From this point on in the Book of Genesis, Jacob and his sons take a back seat to the story of Joseph.
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Joseph has dreams indicating that he will be the leader over his brothers which he innocently- or maybe arrogantly- tells to his brothers, inciting hatred and jealously from them. Add to this his having given a bad report about them to his father and Joseph was not doing himself any good. The straw that broke the camel’s back was when Jacob, now also known as Israel, gave Joseph a coat of many colors, which at that time represented more than favoritism- culturally in the Semitic tribal system, a coat of many colors was worn by the leader of the tribe. By giving Joseph that coat, Jacob was already showing that he was going to make Joseph leader over his brothers when Jacob dies.
One day while searching for his brothers, at his father’s request, Joseph is seen coming and the brothers decide to kill him. Reuben suggests they do not kill him but kidnap him and place him in a pit, which they do, then they shread his coat and spill blood all over it to make it seem that he was killed by a wild animal.
While Reuben is somewhere else thinking about how to save Joseph (which he wanted to do in order to gain favor back from his father who was really pissed at him for sleeping with one of his concubines), Judah makes the suggestion that they sell Joseph to a passing caravan, and the brothers agree. However, as they are eating their lunch a group of Ishmaelite passing by the pit hear Joseph; they pull him out and sell him to the caravan. When Reuben returns and finds Joseph missing, he is distraught and the brothers don’t know what happened to Joseph. They return to Jacob and tell him the bad news, after which Jacob is in constant mourning for Joseph.
Right here, in Chapter 38, we have a short story about Judah and his sons, both of whom were killed for being evil in God’s sight. After the first son, Er, is killed his wife, Tamar, is married to the second son, Onan, as was the custom in those days, It was the obligation of Onan to make Tamar pregnant so that she could have a son to inherit Er’s share of the estate. However, Onan would have sex with her but he performed coitus interruptus so that she would not get pregnant, securing the brother’s share for himself. For that evil act of selfishness, Adonai killed him. Judah’s third son, Shelah, was too young to be married so he sent Tamar back to her father’s house to wait for Shelah to be old enough, but when that happened, Judah failed to fulfill his obligation to Tamar. One day when Judah was in her neighborhood, she dressed herself up as a prostitute and after seducing him, received his staff as collateral for payment. Before Judah could send her the payment, she went back to her father’s house, now impregnated by her father-in-law. When Judah is told she is pregnant, assuming she was unfaithful, he wants her to be killed but she sends him the staff to prove who the father is. Recognizing his fault in the matter, he says she is more righteous than he was and never had sex with her again. She ends up giving birth to twins, Peretz and Zerah.
Meanwhile, back to Joseph, who is taken to Egypt and sold to Potiphar, a general in Pharoah’s army. Joseph is found trustworthy and given authority over the entire household. Mrs. Potiphar has the hots for Joe, and although he constantly avoids her, she traps him in the house one day and as he tries to escape, she manages to pull his clothes off. She then accuses Joseph of trying to rape her, and Potiphar throws Joseph in jail.
It is thought Potiphar wasn’t totally convinced Joseph was at fault because if he really thought Joseph, a slave, tried to rape his wife he would have had him killed, then and there. But since he only had him thrown in jail, biblical scholars believe there was doubt in Potiphar’s mind, but he had to do something.
While in jail, Joseph against shows his trustworthiness and is made a trustee, serving the needs of the Pharaoh’s baker and cupbearer, both of whom were in prison for somehow ticking off the Big Guy.
They each have a dream, and Joseph interprets the dreams correctly, with the cupbearer being returned to his station and the baker being hung. Joseph begs the cupbearer, as he is leaving the prison, to remember Joseph to the Pharaoh and tell the Pharaoh of Joseph’s innocence so he can be freed.
However, once back in his proper position, the cupbearer totally forgets about Joseph, and this is where the parashah ends.
What a story, right? Deception, conspiracy, violence, sibling rivalry, immoral sexual behavior, more deception, attempted sex, unjust imprisonment. I mean, this could be an HBO mini-series!
You know, it probably has been.
But, what will we talk about today? There is so much here, but I go by “feel” (always praying for that feeling to be Holy Spirit led), and what I feel is a message for us is relating how Joseph, in the midst of the worse tsouris anyone could have to deal with, maintained his faith and moral standards.
I am going to do something unusual for this ministry, and relate Joseph’s story to the current political and social environment in America. That environment is one of distrust in our government, distrust in our media, distrust in our medical system, and distrust within the community. We are a people totally polarized, where there is no common ground or compromise, living in a fearful and frustrated de facto civil war of ideologies and political positions.
One recent example is how the media has painted a man found not guilty of murder as a white supremacist who killed black people peacefully protesting. When I read the transcript of the trial, the man had a legally owned firearm and was trying to protect a family business from rioters who were anything but peaceful. After failing to protect the business, he was being chased by the rioters who were armed and while he was being chased, he heard gunshots. He turned and shot back, reasonably assuming that the ones chasing and threatening him were shooting at him. In doing so, he shot and killed a few of the people chasing him (they weren’t all black).
The court found him justified in doing what he did and released him, but this case of self-defense was turned into a racist murder by the media, which didn’t care about truth or justice but only about causing strife and disunity within the community.
Another example is the presidential election of 2020, which is still considered by many to have been more of a coup because millions of votes were falsely created by one side. Whether or not this happened, the fact that it represents such a severe and widespread distrust in one of the building blocks of our democracy- the secret ballot- is as bad as if it was proven true.
And what about the pandemic? It has been so poorly being handled, with so many contradictory reports of the safety and efficacy of the vaccine, of the usefulness of masks, and lock-downs resulting in the financial ruin of millions of businesses and people, not to mention the general fear being fostered by the media, well…how can anyone not feel unjustly treated and mistrusting of our leadership?
Joseph must have felt this way, too. He was mistreated by his brothers, and even when doing the best he could showing his faithfulness to those who were in authority over him, he was unjustly accused and imprisoned.
But despite all that, he maintained his trust in God, and by continuing to behave as a God-fearing person should behave, always doing what is right in God’s eyes, he persevered. And, as we will find out later in this book, he not only persevered, he conquered.
There is distrust, strife, fear, concern, and a general sense of What-the-heck is going on! in the world today. We need to do as Joseph did, which is to trust that God will sort it all out, but in the meantime take charge of what we can, and live our life the best we can while we can.
Yes, it is difficult and there are so many things we want to do that we can’t, or we feel we mustn’t because it represents to us too much of a compromise of our freedoms. That is fine, because if we refuse to get a booster, or we decide to go ahead and get a booster, no one should tell us what is right or wrong because when we decide what we will do, it is our decision. We are taking charge of what we can, and dealing with that which we can’t control.
I don’t care what you think about the vaccine, or the President, or the medical “facts” or what I do…I am taking charge of my life as much as I can and living it with the trust and faith in God that whatever happens, he will work it out for the best. Eventually.
And that is what we spiritual types call “Faith”
I have little or no faith in our current government, not in the medical leadership of this country, and never in people, but I have tons of faith in God. Just because the world is one big mishigas right now doesn’t mean God isn’t in charge- it just means he is letting things happen. I know, absolutely, that he sees where things are going, and he has a plan to do the perfect thing we need to have done and will do at exactly the right moment.
So, nu? Are you feeling as frustrated as I am? Do you wish this all would just go away, and we could get back to our normal life- no masks, no mandatory vaccinations, no pandemic, no racist hatred (well, we’ve never been free of that), and life back to the way we had it before all this drek happened?
If so, then let me say this… GET REAL, PEOPLE!! That ain’t gonna happen, so get with the program. Do as Joseph did- act the way you know YOU are supposed to act and ignore the world going crazy. God will always see you and protect you when you do as he wants, and that is all we need to concentrate on. This will all pass, sooner or later (God willing, sooner!) so be like the maidens who had their oil ready, because when the Bridegroom comes, we don’t want to be caught up in the mess that everyone else is trapped in.
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That’s it for this week, so l’hitraot and Shabbat Shalom!