Genesis 41:1 – 44:17
Joseph is my hero. His life is a journey from passivity to action, from self-absorption to faith, from arrogance to humility. In last week’s parasha, young Joseph flaunted his gift for interpreting dreams by telling his family they will all bow down to him, aggravating the jealousy his brothers already harbored against him. Then (and please note how Joseph is on the receiving end of these actions) he is thrown into a pit, found by slavers, taken to Egypt, sold as a slave, framed for rape, and finally sent to prison. He fell from the highest favor to depths of the dungeon.
If we were in Joseph’s shoes, how many of us would have just given up?
I suspect that this is because we are too much like the young Joseph and not enough like the older and wiser man. We are more likely to make things about us, to ask the question: why me? This kind of thinking is not only self-centered and arrogant – it turns us into the victim when things don’t go our way, at least in our own minds. Victims feel powerless.
Yet there is another side to Joseph. While a slave in Potiphar’s house Joseph rises through the ranks to become the head of the household – until he is framed for rape. While a prisoner in Pharaoh’s dungeon, he rises through the ranks again and is placed in charge of all the other prisoners. In Miketz, Joseph interprets Pharaoh’s dreams, devises a plan to save all of Egypt from famine, and reaches the highest possible office in Pharaoh’s court. Here we see the active, even decisive Joseph: Joseph the great leader, who turns lemons into lemonade at every turn.
Again, were we in Joseph’s shoes, we might fall into the trap of making our successes all about us. Yet, what is remarkable and unique about the Joseph story is that for every single one of Joseph’s successes the Torah explicitly states that it is was because of God that Joseph succeeded. More often than not, Joseph freely admits this himself, telling the butcher and the baker about their dreams, “Are not all solutions from God?” [Gen. 40:8] and then to Pharaoh before interpreting his dreams, “Not I! God will answer for Pharaoh’s well-being.” [Gen. 41:16].
For Joseph, arrogance and self-absorption led to passivity and failure. He lacked any real power over his life. In time, Joseph overcame his arrogance by cultivating humility and faith, allowing the powerful and life-saving Joseph to emerge and take his place in history.
As Rabbi Leib Chasman (1867-1931) taught: “One who denies one’s strengths is not humble, but rather a fool. A humble person is one who understand that all his strengths and accomplishments are a gift from heaven. The more a person recognizes this, the more humble he is.”
Hi there! I am the senior rabbi at Temple Beth Ami in Rockville, Maryland, where I have served since 2016.
(c) copyright 2015 Rabbi Gary Pokras