Rabbi David Walk, Education Director

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Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Walk Article



Rabbi David Walk


            We begin this week our annual retelling of the stories of Joseph and his brothers. While the brothers, with the possible exception of Yehuda, tend to fuse together into a blur, Joseph is just a compelling character.  One of the greatest in all literature.  He has more chen than anyone else we may ever encounter.  Now, what is chen?  Joseph finds it in his relationships with his master (not to mention the mistress), his jailor, his Pharaoh, and, maybe, all of Egypt.  It can be translated as favor, charm, grace or just 'it'.  He's the one you want at your party or the friend you don't mind your parents meeting.  It definitely has to do with good looks, but it's more than that.  We're told that he had chen before we're informed that he had male model good looks.  The chen hit you first.  You only noticed his rugged handsomeness later, maybe while you were trying to figure out why you were so attracted to him.  So, here's my question:  Why were his brothers totally immune to this chen?  By the time he is sold into slavery even the sons of the maidservants (Dan, Naftali, Gad and Asher) who had been his comrades, have blended into the unanimous opposition to Joseph and everything about him.  Why?

            The popular answer to this conundrum seems to be jealousy.  This answer just seems too simple to cover all the complexities of the situation.  Even though there must have been some jealousy on the part of the sons of Leah (Reuvain, Shimon, Levi, Yehuda, Yissachar and Zevulon) against the first born of Rachel, it doesn't begin to answer the implacable hatred displayed by all the brothers, except, presumably, Binyamin.  So, I believe that we must search elsewhere for a way of decoding this mystery.  The Toras Harav Foundation which is publishing works of Rabbi Soloveitchik recently released a volume called Visions and Leadership:  Reflections on Joseph and Moses.  This book's first chapter discusses this issue.  So, if over the next 700 words you find material that you like I probably got it from the Rav, and if you find stuff you think is infantile and dumb, blame yours truly.  I'm actually quite big on infantile.

            The key to unlock this enigma is found in the dreams.  Before I review the content of these dreams, allow me to explain the overriding issue which consumed these sons of Jacob.  They knew that they were the continuation of the covenant of Avraham.  They also knew that in the previous two generations some children stayed in the fold and some fell by the wayside.  Therefore the brothers were obsessed with coming up with the recipe by which they could all be Jews and heirs to the legacy.  The brothers concluded that the secret formula was:  How wonderful and pleasant it is when brothers live together in harmony (Psalms 133:1)! There must be perfect unity and accord between them for the family to stay together.  No more competitions for control and leadership.  Then one morning they awake to find Joseph attacking their plan with his enthusiastic rendition of his dreams.

These night visions become the basis for Joseph's world view and develop the antipathy amongst his siblings.  In the first dream one bundle of grain arises to impose his rule over the over the other eleven bundles.  In the other dream one star is acknowledged as leader by the other eleven stars and by the sun and moon.  The brothers read this as an act of war.  They see Joseph announcing that he will unilaterally declare himself family leader and that eventually everyone will accept this coup d'etat, and bow to his take over.  They state that position in this verse:  "Do you intend to rule us? Will you actually reign over us?" And they hated him all the more because of his dream and what he had said (Genesis 37:8).  They hated him because they interpreted the dreams as saying that he would impose his rule over them by force, and they would eventually accept this reign.

But how did Joseph read the tea leaves?  Joseph had a great fear not expressed by the brothers.  He knew that the dreams would happen outside of Israel.  If the vision was about his control over them in Israel they would be dreaming about sheep and goats, not grain.  Joseph intuited that to survive in the Diaspora they would need a strong leader who would arise from their midst.  He believed that this leader would dwell as an equal together with his brothers until summoned by Divine decree.  The brothers would accept this leadership as coming from God in the second dream when they would be spiritually inspired beings like stars as opposed to economic commodities like bundles of grain.  Then they would acknowledge that their earthly reality was a reflection of a more essential heavenly reality.

Okay, now I believe that we can understand why Joseph felt compelled to share his dreams with his brothers.  This was part of an ongoing discussion or debate about the future of the clan.  To me a curiosity is whether or not Joseph had this position before the dreams.  I think that he did, because the language in the verse states that they hated him even more.  This may mean that the announcement was to support his already existing position and their added animosity was a continuation of the previous contention. 

Now, I think that I can explain why Joseph's charm didn't work on his brothers.  They had to reject his charisma because that was their philosophic position.  We all must be equals; no room for favorites or prima donna's.   His chen was exactly what they were against.  Even his former allies, the sons of Zilpah and Bilhah, turned against him, because it wasn't personal; it was political.

Joseph's dreams reinforced his already strongly held position.  Don't we often dream what our minds have concluded?  Now he used the dreams to buttress his position, and warn his brothers to not be surprised when the wheel of destiny would bring his program to fulfillment.  I can hardly wait to see how all this turns out!         


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Monday, December 3, 2012

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