D’Var Torah – Vayigash Genesis/Bereshit
Mark Burger – 2 January 2004 - 8 Tevet 5764
One year ago, I gave a dvar on this same portion on our Egyptian slave-like dependency on cheap energy to maintain our affluent lifestyle. I am unhappy to report that, in spite of some improvements, that slavish dependency has not changed as we look to our present-day Josephs to mortgage our children’s future and increasingly our own future in view of the coming lean years. The peril comes in three forms – first, we continue to rely more and more on countries that harbor terrorism or instability for our daily energy needs. Second, we fail to take full advantage of the on-going revolution in cleaner energy products and services, costing us jobs, businesses and a worsening balance of trade. Third, environmental degradation of our world and our children’s world still threatens to poison us in the name of affluence.
The numbers continue to be alarming – the U.S. will soon be importing over 60 percent of its petroleum from outside its borders and shores, most of that coming from violent, corrupt or unstable regimes like Saudi Arabia, the former Soviet Union, Nigeria and Venezuela. In spite of all the financial incentives and advanced exploration and extraction technology, the world is consuming about one billion barrels of oil more than it is finding every month, which is what the U.S. consumes about every fifty days. So draining Alaska of its 10 billion barrels of oil would last us about 1-1/2 years. U.S. oil production peaked in 1972, world oil production will peak sometime between 2006 and 2012.
Next year, we may also be importing for the first time over ten percent of our natural gas consumption, with the biggest increases coming in hazardous liquefied form from Saudi Arabia and Algeria. Reliance on these resources is inherently unstable for countries that extract them, like the OPEC countries, or that use them, like the United States.
Another issue is that other countries with growing middle classes, like China and India, want the affluence we have, quickly soaking up existing resources and making out of date comfortable predictions of resource longevity. Canada will soon begin large-scale exports of coal to China, with U.S. coal extractors soon following suit. So the supply of centuries of coal usage within our borders may change to merely decades.
While it is best to have a concerted national effort to free ourselves from dependency, pollution and economic non-competitiveness, there is much we can do as individuals, communities and states. Indeed, that has been most of recent American progress in becoming greener and cleaner - action from the grass roots. So here is the call to action focusing on three significant fronts to make an immediate impact.
(1) Reduce petroleum consumption. Your next vehicle purchase should be a hybrid model. There exist right now cars that can take five passengers very nicely. Starting later this year, you can get a choice of sports utility vehicles, and next year pickup trucks or mini-vans. You will save up to half of your present fuel consumption. Every five hundred vehicles that switch from a guzzler to a hybrid will eliminate one gas pump. Every one hundred thousand vehicles that switch will avoid the need for one super tanker from an OPEC member. Your buying a hybrid vehicle sends a clear message to the world’s automakers of the need to phase out the internal combustion engine. If you don’t want to personally own a hybrid car, you can look to share in one.
(2) Reduce natural gas, coal and nuclear power consumption. Reduce the energy consumption of your house or building now, using insulation, better windows and replacing appliances with ones that are Energy Star rated and, after that, installing solar heating or electric systems, if appropriate. It is affordable if financed by mortgages or other long-term instruments, plus you will have a more comfortable place and one that will increase in value. If you can’t, or don’t want to install solar, buy green power or their emission credits, also called “green tags” from solar or wind sources, which you can do now through the internet.
(3) Use clean energy technologies. There is a new way to economically support Israel, and that is to use the clean energy technologies that they develop. Clean energy systems can go on temples and schools as well as private buildings. Buying handicrafts from Israel is nice, but this goes one better.
There is of course communications with our elected and appointed officials on getting more funds, improving our codes and standards and so on. But there exists an infrastructure that we can use to deliver us from supporting pollution, terrorism and economic instability. I have more information on this call to action in the rotunda. We can deal with the coming lean years by being green. Amen.
Center for Neighborhood Technology - www.cnt.org
Chicago Center for Green Technology – www.cityofchicago.org/Environment//GreenTech/
Clean Car Campaign – www.cleancarcampaign.org
Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life – www.coejl.org
ENERGY STAR? - www.energystar.gov
Greener Cars - www.GreenerCars.com
I Gosm – The Smarter Way to Drive – www.i-go-cars.org
Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation – www.illinoiscleanenergy.org
Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, Bureau of Energy and
Illinois Solar Energy Association – www.illinoissolar.org
Mainstay Energy (Green Power) – www.mainstayenergy.com
Methane Madness - www.eeba.org/conference/2003/presentations/Udall_Randy.pdf
Rocky Mountain Institute – www.rmi.org
Solar Energy In Israel - www.us-israel.org/jsource/Environment/Solar.html
Solel Solar Systems Ltd (Israel) – www.solel.com
U.S. Green Building Council, Chicago Chapter – www.usgbc.org/chapters/chicago/
When Will The Joy Ride End? - www.oilcrisis.com/debate/udall/joyride.htm hubbert.mines.edu/news/Udall-Andrews_99-1.pdf
Zero Energy Buildings – www.eere.energy.gov/buildings/zeroenergy
Friday, 25 December 1998
By Tricia Brauner
45:1 Yosef could no longer restrain himself in the presence of all who were stationed around him, he called out: Have everyone leave me! So no one stood (in attendance upon) him when Yosef made himself known to his brothers.
2 He put forth his voice in weeping: the Egyptians heard, Pharaoh’s household heard.
3 Then Yosef said to his brothers: I am Yosef. Is my father still alive? But his brothers were not able to answer him,
4 Yosef said to his brothers: Pray come close to me! They came close. He said: I am Yosef your brother, whom you sold into Egypt.
5 But now, do not be pained, and do not let (anger) rage in your eyes that you sold me here! For it was to save life that God sent me on before you.
In the Beginning: A New English Rendition of the Book of Genesis,
Translated by Everett Fox (New York: Schocken Books, 1983)
This evening I will talk about our human propensity to find meaning in adversity, our need to find purpose in events, especially those that seem bad, evil, or misfortunate. In religious terms, we call this God’s Providence.
This week’s parsha, Vayyigash, is part of a long narrative, the Joseph story, that explains how the Israelites ended up in Egypt and ultimately in slavery. In this parsha Jacob and his household—threescore and ten (a ‘magically perfect’ number, 7 x 10)—go down into Goshen, to the best Egyptian pastureland, as guests of Pharaoh.
And how did this journey begin? It began with Joseph being sold into slavery (8 chapters and two weeks ago, in parsha Vayyeshev).
Biblical scholars see at least two authors’ hands in the Joseph narrative. One author sees God’s providence at work, the other rejects the idea of God’s involvement and emphasizes human designs: Joseph’s brothers hated him because their father favored him and because Joseph—perhaps thoughtlessly, perhaps purposefully, told them his dreams of being superior to them (remember, dreams were thought to foretell the future). In fact, even Jacob rebuked Joseph for such dreams. And Joseph’s integrity in Egypt in resisting the advances of Potiphar’s wife shows that he deserves to rise in power and position.
Anyway, the brothers plotted to kill Joseph. Reuben, however, hoping to save him and send him home to Jacob, convinced the others to throw him into an empty water cistern instead. And while the brothers were sitting around eating and talking about selling Joseph into slavery, some Midianites pulled Joseph out of the pit and sold him themselves to an Ishmaelite trading caravan on its way to Egypt. To cover their complicity, the brothers bring to Jacob Joseph’s bloody coat. Was this not even more cruel than telling the truth? Were they also revenging themselves on the father who favored Joseph?
An important detail in the narrative is that Joseph himself acknowledged that he was “stolen away” (“ki goonov goonavti”—from the same root as “goniff” [40:15]). Yet in the passage we have just read, Joseph identifies himself to his brothers as “Joseph your brother, whom you sold into Egypt.” Is this a bad fusing of the two separate narratives? a poor editing job?
I think that despite the emotion Joseph has shown—he wept so loudly that the whole palace heard him—Joseph is controlling the situation, just as he has controlled the economic situation in Egypt, building up stores against the coming famine. Remember this is the brother’ second trip to buy grain from Egypt. The first time, Benjamin, now the favorite son, remained behind with Jacob. Joseph immediately knew his brothers, but they didn’t recognize him: he’d been a seventeen-year-old adolescent when they last saw him and now he is an Egyptian official. Joseph made a pretense of putting his brothers under guard for three days as potential spies, then, keeping Simeon in prison, he sent the others back to Jacob with instructions to return with their youngest brother as proof of their truthfulness.
But remember, Joseph has overheard them acknowledging among themselves (in Hebrew, which they assumed he could not speak) that their misfortune is retribution for not heeding Joseph’s pleas when they threw him into the pit. And on their way home, what do they find but that their money has been returned in their sacks of grain! Their response is, “What is this that God has done to us?” (Ma zot asah elohim lanu? [42:28]). They see God, involving himself unexpectedly in their lives.
Of course, they have to come back to buy more grain, and they finally persuade Jacob to let Benjamin go with them so that the entire family will not starve. Reuben, who had tried to save Joseph, extravagantly offers his own two sons as surety for Benjamin (would a grandfather slay his grandchildren?).
On this second visit, Joseph entertains them! gives them a meal in his own house! When he sees Benjamin (who may have been just a small child when Joseph was taken to Egypt) he was so moved he had to leave the room and weep, but he still does not reveal his identity. And again he tests the brothers, returning their money surreptiously but also hiding his divining cup in Benjamin’s sack. He sends them away only to have them ‘captured’ and brought back. Is it a duplication in the narrative, or is it like a cat playing with a mouse, building the tension before the denouement?
Listen to what Judah says to Joseph when they are brought back. “What can we say?... God has found out your servants’ crime!” [44:16]. He is not referring to stealing the money or the cup, which he knows they did not do; he is speaking of their conduct toward Joseph their brother. Their guilt has not left them.
Judah then makes an impassioned plea for Benjamin for Jacob’s sake, for Jacob’s “soul is bound up with the lad’s soul” (“v’nafsho k’shurah v’nafsho”—the same expression describes the love of David and Jonathan [I Sam. 18:1])—and if Benjamin does not return, Jacob will die.
The ten guilty brothers, through Judah their spokesman, have come to the point where they can acknowledge without jealousy the special love of their father for one son—the very thing they could not tolerate about Joseph. And brought to this point by Joseph’s actions, they admit their guilt before an ostensible stranger, displaying a love for their father that could not possibly allow them this time to bring a bloody coat to him and tell him his child must be dead. Now they are ready to be confronted by Joseph himself.
And finally, Joseph sends away all the courtiers and retainers, and weeps aloud, so that others hear him, and says “Ani Yosef,” “I am Joseph.”
The psychological insight of the author continues in Joseph’s words to them. First he abruptly reveals who he is and asks after his father (at their previous meeting he asked after their father). Then he names their crime against him: “I am Joseph your brother, whom you sold into Egypt.” Recall that he has acknowledged that he was kidnapped and sold by the Ishmaelites, but the brothers bear the guilt—they had plotted against him, and it is not their fault somebody beat them to it. In their hearts they sold him.
Then Joseph says, “Do not be pained [other translators offer “grieved” or “distressed”], and do not let anger rage in your eyes [others: “be not angry with yourselves” or “do not reproach yourselves”], that you sold me here!” He understands their psychological state: admission of guilt, confusion, grief and repentance, anger at one’s self, and so on. He’s got them where he wants them. We might say he’s had his revenge.
But then after all this, after he has manipulated them, if you will, to see their sin, and confused or frightened them by revealing his identity simply as “ani Yosef,” he says, “Don’t feel bad, BECAUSE GOD BROUGHT ME HERE before you to save life” (ki l’mikhyeh sh’lakhani elohim lifneykhem). How many times have we heard someone say “It was God’s will”—usually referring to a death, perhaps untimely. Or “it’s all for the best.” We want to find some meaning in what appears to us to be senseless. We want to find a reason why there is suffering and cruelty and evil in the world. Why does a merciful God allow it?
But we are also taught that the end does not justify the means. If the brothers should not be sorry that they sold their brother into slavery because it was part of God’s purpose, does that mean they have no responsibility for the terrible deeds of doing away with their brother and presenting their father with his bloodied coat? Think of the pain they caused Jacob, as he imagined his beloved son so mauled and torn by a wild beast—perhaps a hyaena—that only a piece of his clothing remained. And what about Joseph? If he’d had therapy, what feelings he must have expressed against his brothers! Or was he from childhood such a believer in his dreams and in the providence of God that he comforted himself with the idea that all his suffering was a part of God’s plan.
I find it hard to believe that the same man who could so manipulate his brothers, bringing them more than once to humble themselves before him, as in his youthful dreams, seeming to be driven to test them in this way despite his overwhelming emotions (or perhaps because of them—we are not told precisely WHY he wept, after all), —that this man could sincerely say, after all that, “But don’t grieve over what you did to me, because God brought me here to save life.”
Joseph’s forgiveness of his brothers would seem to have a fairytale quality, like Cinderella forgiving her wicked stepsisters and stepmother when she marries the prince: a triumph of goodness. I think that in this story, bringing together the two viewpoints of the narrators, the editor attempts to reconcile the idea that God interferes in human life for God’s own purposes with the notion of human responsibility, of the need for repentance and some sort of retribution. Joseph sees God’s purpose as “saving life,” a purpose that Torah teaches us is a primary principle of moral behavior. And not only did Joseph save his family’s lives, but also the lives of the Egyptians. (That the Egyptians ultimately sell themselves to Pharaoh for food is a darker ending to the story.) Surely a divinely-approved purpose.
A new play has recently opened in New York, “The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told,” by Paul Rudnick. It is a “what if” retelling of the biblical stories and a commentary on contemporary religion. In an interview with the NY Times Rudnick said that one of his goals was “to imagine the events of the Bible without the absolute presence of God. What if the earliest humans experienced all the floods, Pharaohs, and seeming miracles of the traditional tales, but without knowing for sure what, if anything, might be causing the hubbub?”
Well, I think it likely that many of the people who experienced these things didn’t immediately think, Ah! God is doing this. It is only later, after reflection, that the human mind begins to put together the “miracles,” the unexpected fragments of events, good and bad, into some meaningful pattern. Perhaps Joseph was working this out for himself through his whole life in Egypt and through his dealings with his brothers over the time covered by their two trips to Egypt to buy food. Perhaps the authors and editor of the Joseph narrative in Genesis were working out the same contradictions: bad things were done; good things happened as a result. If the brothers hadn’t sold Joseph to Egypt, would Jacob’s family later have starved in the famine and the Jewish people not exist? What if, what if... Joseph was able to deal with the grief and pain in his life because he believed there was a purpose to it, and that sense of purpose was grounded in God.
Vayigash Gen. 44:18 - 47:27
D’var Torah by Judy Gross
January 2, 1998
Vayigash is the portion in which Joseph, apparently the most powerful man in Egypt, finally reveals himself to his brothers and brings Jacob’s entire family to Egypt to save all of Israel from the famine in Canaan. To me, the most interesting aspect of this portion is its theme of control: how Judah, Joseph, Pharaoh, and finally Jacob try to control other people, events, and even God. In this portion, for the first time, Jacob realizes that he cannot control God. He also realizes that he doesn’t need to.
Let us begin, as does this portion, with Judah. Judah in previous stories has shown more that his share of human frailties, including plotting to sell Joseph into slavery and acting disgracefully to Tamar, his son’s wife. But in this story, he appears after having pledged to Jacob his own life and freedom as surety for Benjamin, his youngest brother, Rachael’s child and Jacob’s favorite since Joseph’s disappearance. When Joseph pretends that he is going to imprison Benjamin for theft, Judah realizes that Judah, in fact, has no physical power. His family is starving and at the mercy of one who is like Pharaoh ( Gen.44:18; a comment that I did not think was intended as a compliment). Judah gives us a beautiful example of the song we sang last week for Hanukkah, "Not by might and not by power". Judah comes up to Joseph ("vayigash") and, using only moral suasion, manages to disarm Joseph.
Judah doesn’t threaten Joseph, even with God’s wrath, he merely reports that losing Benjamin will deeply hurt his father, perhaps leading to the death of both Jacob and Benjamin. Judah’s speech is powerful: "Now if I come to your servant my father and the boy is not with me--- since his own life is so bound up with his --- when he sees that the boy is not with us, he will die, and your servants will send the white head of your servant our father down to Sheol in grief." (Gen.44:30-31) He fulfills his pledge to Jacob by offering himself as a slave in Benjamin’s place on the grounds that he could not stand seeing how distraught Jacob would be if he lost Benjamin: "For how can I go back to my father unless the boy is with me? Let me not be witness to the woe that would overtake my father!" (Gen.44:34). And it works. Granted it works because in fact, Judah’s father was also Joseph’s father, and Joseph was an essentially moral person. It wouldn’t work against true evil, but from this portion, we see that telling someone what is right may lead to his doing right.
Judah’s rather minor role shows us what is possible. Joseph’s behavior shows us major limitations on the control by even the most powerful. Joseph has been manipulating and controlling his brothers shamefully. Judah’s speech is necessary because Joseph planted a cup in Benjamin’s bag and accused him of theft. Joseph previously had exercised his control over his brothers to deny them food unless they brought Benjamin to Egypt, which they did most unwillingly. Finally, Joseph loses control of his brothers and himself because of Judah’s words. However, in one last attempt to maintain his power over the Egyptians and to save face before them, when Joseph realizes that he is breaking down, he sends the Egyptians out of the room. He fails. He so completely loses control of himself that his cries can be heard all the way to Pharaoh’s palace.(Gen.45:1-2) His inability to control himself limits his total control.
I don’t mean to paint Joseph’s desire for power and control too strongly because Joseph always recognized some major limitations: he told his brothers that God had sent him before them to ensure their survival on earth (Gen.45:7) and "to save your lives in an extraordinary deliverance" (a statement foreshadowing the Exodus and simultaneously providing a wonderful example of the human action necessary to carry out the Divine plan and fulfill the Covenant). He further says that God had made him "a father to Pharaoh", ruler throughout Egypt, and lord of Egypt. So he attributed his acquisition of power to God, not to himself or to Pharaoh. But even after their reconciliation, he still chose to try to control his brothers and father. He sent his brothers to bring Jacob, told them how to behave on the journey, what possessions to bring and what to abandon, where they would live, and what they would do for a living. His power over his brothers was somewhat limited: his brothers did not become either Joseph’s or Pharaoh’s serfs.
Joseph’s exercise of power was not limited to his brothers. By the end of the portion, all the people of Egypt came to Joseph first to buy food, then when all their money was gone, when all they had left were their dying bodies and dying land, to beg food and to trade their freedom for food. (Gen.47:18) True, when Joseph made all the people serfs to Pharaoh, he was proving that his personal power had limits: he did not directly benefit from the transactions as he did everything in Pharaoh’s name, and the Egyptian priests received their grants directly from Pharaoh without losing their freedom. This portion also foreshadows the most obvious limitation on Joseph’s control. In just a few short chapters, all of Israel will be slaves in Egypt. Joseph cannot control events after his death, nor does he truly control all of Egypt.
It is interesting at this point to examine Pharaoh’s power. In this portion, Pharaoh’s power is shown to be quite limited. He, in fact, is almost a comic figure. He extravagantly invites Joseph’s entire family to live in Egypt, but in doing so, he is a puppet: he extends an invitation that Joseph had already given, telling them to live where Joseph has already told them to live. Everyone has already begun to act on Joseph’s word, without even waiting for Pharaoh’s rubber stamp. Moreover, when the famine becomes severe, Joseph, not Pharaoh, sets Egyptian land policy. Finally, when Jacob arrives in Egypt, Jacob blesses Pharaoh (Gen.47:7) - which might seem presumptuous, except that we were told that Joseph was made father to Pharaoh, so it is appropriate that Joseph’s father act like a crotchety old grandfather when speaking to Pharaoh. "The years of my sojourn [on earth] are one hundred and thirty. Few and hard have been the years of my life....(Gen.47:9)" Indeed. This also foreshadows Jacob’s blessing of Joseph’s sons, Jacob’s real grandsons, in the next portion.
So what of Jacob’s power? We see that Jacob exercised some power over Pharaoh. We know that he maintained power over his sons because he sent them to Egypt for food several times even though they did not want to go, and, when forced to send Benjamin with them, extracts a promise from Ruben that Ruben’s children will be hostage for Benjamin (Gen.42:37) and a promise from Judah to stand surety for Benjamin (Gen.43:7). In the next portion, Jacob controls his sons with blessings and curses and also chooses how to bless Joseph’s sons. Nevertheless, Jacob understands the limits on his power: he makes Joseph formally swear to bury him in Canaan, rather than in Egypt (something that, by the way, God had already promised would happen). Jacob understands that control ends with death.
Jacob also understands, finally, that he cannot control God. During the course of his life, Jacob had four encounters with God. In the first three, Jacob tried to control God. Only in this portion, his fourth encounter, does he do everything right.
In Jacob’s first encounter with God, Jacob was, well, Jacob. Jacob is fleeing from home and the wrath of both Esau and Isaac, both of whom he has tricked. He goes to sleep and is treated to the magnificent spectacle of angels going up and down a ladder to Heaven, with God at the top of the ladder (Gen.28:12 et seq.). God tells Jacob that Jacob will receive the blessings of the Covenant and that God will go with him on his journeys. So Jacob explains to God what God must do for Jacob in order for Jacob to worship God: give me stuff and I will worship you. "If God remains with me, if He protects me on this journey that I am making, and gives me bread to eat and clothing to wear, and if I return safe to my father’s house -- the Lord will be my God...."(Gen.28:20)
Jacob’s second encounter is just as magnificent a story as the first: Jacob is fleeing Laban's wrath (whom he has tricked), returning to his homeland in fear of his brother Esau. Jacob was alone in the night and wrestled with God (or some aspect of God), literally trying physically to force God to bless him. It doesn’t work; one touch cripples Jacob for life. And Jacob explains it as a victory: after all, he did not die. God has changed Jacob’s name to Israel in this encounter, but generally, he is still called Jacob. Jacob’s wrestling did not change the Covenant.
Jacob’s third encounter with God, after the rape of Dinah and his sons’ massacre of the men of Shechem, when, you guessed it, Jacob is fleeing the wrath of the peoples around Shechem, is basically just a different version of Jacob’s name change, with God’s confirmation of the Covenant.(Gen.35:9) Between these encounters, Jacob continues to live his difficult life. God, in the meantime, has kept His freely granted promise to make make Jacob’s family a multitude, hence the long list in this portion of all Jacob’s children and grandchildren who go to Egypt. (Gen. 46:8-27)
On this trip to Egypt, Jacob encounters God for the fourth time, "in a vision of night."(Gen.46:2) And Jacob gets it right. God calls "Jacob, Jacob." Jacob does not bargain, does not try to physically overpower God, and doesn’t even calculate whether God gave him all the stuff he had demanded in his first encounter. Instead, he says "Hineni", "Here I am", the only correct answer in Torah to a call from God.
So why did Jacob change? He did change, that is certain. After all, directness was never one of Jacob’s attributes. The only other time Jacob had even used the word "hineni" was when he invented a dream to explain to his wives why he was leaving Laban’s household, to try to convince them that God was directing his fortunes. (Gen.31:11) But in this portion, Jacob finally learns what is important. Controlling God wasn’t it, and having stuff wasn’t it. It was, instead, Joseph’s life.
When Judah returned from Egypt to fetch Jacob, he told Jacob that Joseph was alive and a lord in Egypt. Jacob’s heart stopped from shock and joy, he cried "Enough", and then the spirit of Jacob reentered Jacob’s body. (Gen.45:26-27) The word used for "spirit" is "ruah", the same breath of God that brought life to Adam and Noah’s protection from the flood. In fact, the Zohar insists that this was the Shechinah (spirit of God) entering Jacob’s body for the first time since Joseph disappeared. (Zohar vol.1,216:6: Soncino Zohar, vol.2,p.302) I prefer to think that Jacob had been without the spirit of God even longer, ever since Jacob made the soup for Esau and began his life of trickery so long before this. This portion then is the story of Jacob demanding, and needing, less and less from God. He didn’t need the wealth for which he had cheated Esau and Laban, he didn’t need to demand a blessing or stuff from God. Without being asked or harassed, God had given Jacob the protection of the Covenant. And God had given him his son’s life: that was enough.