G-d Was With Joseph, But Was Joseph With G-d?

Dear Rabbi,

                Well here we are at Vayeshev and we are now studying Joseph. I would like to discuss Joseph on a parshah by parshah basis, so I will not go beyond what we will read this week. I would hope that you do not “skip ahead” because the Joseph story should be dissected one parshah at a time. However, I am going to reference what we have already read to explain what my take on all of this leads to.
            Is Joseph really a Jew? If you are not comfortable with that term because it does not yet exist, is he an Israelite? Again if that does not yet exist, is he a Hebrew?  
            Okay, now that I have posed these rather provocative questions, let’s see how I got to these thoughts. Actually it started with something that you wrote to me in response to why Joseph, who had much written about him in the Torah, was not a Patriarch, whereas Isaac, who does not have much written about his personal life, does. Your response was that for one thing, G-d never spoke to Joseph contrary to G-d’s words as they were conveyed to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. I said I never considered that and that I would get back to you, once I reread his story as revealed in the Torah.
            Well, as to this week’s parshah, I agree with you, which is why I am asking the above stated questions.
            We start off this week in the First Aliyah with finding out the following:
               Jacob and his family settled in Canaan. Of all his sons, Jacob favored Joseph, the firstborn of his deceased beloved wife Rachel, and he made for him a special robe of fine wool. Joseph's brothers were jealous of the favoritism, and avoided talking to Joseph. Joseph related to his brothers two dreams he had, both implying that he would eventually rule over his brothers—and thus increased his brothers' envy and hatred.
            So what we have is favoritism shown by the person I most don’t understand, Jacob, to a son that is an arrogant brat, who tells his brothers that he will rule over them as predetermined by dreams that he had. It is important to note, that the translation of Joseph having these dreams, does not state that G-d told him that this would happen, which to me means, Joseph thought he would rule over his brothers by his own devices. It is also important to note that the parshah starts off with the reference that Jacob and his family has settled in Canaan, which today is known as Israel. I will leave that last notation for a future parshah.
            The Second and Third Aliyahs deal with the fate of Joseph as it relates to his brothers, of at first being killed except by Rueben who wants to secretly save him, followed by the plan to sell him into slavery which does take place and Joseph winding up in the house of a powerful man within Egypt, Potiphar.
            In looking at these aliyahs, I immediately had two thoughts. First, is there anything in this revelation where Joseph complains about what is happening to him? I could not find any such reference.
            The second is what I already know from reading about Isaac who does have a conversation with G-d in Genesis 26:2: “And the Lord appeared to him, and said, Go not down
into Egypt: dwell in the land which I shall tell thee of.” This too, will be further explored in a later parshah.
            What the Fourth Aliyah is doing in the middle of the story of Joseph is beyond me except maybe G-d understood that sex is a topic that keeps people interested in the rest of what is being said.
            Getting back to Joseph, the Fifth Aliyah has some interesting commentary of which I give you the following:
“The Lord was with Joseph, and he was a successful man, and he was in the house of his Egyptian master.”
“And his master saw that the Lord was with him, and whatever he (Joseph) did the Lord made prosper in his hand.”

“In this house, there is no one greater than I, and he has not withheld anything from me except you, insofar as you are his wife. Now how can I commit this great evil, and sin against G-d?"

            After looking at the above, I see that G-d was with Joseph but does Joseph even know this?  Potiphar sees this, but Joseph seems unfazed by all that is going around him. He seems to accept his fate without ever remarking about giving thanks for his favored position.  You could come back with the last quote I gave you as to some sort of relationship with G-d, but let’s continue with the parshah.
            In the Sixth Aliyah, Joseph is now in prison but those in charge of him see that he should be given special privilege and as was stated: “And his master saw that the Lord was with him, and whatever he (Joseph) did the Lord made prosper in his hand.
The Lord was with Joseph, and He extended charisma to him, and He gave him favor in the eyes of the warden of the prison.
The warden of the prison did not inspect anything [that was] in his (Joseph's) hand, for the Lord was with him, and whatever he did the Lord made prosper.”
            Again G-d is with Joseph, but is Joseph with G-d?
            Finally in the Seventh Aliyah, when Pharaoh’s butler and baker come to Joseph about their dreams the following takes place: "We have dreamed a dream, and there is no interpreter for it." Joseph said to them, "Don't interpretations belong to G-d? Tell [them] to me now."
            To me it is strange that Joseph tells them that interpretations of dreams belong to G-d and then he instructs them to tell the dreams to him and he gives them the answers as to what they mean.
            The Seventh Aliyah ends with Joseph asking the butler to remember him to Pharaoh so that he can get out of prison when he says: “For I was stolen from the land of the Hebrews, and here too, I have done nothing, for which they have put me into the dungeon."
            He tells the butler that he was stolen from “the land of the Hebrews”, but does he include himself as one of them? Going back to prior parshahs, Abraham is the first Hebrew not Noah. Abraham’s distinction comes from two traits, he believed in only one G-d and would question some of the acts G-d was about to commit, something that is done by those of the Jewish faith to this very day. Noah hears G-d tell him to begin the arduous task of building an ark, gathering all of the animals of the world and having to tend to them for a long period of time because G-d is going to destroy the rest of mankind. Not one word of protest or even “why” comes from the lips of Noah.
            As to being Jewish, what do we know of the education of Joseph? Remember he is the son of Rachel who we know, because of an earlier parshah, took her father, Laban’s idols and maybe she did that because she may have believed they had some power.
            I am sorry I have gone on for as long as I have, but the study of Joseph is complex and as I stated in the beginning, needs an analysis as we read on in upcoming parshahs.  To be continued.


                 Dear Mordecai

               Joseph is referred to as a Hebrew, the only person who is referred to in that way in Genesis. What’s most important about Joseph is that his descendants are Ephraim and Menasseh. Ephraim is the leading tribe of the Northern Kingdom, which succumbed to idolatry. The Northern Kingdom was “Israel.” That means that Joseph is also an Israelite but not really a Jew strictly speaking.
I know that my pious push-back might be tiresome, but I tend to think of Joseph as an especially gifted person rather than an arrogant brat. His arrogance stemmed from his talent. At least he had a reason to be arrogant!
Can we ever make excuses, however, for the envy and jealousy of others? Can anything we really do excite the envy of others, or isn’t each of us responsible for our own relationship to jealousy.
I think that you are right, however, that the absence of G-d in his dreams does suggest that Joseph believes he will “rule over his brothers by his own devices.”
I also wonder what Joseph’s silence during the ordeal he underwent at the hands of his brothers means.
I think I can shed some light on the fourth Aliyah. The overall function of the Joseph narratives is to establish the reality of Providence, G-d’s governance of the universe, including human history. This is the purpose of the fourth Aliyah. Note the ending of the story when Peretz is born. Now, read the end of the Book of Ruth. Peretz is King David’s ancestor. The purpose of the Tamar narrative is to hint at the coming of David and eventually the messiah.
 I really like this question: G-d was with Joseph but does Joseph even know this? 
Even if the interpretation of dreams belongs to G-d, there still needs to be a human intermediary whose specialization is interpreting dreams through divine guidance.
I like your question about whether Joseph considers himself one of the Hebrews. I think that during his captivity, he suppresses his origins because of the pain associated with how his brothers treated him. I believe I mentioned this in a previous email, but Rachel’s idol worship directly connects with the Northern Kingdom’s descent into idolatry. The Northern Kingdom is, of course, Joseph.

HSha    Shalom,