprising capitalists cornering the grain market.

Although socialists may have preferred free handouts and capitalists would have preferred freer access to wholesale deals, investments, a fluctuating market, speculation, and letting their capital work for them, Joseph’s policies insured that Egypt survived the famine.

A balanced economic policy seems to have been exactly what the country needed.

Shabbat Shalom and Chanuka Sameach,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the irrepressible Pieprz family for a glorious Shabbat in Karnei Shomron.

Clueless Joseph?

Clueless Joseph? 

Innocence always calls mutely for protection when we would be so much wiser to guard ourselves against it: innocence is like a dumb leper who has lost his bell, wandering the world, meaning no harm. -Graham Greene

clueless

Joseph recounts to his brothers his fantastical dreams which seem to imply that he will rule over them. The brothers don’t take this well at all. If they detested him before for being their father’s favorite, now they outright hate him.

After this episode their father Jacob orders Joseph to meet up with his brothers who are tending their sheep far to the north, around the area of Shechem. Joseph appears to go without hesitation or concern.

Rabbi Hirsch on Genesis 37:13 explains that Joseph had no fear of his brothers because he had no ambition whatsoever to rule them. His dreams were just dreams; not anything that he planned or foresaw might come to fruition. Therefore, in his innocent mind, he had nothing to fear from his jealous brothers.

The brothers, on the other hand, took his dreams very seriously. They believed that the apparently chosen son did intend to rule over them and saw him as a clear and present danger to themselves and how they hoped to conduct their lives, free of tyrants or rulers. Hence, the acts they took, first of planning to kill Joseph and then the decision to sell him as a slave, stemmed from purely defensive motives. They were protecting themselves from the mortal threat of Joseph the tyrant. The fact that this was the furthest thing from Joseph’s mind did not have one iota of effect upon the brothers’ fears or actions.

Joseph, though he did suffer over the prolonged enslavement and separation from his family, always seemed to have God with him, and the very actions the brothers took are what eventually lead Joseph to rule over them, thereby inadvertently fulfilling his prophetic dreams.

God often protects the innocent, but it doesn’t hurt to be less naïve.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To all the subscribers and those that have encouraged and promoted the launch of my Daily Torah Tweets. Thanks!

The Mother of All Languages

 A different language is a different vision of life. -Federico Fellini 

LanguagesJoseph, in a most unpredictable set of circumstances, goes from being an imprisoned slave, accused of accosting his master’s wife and rotting in prison, to being the Viceroy of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh in controlling the Egyptian Empire, if not the world. Pharaoh and his ministers are so impressed by Joseph’s dream interpretation skills and intelligence that they give him the keys to the kingdom.

There is an ancient tale, a midrash, that states that the angel Gabriel, in order to assist Joseph with his royal promotion, teaches him the seventy core languages known to humankind. The Sfat Emet in the year 5635 (1874), wonders as to the need and the symbolism of teaching Joseph seventy tongues. He goes on to explain that it was necessary in order to rule this world power. Furthermore, the seventy tongues are all an outgrowth of the one original language: Hebrew.

Hebrew, the holy tongue, is the source of all languages and it is the Torah that gives life to the spoken word. Languages merely clothe the holy tongue, though they have different forms and aspects. Joseph needed to understand all the languages and associate them to their Hebraic source in order to rule the world. The Sfat Emet then gets into more Kabbalistic reasons for Joseph’s intense and comprehensive language immersion course, among them the ability to connect other languages to the innermost meaning at its Hebrew source.

There is a hidden strength and power in language, and particularly the Hebrew one. Let’s use them with care.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To Dr. Gustavo Perednik, who lectured on exactly this theme a few months ago in Montevideo and demonstrated, from academic sources, how Hebrew is one of the first languages, if not the first language, and its pervasive, yet unappreciated influence on languages of the world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Delayed Punishments

 

 Whenever a human being, through the commission of a crime, has become exiled from good, he needs to be reintegrated with it through suffering. The suffering should be inflicted with the aim of bringing the soul to recognize freely some day that its infliction was just. -Simone Weil

Joseph_and_Potiphar's_Wife

The Torah believes in punishment, either divine or court-inflicted. However, it generally comes from either a sense of justice and creating balance, or in somehow rehabilitating the evil-doer. It is interesting to note that the concept of a jail is almost completely absent from the Jewish legal code. There was either financial compensation, corporal punishment or the death penalty.

The Sfat Emet in 5637 (1876) asks how did God allow Joseph to be punished and placed in prison after he withstood the seduction of Potiphar’s wife, when according to the sages, it was a divine test greater than all the tests the Patriarchs endured. He answers that it was punishment for an earlier sin.

According to the Midrash, the ancient oral tradition that accompanied the written Torah, Joseph sinned when as a youth of seventeen he slandered his brothers to their father Jacob. But God postponed that punishment to a better time. That time is exactly after Joseph had performed an act of moral courage that transforms him and places him at a higher spiritual level. Now that Joseph is more righteous, two things happen. He somehow has greater strength and capacity to bear the punishment, but now, God is also more exacting with him and so the punishment must be meted out. In a way, Joseph’s newly acquired righteousness now forces him to confront and seek atonement for his earlier sins.

The Sfat Emet warns based on this episode, that if a person performs some great act or avoids serious sin, he shouldn’t be so quick to congratulate himself; as such pride may invite a closer examination of his past and bring down punishment for previous sins.

May we realize our mistakes and repent for them and so reach those higher ethical levels without paying a painful price for previous indiscretions.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication,

To Nobel Laureate Professor Dan Shechtman of Israel on his inspirational visit to Uruguay.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Generational Patience

First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/vayehi-generational-patience/

Baal Haturim Genesis: Vayehi

Generational Patience

There are times when God asks nothing of his children except silence, patience and tears. -C. S. Robinson

A great evil was done to Joseph. His very brothers, his very flesh and blood, plan to kill him, but then change their mind and have him sold as a slave. Years later, when they meet again and at the very moment when Joseph can have his vengeance, he instead forgives them.

Years after that, after their father Jacob passes away, his brothers are still unconvinced by Joseph’s mercy. Joseph reiterates that he harbors no ill will, that he does not seek a redress for the wrongs that his brothers afflicted upon him.

However, in the last verses of the book of Genesis, the last words Joseph speaks in his life, he makes his brothers’ children swear that they will return his body to the land of Israel. The Baal Haturim on Genesis 50:25 asks why Joseph didn’t make this demand of his own children, who presumably have a greater responsibility to see to the wishes of their patriarch.

The Baal Haturim answers that in this instance we are finally seeing, in a very subtle way, Joseph’s demand for the long-delayed justice for the sin of the brothers. The brothers were responsible for exiling Joseph from the land of Canaan, and specifically from Shechem. It is their responsibility to return him to Canaan. Joseph’s remains are finally carried by Moses himself and then by Joshua, who buries him by the city from which he was taken – Shechem.

May we be spared from causing or suffering injustices, and may we have the strength and patience to bear them when they occur.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To God, who we forget about, don’t take seriously enough, or take for granted. He works out everything in the end.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Selfless Love

First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/vayigash-selfless-love/

Baal Haturim Genesis: Vayigash

Selfless Love

We never know the love of the parent till we become parents ourselves. -Henry Ward Beecher

It seems, the Patriarch Jacob knew that if he descended to Egypt from the land of Canaan, it would be a one-way trip. He would not be able to return to the Promised Land in life. He probably also knew that it would signal the beginning of the prophesied exile and enslavement of his descendants.

However, the moment he discovers that his beloved and missing son Joseph is alive and well in Egypt, Jacob doesn’t hesitate and immediately goes to reunite with his long-lost son.

The Baal Haturim on Genesis 44:29 compares the love and self-sacrifice of Jacob to the natural instinct a mother has for her child. A cow that resists going to the slaughterer because it senses impeding death will rush to the same place if it hears the cry of its calf. So too the maternal instinct is to ignore whatever danger stands in the way of reaching ones child.

May we have and feel the sentiments of love – without the danger.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To new and experienced mothers alike.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carefully Chosen Words

First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/miketz-carefully-chosen-words/

Baal Haturim Genesis: Miketz

Carefully Chosen Words

We would often be sorry if our wishes were granted. -Aesop

Jacob’s sons had been to Egypt and back, where they had been strangely received and then rebuffed by their brother Joseph whom they didn’t recognize. Joseph, Viceroy of Egypt, had given them vital food during the worldwide famine, imprisoned one brother, Simon, and warned them that they would not be received again without the youngest brother, Benjamin.

Back in Canaan, Jacob prohibits his sons from returning to Egypt with his beloved Benjamin. In a rash display of confidence, the eldest son, Reuben, states to his father: let me take Benjamin with us and if I do not return him, you can kill my two children. Jacob does not respond to this incomprehensible statement.

Rabbinic commentators take Reuben to task for such a deadly statement. The Baal Haturim on Genesis 42:37 takes the rebuke a step further and claims that Reuben’s declaration actually did lead to the tragic death of two of his descendants. His notorious descendants, Datan and Aviram, lead a rebellion against Moses in the desert and are miraculously swallowed up by the earth as divine punished. While they were clearly deserving of death, the Baal Haturim directly relates their fate to the unfortunate choice of words by their ancestor.

Let’s be very careful with the words and expressions we use – God is always listening, and even if it is in jest, or even if we don’t mean it – He might decide to make it come true.

Shabbat Shalom and Hanuka Sameach,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the memory of Nissan ben Shlomo (Neil Israel), father of our dear friend Rachel Zlatkin.