THE REAL JOSEPH
Rabbi David Walk
This is very embarrassing. When I read the stories of Joseph, I often find myself thinking about what a jerk he is. I mean it's bad enough that their father so clearly favors him, why must he broadcast the contents of his dreams? Does he want his brothers to know that God favors him, too? It really seems that he could use a Dale Carnegie course. Of course, my problem is that although I feel this way, the text and our Sages report his greatness and success in both the short and long term. He is the dubbed the Zadik and numbered among the few who never sinned. Perhaps my biggest problem is that everyone is so taken with his charm. Where's that charming character when gleefully rubbing his brothers' faces in his choseness? I think that there's a relatively simple solution to this conundrum. He grew up.
The seventeen year old Joseph of chapter thirty-seven is not the same young man as the Joseph of chapter thirty-nine, who is enslaved in
But I think that the first hint of a new Joseph is found in last week's Torah reading. When the famine started to affect
This new kinder, gentler Joseph seems to have disappeared the moment the brothers appear before him. Instead of warmly greeting them he feigns ignorance of their identity. But this is also a new phenomenon for Joseph. The young Joseph was totally incapable of holding back from revealing everything on his mind. Whether it was the behavior of his brothers or the content of disturbing dreams, the youthful Joseph seems to not have any unspoken thoughts. This new Joseph plays his cards close to his vest.
We get another view of Joseph's newfound knack for introspection in the scene when the brothers are ushered into his presence: And Joseph saw his brothers, and he recognized them, but he made himself a stranger to them, and he spoke to them harshly, and he said to them, "Where do you come from?" And they said, "From the
Now, we're ready to fully understand the scene at the beginning of this week's parsha: Joseph could not bear all those non-family members standing beside him, and he called out, "Take everyone away from me!" Joseph made himself known to his brothers. And he wept out loud (45:1-2). Joseph's sentiments are genuine; he has evolved. But what about the brothers? They couldn't respond because they were dumbfounded. The Hebrew word is niv'halu, and could be translated as perplexed, confused or terrified. They never believe Joseph's reform until the death of Ya'akov when they plead for their lives.
Joseph has morphed into a mature leader. The brothers have difficulty accepting it, and we can't blame them because the danger is real. But maybe we should learn to have more faith in the power of growth and development. From this story, I believe that we can learn the power of change, but perhaps even more importantly we must learn to accept the changes in others.
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