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Entries in Joseph (3)

Sunday
Dec242017

From the Heights to the Depths

If you were Joseph sitting in prison, what would you be thinking? Might it be:
"I don't understand this. My life makes no sense. The dreams I had in childhood felt so real and true - and they are further than ever from being realised. What am I doing here?"

But what if, unbeknowst to him at the time. every element in Joseph's life was being carefully crafted by a Divine hand in order to shape him into becoming the man of God he must become?

It's interesting to note that Joseph was not thrown into just any prison, but specifically into Pharaoh's jail. There he would meet many ministers and offficials who had fallen out of favour. One day they were at the top of the power food chain, the next they had been toppled into the pits of prison. 

Perhaps Joseph was being shown this sight deliberately. He learned repeatedly that a person could, upon the king's whim, go from fame to incaraceration. He himself had gone from the heights of favour twice - the first time, a teen beloved by his father, he ended up in a pit by the hand of his cruel brothers; the second, the trusted manager of all of Potiphar's household, he was falsely accused of rape and thrown into prison. The King of Kings, just like the mortal king, could do precisely that - whiplash you  מאיגרא רמה לבירא עמיקתא. We are not in control.

This lesson was branded upon Joseph's mind. Finally released, he knew to his core that no interpretation can be made without divine aid, and was able to be the איש אלהים that could carry out God's plan properly and without hubris.

p.s. adding something I heard after writing this - that Rebbe Nachman sees precisely this kind of symbolism in the dreidel. Everything turns around, revolving and changing from one thing to the next, from top to bottom and from bottom to top again. Connecting the Joseph story to Chanukah, the time at when it is read every year.

Tuesday
Dec272016

Hear please! The limits of communication

Genesis 37:6
"And he said to them, Hear, please, this dream which I have dreamed"

This is the second dream Joseph is sharing with his brothers. The words "Hear please!" stand out in their emphasis. The commentary Hizkuni writes that in this Joseph is trying to convince his brothers that this second dream proves it is all coming from heaven.

Yet he fails to convince them - on the contrary, they hate him even more. 

We have all had, no doubt, the feeling of debating or arguing with someone, and thinking, "If I just say the right thing, or use the right words, s/he cannot help but see the truth of my position." Advocates of specific political positions, for example, continue to urgently share videos of posts on social media thnking, no one who sees this can remain unconvinced. And yet people do. Because when they are entrenched, or entirely committed to their viewpoint, or emotionally blocked, it basically does not matter what is said to them, it will not make a dent. And the brothers were entrenched. "Hear please!" begs Joseph, thinking logic or divinely-sent evidence will win the day; but it is a lost battle from the outset.

I'd like to make a connection between the above and a question that has been troubling me for years.

Jumping to an earlier section of Genesis: Rebecca and Isaac seem to have a good relationship. They pray together for children (vs. Rashi);  and Isaac, unlike Abraham or Jacob, never takes a second wife, even though the children are long in coming. So why did Rebecca, seeing that he was about to give the birthright blessings to Esau, not sit down to discuss with him this plan? After all, she has a very strong proof that the blessings should go to Jacob - the fact that God told her even before they were born, "And the older shall serve the younger?"

It seemed to me that the answer lay in Eve's curse:

To the woman he said, I will greatly multiply the pain of your child bearing; in sorrow you shall bring forth children; and your desire shall be to your husband, and he shall rule over you (Gen 3 16.)

We can't help noticing the parallel with Gen 4:7:

If you do well, shall you not be accepted? and if you do not well, sin lies at the door. And to you shall be its desire and [yet] you shall rule over it.

The parallel set up by these two verses is: as woman is to man (her desire to him, yet he rules)

so evil inclination is to human (its desire to him/her, yet s/he rules)

Here, woman and evil inclination are drawn similarly. What is the resemblance? I felt that a woman stuck in a patriarchal system is not free to make her wishes known. Just as the evil inclination must work by subterfuge, whispering its seducations quietly in your ear and making you think it's a great idea to go do that evil thing, so too a woman must manipulate, whisper, and make the man think he is acting independently. This is truly a curse!

But just as Adam can free himself from the curse by harnessing nature and progressing, so too woman can free herself by changing herself and society. By becoming fully whole and balanced, she invites wholeness and balance in the man. And so we can head for equal relationship. Sarah Yehudit Schneider explains that this is the final destination: The Ari states in this place that the 7th and ultimate relationship between man and woman is when they meet “face to face and are completely equal.” (You Are What You Hate, p. 93)

* *

I still stand by the above idea, that the world must try to move towards equal and open relationship, of communication and respectful debate and listening. However, in the recognition that the world might not yet be quite there, I learned something from the Joseph story that sheds other light on Rebecca's action. Perhaps she was simply aware of Isaac's blind spot. He loved Esau and would not be able to listen to any argument under the sun. So she had to resort to this rather repugnant trick.

This is not ideal,  it also relates to an imperfect world, but at least it is not as gender-imbalanced or tainted by curse as the first situation. Both men and women have their blind spots. Communication is not always the solution to problems in relationship. People have all sorts of emotional blocks than can only be resolved in other ways than direct speech.  Had Joseph been wiser and more mature, he might have looked for other ways to convince the brothers than appealing to their reason.

Tuesday
Dec272016

Unrequited Love

A blog post at Times of Israel