Archive for the '1.1 Miketz' Category

The Start of the Siege: Yosef and the 10th Tevet

This coming week we commemorate the Tenth of Tevet – Asarah BeTevet. This fast day is observed in mourning of the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylonia—an event that began on that date and ultimately culminated in the destruction of the First Temple and the conquest of the Kingdom of Yehudah. In many ways this is the beginning of the long slog to our diaspora that only ended in 1948.

 

Nebuchadnezzar camp outside Jerusalem. Famine in the city.jpg
Nebuchadnezzar camps outside Jerusalem.  Petrus Comestor‘s “Bible Historiale”, 1372

I was thinking about this narrative and this image in the context on the Torah portions we have been reading these last few week’s about Yosef and his diaspora in Egypt. Yosef’s story starts off with an interesting image. There we read:

And it came to pass, when Yosef was come unto his brethren, that they stripped Yosef of his coat, the coat of many colors that was on him; and they took him, and cast him into the pit–and the pit was empty, there was no water in it. And they sat down to eat bread; and they lifted up their eyes and looked, and, behold, a caravan of Yishmaelites came from Gilead, with their camels bearing spices and balm and ladanum, going to carry it down to Egypt. (Gen. 37: 23-25)

Their little brother comes to see his brothers. They strip him of his clothes,  stick him in pit, and have lunch. Their eating bread at this moment seems to underscore their cruelty.

The compelling element of this image is that Yosef in the pit is similar to the citizens of Jerusalem under Nebuchadnezzar’s siege. Nothing has happened yet, but a long history of diaspora is coming. Noteworthy we deal with this moment by fasting and not sitting around and eating bread. We fast to ensure that we are sensitive to Yosef, the citizens of Jerusalem, and all those in captivity who are insecure as to their future far from home. It is noteworthy that with the recent surge of antisemitism many of us are also sitting in fear.

Eli Wiesel wrote:

We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.

We need to stand up against hate and cannot be neutral or silent. We cannot be like those who sit around and just eat bread. This  Sunday there is an important Solidarity March: No Hate. No Fear. I am very proud that my wife has played such a big role in rolling this out. We need to stand up for ourselves. We need to stand up for all those who live in fear.

– JOIN: https://nyjewi.sh/marchnyc

Who’s Dream is it Any Way

Last year when reading Miketz, this week’s Torah portion, I explored the Jewish history in psychology. There we see Yosef who accurately interpreted the dreams of the baker and butler being brought to the Pharaoh to interpret his dreams. As Sigmund Freud wrote in his The Interpretation of Dreams, “Dreams are the royal road to the unconscious.” Surely being an interpreter of dreams makes Yosef the father of analysis.

After  Pharaoh recounts his two dreams we read:

And Yosef said to Pharaoh: ‘The dream of Pharaoh is one; what God is about to do God has declared to Pharaoh. The seven good cows are seven years; and the seven good ears are seven years: the dream is one. And the seven lean and ill-favored cows that came up after them are seven years, and also the seven empty ears blasted with the east wind; they shall be seven years of famine. That is the thing which I spoke to Pharaoh: what God is about to do God has shown to Pharaoh. ( Genesis 41: 25- 28)

Yosef had a gift to interpret subtle facts and a desire to share that vision even if it did not make sense to others.  Yosef’s theory would  be tested to ensure that the experience matched the conclusions ( or minimally he bought himself 7 years to live). The most interesting part for me is his claim that is all “one dream”. In the process Yosef casts his lot with Egypt. Might this vision of it all being “one dream” have gone too far? 

Recently I reread Mama and the Meaning of Life by Irvin Yalom with my son Yishama. Yalom is also another Jewish psychotherapist and gifted writer who probes into the mysteries of the therapeutic encounter drawn from his own clinical experience.  The first story there is a richly rewarding, almost illicit glimpse into the therapist’s heart and mind, Momma and the Meaning of Life illuminates the unique potential of every human relationship.There he tells an amazing story of his recurring dream of his childhood with his mother. Spoiler alert , at the end of the story we read, “‘Your dream?’ That’s what I want to say to you. That’s the mistake, Oyvin- your thinking I was in your dream. That dream was not your dream, Sonny. It was my dream. Mother get to have dreams too. ” (Momma and the Meaning of Life 13)

We assume that Yalom’s dream is his own, but in fact it is his dream of his mother’s dream. So too might we assume that this “one dream” was actually just Pharaoh’s. This image of Yosef cast him getting too close to his patient and enmeshed with his client.  For analysis to be productive it cannot all be “one dream”. 

Unsettled: Yosef, Jews, and Psychology

Dylann Storm Roof  is a mass murderer convicted for perpetrating the Charleston church shooting on June 17, 2015. During a prayer service at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, Roof killed nine people. He later confessed that he committed the shooting in hopes of igniting a race war. According to a handwritten motion he filed during his trial considering whether or not he should be given the death penalty the white supremacist killer said he would not be calling on mental health experts to testify because he doesn’t believe in psychology. Roof wrote separately in a journal, “It is a Jewish invention and does nothing but invent diseases and tell people they have problems when they don’t.” While I understand the pivotal role of people like Freud, Maslow, Erikson, Kohlberg, and Frankl (to name a few) played in the development of the field, what does it even mean to assume that Jews invented psychology?

Image result for freud

 

I was thinking about this question today when reading Miketz, this week’s Torah portion. There we see Yosef who accurately interpreted the dreams of the baker and butler being brought to the Pharaoh to interpret his dreams. As Sigmund Freud wrote in his The Interpretation of Dreams, “Dreams are the royal road to the unconscious.” Surely being an interpreter of dreams makes Yosef one of the father of analysis.

As the story continues Pharaoh as a reward for his accurate interpretation he puts Yosef in charge of all of the store houses of  wheat. And then there is a huge famine and Egypt is on top of the world. In a short period Yosef goes from a foreign slave, to being imprisoned, to being the second most important person in Egypt, and then the known world. You can only imagine what was going through Yosef’s mind. He was completely alienated from his early days in Canaan helping the world survive.

This reminds me of a story told over in the West Wing. As Leo’s character shares:

This guy’s walking down the street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep he can’t get out. A doctor passes by and the guy shouts up, ‘Hey you. Can you help me out?’ The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole and moves on.”Then a priest comes along and the guy shouts up, ‘Father, I’m down in this hole can you help me out?’ The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on”Then a friend walks by, ‘Hey, Joe, it’s me can you help me out?’ And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, ‘Are you stupid? Now we’re both down here.’ The friend says, ‘Yeah, but I’ve been down here before and I know the way out.’

To truly help someone you need to have a deep understanding of their issues.

If not a story  of alienation our national story is clearly one of being unsettled. Maybe there is something common to the story of Yosef, the Jewish people. and all of these notable psychologists. Maybe you yourself have to go through your own analysis, experience of alienation, or being unsettled in order to help someone who fell into a hole. Maybe Dylann Roof was right. Maybe we did invent psychology. Now more than ever the world  is in a hole and people needs help. You’re welcome.

 

 

One Dream: Einstein and Yosef

Recently we celebrated the 100th anniversary of Albert Einstein‘s Theory of Relativity. Einstein stated that the theory of relativity belongs to a class of “principle-theories”. As such it employs an analytic method. This means that the elements which comprise this theory are not based on hypothesis but on empirical discovery. The empirical discovery leads to understanding the general characteristics of natural processes. Mathematical models are then developed to describe accurately the observed natural processes. Therefore, by analytical means the necessary conditions that have to be satisfied are deduced. Separate events must satisfy these conditions. Experience should then match the conclusions. There is no disputing Einstein’s unique genius and contribution to life in the past 100 years. I like to think there is part of his thinking that can be rooted in a Jewish sensibility of curiosity.

I was thinking about this when reading Miketz, this week’s Torah portion. There we learn that Pharaoh is being vexed by two strange dreams. His cup-bearer recalls his experience of Yosef who correctly interpreted dreams in prison.  On the merit of Yosef ability to interpret Pharaoh will through the veil of the dreams of the cup-bearer and the baker, Pharaoh brings Yosef to interpret his dreams. After  Pharaoh recounts his two dreams we read:

And Yosef said to Pharaoh: ‘The dream of Pharaoh is one; what God is about to do God has declared to Pharaoh. The seven good cows are seven years; and the seven good ears are seven years: the dream is one. And the seven lean and ill-favored cows that came up after them are seven years, and also the seven empty ears blasted with the east wind; they shall be seven years of famine. That is the thing which I spoke to Pharaoh: what God is about to do God has shown to Pharaoh. ( Genesis 41: 25- 28)

Yosef, like Einstein, had a gift to interpret subtle facts and a desire to share that vision even if it did not make sense to others.  Like Einstein Yosef’s theory would  be tested to ensure that the experience matched the conclusions ( or minimally he bought himself 7 years to live). The most interesting part for me is his claim that is all “one dream”. As we see in the rest of the Torah the drive for the descendants of Israel is to forge a relationship to the unified God. Both Yosef and Einstein felt drawn to come up with a plausible and unified theory for how the world works. Even if you do not believe that God created the universe in which this Theory of Relativity might be true, you could image how the story of the Yosef  and the Israelites pursuit of the One might have inspired this Theory.

A Better Yehudah

What is the story of Hanukah? Simply put by the Gemara,  the Greeks oppressed the Jews who revolted. The Hasmoneans were successful and reclaimed their Temple. When cleaning the defiled Temple they discovered one cruse of oil with the seal of the High Priest. This was sufficient for one day’s light. A miracle occurred and it lasted for 8 days.

It is interesting to reflect on the simple plot of Miketz, this week’s Torah portion. As the second in command to Pharaoh during the drought, Yosef is living out his dream ( see Vayeshev)of having his brothers bow down to him seeking food. Yosef has Benyamin framed for stealing Yosef’s cup. Benyamin is the only full brother of Yosef, sharing both mother and father. Yosef wants to see if his brothers ever learned a lesson from almost killing him and selling him into slavery. When the hidden cup is revealed Yehudah steps forward to take responsibility for his brother. In the case of Yosef, Yehudah missed the chance to lead his brothers and almost lost his identity during the story of Tamar (with his staff and ring). But, here with Benyamin the “pure” brother, Yehudah overcomes his deep sense of guilt and steps forward, returns to his position of leadership, and unifies his family.

In this light, we see an interesting critique of the simple story of the  Hasmoneans. Seeing Hanukah as simply a story of Greeks versus the Jews and the discovery of a pure vessel of oil overlooks the civil war. Hanukah was also the story of the Jews versus the Hellenized Jews. The Hashmoaneans led by another Yehudah tried to unify the Jewish people, but that came with making Jews conform to their standards of Jewish life.The Hasmoneans  unlike Yosef’s brothers were actually guilty of fratricide. How might finding a cruse of oil clean their brother’s blood off of their hands?

As we stand there with our families lighting our Hanukah candles take a moment and realize that all families have their issues and their challenges. I can only hope that in the light of Hanukah and Miketz, we do not miss the simple message that we need to emulate the first Yehudah and not the second. Our immediate  and larger families need us to be selfless in the name of unity and not conformity. We need to look deep within ourselves and challenge the bad feelings we have for people who live different lives then our own. Simple acts of compassion these “estranged family members” can ignite the flame of redemption and reveal a better world.

 

 

Dependable Memory

In the Mishnah Tamid ( 7:4) we learn that the Messianic Era will be a time which is  sheKulu Shabbat- completely Shabbat. What does that mean? First we need to understand some basic ideas about Shabbat and the Messiah. So, Shabbat with all of the rules and regulations actually boils down to just two commandments, LeShmor V LeZchor- to guard and to remember. Most of what we know  is all of the things we cannot do on Shabbat. That would fall under the commandment “to guard” Shabbat. We remember the Shabbat most clearly with the Kiddush. The Shulchan Aruch (OH272) brings down an interesting idea. If we do not have enough money for Challah and wine we should actually make Kiddush over Challah.  But we will come back to this.

Now back to the idea of the Messiah. We often say that one should ignore the idea of the Messiah ben David, but we ignore the idea of the Messiah ben Yosef. Living most of history as a dispossessed people we overlook the physical redemption of the Messiah descended from Yosef in favor of the metaphysical/ spiritual redemption that is supposed to come from a descendent of David. This idea of a physical redeemer in Yosef is very clearly discussed in the past few Torah portions. It all comes to a head in Vayigash, this week’s Torah portion, when the hidden redeemer reveals his true identity to save his brothers.

Regardless of our station in life, on Shabbat we are transformed into kings presiding over our weekly feast. To anyone who keeps Shabbat in our lives, it is hard to imagine a world without Shabbat.  But if we tried to imagine a world without the comfort of family and community we do not need to look further then when Yosef himself was in prison. There he was in the pit without Shabbat, but he was with the head baker and the head butler of the Pharaoh. He interprets their dreams and asks to be remembered. Then we read:

And the butler did not remember Yosef and he forgot him. ( Genesis 41:23)

Yosef asks to be remembered and he is forgotten.  Many commentators suggest that this doubling of language suggests that the butler forgot him in the short-term and the long-term. It is easy to imagine why the butler might forget Yosef. Many of us assume that needing the help of others makes us weaker in some way. So in the short and long-term it was easier for the butler to think he was chosen or special then remembering that he was dependent on Yosef for anything.

What is the significance of this story of Yosef in the prison in the context of our Mishna in Tamid? Yosef was in the pit without Shabbat. Pharoah is the king and he is clearly not. There, Yosef was with the head of Challah and the Head of Kiddush. The head of Challah was going to be killed and the head of Kiddush was asked to remember the redeemer and forgets him. Every Shabbat we try to fix this by remembering Yosef when we make Kiddush. And if we do not have money for both we remember the Challah over the Kiddush.

In the Talmud,  Rav Yochanan said in the name of the Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochi:

If Israel were to keep two Shabbatot according to the laws, they would be redeemed immediately ( Shabbat 118b)

Surely if we remember what the butler forgot we could redeem the world. (Maybe for both the Messiah of Yosef and David) We all get help from people all the time. But, we let our egos get the best of us. If we took the time to reveal their good deeds it would help reveal the capacity of these hidden humble heroes to redeem the world. And, we would also reveal our own vulnerability. This itself might be the core of the Messianic Era. This will not be a time of independence or dependence, but radical interdependence.  Shabbat itself could be a taste of this. Take a moment this Shabbat to share how you were helped this week. This memory might itself bring us closer to that era.

L’Kavod Ben Sales ( who taught me to love Shabbat in new ways) and his wife Rachel

Slump Dog Millionaire

I assume by this point you have seen Slumdog Millionaire. If not, this is a spoiler alert. In short it is a story of a Mumbai teen who grew up in the slums and becomes a contestant on the Indian version of “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?” He is arrested under suspicion of cheating, and while being interrogated, events from his life history are shown which explain why he knows the answers.

There is no doubt that Slumdog Millionaire was interesting in that it tells the story of a far off land and we see people’s character’s develop. But it was the sequence of the movie itself which is so captivating. How is it that he came to learn the answers to the trivia contest?

So you ask, ” Avi, why in the world are you rehashing this 2008 blockbuster today?” Well, since you asked, I have been thinking about our Slumdog Millionaire in the person of Yosef. On the merit of his interpreting the dreams of the butler and the baker correctly he was called to Pharaoh to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams. We the reader know of his childhood dreams and assume that he has some innate capacity to interpret dreams.

In last week’s Torah portion, Yosef was sold down into slavery in Egypt. We know that he was sold to Potiphar and the whole interaction with Potiphar’s wife which landed him in jail. But, who was Potiphar? There we read, “And the Midianites sold him into Egypt unto Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh’s, the captain of the tabachim.” ( Genesis 37:36) What are tabachim you ask? Rashi understands that Potiphar was the head of the butchers who slaughter the king’s animals. Before he was thrown into jail, Yosef was the head of that business. Is it any surprise that he answered Pharoah’s dreams correctly about the cows. Like Slumdog Millionaire, Yosef’s life experience led him to the moment where he would know just what to do say. Yosef is not just lucky, he is very fortunate. Everything happens for a reason, a life of meaning is never trivial.


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