x1952-129, Joseph Interprets Pharoah’s Dream, Artist: Tissot, Photographer: John Parnell, Photo © The Jewish Museum, New York
Joseph the dreamer! His is a story that always fascinates. There are so many aspects of the story to which we can relate: Sibling relationships; parents playing favorites; power and powerlessness, and of course, the meaning and impact of dreams. This is one Biblical story we know well. It has been retold in countless children’s books, and of course, courtesy of Andrew Lloyd Weber on stage and screen.
Joseph, who at the outset of this week’s Torah reading, finds himself in prison, will, in short order, finds himself before Pharaoh, king of Egypt. His dexterity in interpreting dreams which only a week ago got him into deep trouble with his family will now be his lifeline as he finds himself released from prison and subsequently elevated by Pharaoh to a position second only to the King’s.
There is an interchange between Pharaoh and Joseph which represents the key turning point for Joseph. We read: “Joseph said to Pharaoh, “Pharaoh’s (two) dreams are one and the same: God has told Pharaoh what He is about to do. The seven healthy cows are seven years, and the seven healthy ears are seven years . . . The seven lean and ugly cows that followed are seven years . . . of famine . . . God has revealed to Pharaoh what He is about to do. Ahead are seven years of great abundance in all the land of Egypt. After them will come seven years of famine, and all the abundance in the land of Egypt will be forgotten . . . ‘Let Pharaoh find a man of discernment and wisdom, and set him over the land of Egypt. Let Pharaoh . . . appoint overseers over the land, and organize the land of Egypt in the seven years of plenty . . . Let all the food of these good years that are coming be gathered . . Let that food be a reserve for the land for the seven years of famine which will come upon the land of Egypt . . .The plan pleased Pharaoh and all his courtiers. Pharaoh said to his courtiers, ‘Could we find another like him, a man in whom is the spirit of God?’ So Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘Since God has made all this known to you, there is none so discerning and wise as you. You shall be in charge of my court, and by your command shall all my people be directed; only with respect to the throne shall I be superior to you.’ Pharaoh further said to Joseph, ‘See, I put you in charge of all the land of Egypt.’” (Genesis chapter 41, excerpts)
“Appoint a man of discernment and wisdom.” What a powerful passage to read, not only in the unfolding drama of our weekly Torah readings, but in our day as well.
These have been challenging days and weeks in our nation and our world. Vicious terror attacks, and vicious verbal assaults fill our daily news cycles and overflow in our consciousness. As the days grow darker for us in this hemisphere, the darkness seems to become even more tangible amidst the turmoil of world events and the tumult of the discourse of our time.
Though it’s more protracted than many of us would like, the quadrennial Presidential leadership contest is sharing center stage with world events that day-by-day shed long shadows upon us. Equally dark is the rhetoric and posturing of those who seek the mantle of leadership at its highest rung in our nation.
Without regard for party, I am distressed by the rhetoric and the misinformation and deliberate feints with regard to truth-telling that seemingly pass for the norm in our time. I hear Joseph’s words and want to shout a version of them from the rooftops: Let us appoint leaders of discernment and wisdom! Not those who can play on and twist the fears that many in our midst harbor; but those who understand our values as a nation, and would lead by those values, rather than fear-mongering and demagoguery. Again I cry, Let us appoint leaders of discernment and wisdom!