Jewish, Jewish, Everywhere, & not a drop to drink
Wednesday, December 24, 2003
Hanukah Special: Joseph & The Mystery of Leadership.

Written by me, SIMSHALOM

Related to the weekly Torah portion of MiKeitz read in synagogue 27 Dec. 2003.
(Genesis, Chapter 41, verse 1 – Chapter 44, verse 17.) Dedicated to my Parents.

Joseph, the son of the Jewish patriarch Jacob dominates this week’s Torah portion completely. He starts out dominating the prison in which he finds himself, having been falsely accused of rape, in ancient Egypt over 3,500 years ago in the land of the pharaohs, correctly predicting the fate of his fellow prisoners as they divulge their dreams to him. This gains him a sensational audience with Pharaoh who has yet to find anyone savvy enough to interpret his troubling nightmares about seven fat cows being eaten up by seven thin cows. When he tells Pharaoh that it means that seven years of plenty will be followed by seven years of famine, and that Egypt needs to stock up now, he is incredibly appointed as Pharaoh’s deputy to dominate Egypt at age 30!

With the onset of the famine many years later, Joseph’s nemeses, his ten brothers, come calling for food and receive an audience with him not knowing that the powerful “Egyptian” Viceroy they are literally bowing down to in search of food is their brother they long ago sold into slavery. This brings everyone full circle in fulfillment of dreams that Joseph himself had in his youth that one day his brothers would bow and “submit” to him and that had triggered their original suspicion and anger of him, and united them in wanting him “gone”, that had almost brought about his execution. And now it is he that is lording it over them, as we see him play cat and mouse with them to test their present attitudes, and they don’t even get it!

What an incredible journey! The ultimate “rags to riches” tale of a very fortunate personality! A story of “Ultimate Revenge” that was written thousands of years before the haggard and grizzly tale about the fictional “Count of Monte Christo”. The question arises: Who exactly is this person Joseph? Why is he granted so much good fortune and pride of place in the climax of the book of Genesis? How does all we learn about his life connect with the opening dramas of Genesis such as the story of Adam and Eve? What does he symbolize and teach us? And finally, how is this section tied in with the events and holiday of Hanukah?

In classical Judaism, Joseph is known as “YOSEF HATZADIK” – “JOSEPH THE RIGHTEOUS/SAINT”.

BUT, how does he earn the title of “Righteous Saint” you may rightly ask, as it is not quickly obvious? After all, he played “daddy’s favorite”, liked to “show off”, misspoke with grievous consequences for himself, seems to always “get into trouble” by being “in the wrong place at the wrong time”, and spends years in jails.

To view the events in his life as just “petty” personal subjective “milestones” along the way of an over ambitious and self-confident young man trying to make his mark on the world, as have millions (billions?) of others like this in history, is to miss the very profound real direction that the Torah wants to take us. All the deep commentaries of Judaism state that Joseph is a paragon of perfection as a man. His SOUL and ESSENCE is so great that it drives Joseph to “do the impossible” and paves the way for generations to come.

And just what is it that is so “impossible” to do, you may wonder? It is one “neat” point, the conquest and harnessing of unbridled SEXUALITY.

The hidden deeper meaning of the episode in last week’s Torah portion where Joseph does NOT succumb to the attempts at seduction by the wife of Potiphar his master’s wife (A Primal Defeat for Evil incarnate, and an Eternal Victory for Absolute Good), is that THE VERY “INSTITUTION” OF SEDUCTION (=EVIL’S “DOORWAY”) HAS BEEN FOILED AND TAMED ON SOME PROFOUND PERMANENT LEVEL. In contradistinction, this is weighed against the successful seduction of Eve by the Serpent in Genesis’ opening chapters and then the seduction of Adam by Eve (A Primal Defeat for Good and a Fatal Victory for Evil), to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil which God had instructed them NOT to do on pain of being punished by death.

Whereas Adam and Eve succumb to seduction’s temptation, which the esoteric Jewish sources connect with entering into and obtaining carnal/sexual knowledge in a negative manner and in a fashion that they had not known of before, Joseph however flees “naked into the night”, (actually it was day |:- ] ), from the lures of the wife of Potiphar who was sex-crazy for him. This one act of fleeing from the arms of the rapacious wife of Potiphar by Joseph, is juxtaposed to the ensnared submission of Eve to the wiles of the Serpent. It is because Joseph was able to summon up the super human personal, spiritual, and moral courage to break away from an invitation to high-powered sex (power as the ultimate “aphrodisiac”?) of unbridled love-making (sin with a married woman who happens to be the boss’s wife – some offer/affair!), that earns him the title and status of RIGHTEOUS/SAINT – “YOSEF HATZADIK”! Every young child in a yeshiva today knows that Joseph’s name is “Yosef Hatzadik”!

This does NOT mean to say that Joseph became asexual or anti-sexual, and was some sort of a “monk at heart” subscribing to “chastity etc”. On the contrary, he was extremely handsome, very popular, and knew it, and was actually “granted” a wonderful wife by Pharaoh, by the name of Osnath daughter of Poti-Phera, who bore him two sons, Ephraim and Menasheh who were destined to become two full “Tribes” of Jacob eventually in fulfillment of Joseph’s earned status as the “First Born Son”.

Joseph is a primal Torah role model and blue-print from which is drawn the profound Oral Torah Mishnaic teaching that asks rhetorically “EIZEHU GIBOR? HAKOVESH ET YITZRO” – “WHO IS MIGHTY/VALOROUS? THE ONE WHO CONQUERS HIS LUSTS/EVIL DRIVES” in Pirkei Avot - Ethics of the Fathers, Chapter 4, v. 1: “…as it said ‘he who is slow to anger is better than the strong man, and a master of his passions is better than a conqueror of a city’.”(Proverbs Chapter 16, v. 32.) [*1].

When all is said and done, Joseph’s seemingly “personal” behavior becomes inscribed eternally in the collective religious, spiritual genetic code and consciousness of the Children of Israel the Jews, and ALSO on anyone who will abide by the teachings of classical Biblical morality.

Fascinatingly, the Medrashic commentaries state that at one point when it seemed that Joseph was about to consummate in bed with the wife of Potiphar, suddenly the image of his father’s (Jacob’s) face flashed in front of him that made him freeze and flee from doing any wrong. It’s also been pointed out that Jacob’s facial image is inscribed on God’s “Throne” so to speak. So Joseph was privileged to be hit by a flash loaded with a “double whammy” that triggered his flight from the seductive wife of Potiphar.

Having attained the immortal status of “TZADIK –SAINT” forevermore, Joseph’s personal example generates and radiates a very powerful spiritual principal that is derived from his own triumph over the crass degradations of Egyptian corruptions: “LO YIDACH MIMENU NIDACH” – “THE REJECTED JEW SHALL NEVER BE ABANDONED BY GOD”.

Joseph’s life parallels Jacob’s, but to a greater extreme. When Jacob left his parents’ home, on his mother’s orders, he travels to be with her family and marries his first cousins. Joseph however, is forcibly sold off by his brothers into bondage, lands up in a hostile land and has to survive surrounded by jealous strangers in Egypt ready to do him in at the drop of a hat.

Yet not only does he survive, he flourishes, rises to the top, and is allowed to set the agenda for the entire country, quite some turnaround! His triumph is the embodiment of a cardinal rule that is carved in stone and will always govern the fateful history of the Children of Israel the Jews, that in the long run, no matter how dark and bitter the night of exile and oppression, GOD WILL NEVER ABANDON THE JEWISH PEOPLE – “LO YIDACH MIMENU NIDACH”. Even though they may suffer, as did Joseph, they will not only be rescued, as Joseph was, but rise to the top in triumph, like Joseph, over those who seek to annihilate them and guide them towards a better world, which is what Joseph did when he reformed wicked Egypt for the good helping the hungry and destitute of the entire planet.

The Torah is thus teaching an important lesson relating to the subject of LEADERSHIP: What it may take to get to the top; What type of person should be on top; What role a leader plays and what is required of someone in the capacity of leader. Above all else, a leader must be conscious of the great Divine Hand that Guides him and all the affairs of the world. No event, no matter how “outlandish” or far-fetched is beyond the scope of God’s plans to raise up, or for that matter humble a leader.

For example, take something as “simple” as dreaming. It took Dr. Sigmund Freud in the twentieth century to “enlighten” the world that dreams have meanings. It would appear that dreams are VERY, VERY significant in the life of a leader. Jacob dreams of a ladder with angels going down and up, symbolic of his epic and soon to be history-making flight from home on the road to building the nucleus of the Jewish People, his twelve sons the Twelve Tribes of Israel. Joseph dreams of stars bowing down to him, that became a self-fulfilling prophecy when his brethren submit to his suzerainty albeit unwittingly. Pharaoh has nightmares and is willing to surrender most of his authority to a Hebrew slave like Joseph in order to preserve his reign over a slave nation and cling to power. These are some of the very “human” foibles that make people tick, ESPECIALLY leaders, and it’s a very significant and mysterious way for God to “guide” the direction that events take.

At the very core of all leadership, according to classical Judaism is another key principle of “LEV MELACHIM VESARIM BEYAD HASHEM” – “THE HEARTS OF KINGS AND RULERS IS IN THE HAND OF GOD”. Meaning, very paradoxically, that once in power, leaders may think that they now have the “power” and “means” to “carry out” their agenda and policies whereas according to the Great Divine Plan it is quite the contrary, by reaching the top (of the “grease-pole”, so said Benjamin D’Israeli), they are now actually “captives” of a HIGHER AGENDA, one that fits into GOD’S PLANS AND POLICIES FOR HIS WORLD that we just happen to simultaneously co-inhabit as well ~):- )) .

This will be what Joseph will actually tell his brothers down the line when he reveals himself to them in next week’s Torah portion:
“ I am Joseph your brother! You sold me to Egypt. Now don’t worry or feel guilty because you sold me. Look! God has sent me ahead of you to save lives!…God has sent me ahead of you to insure that you survive in the land and to keep you alive through such extraordinary means.
Hurry, go back to my father, and give him the message: Your son Joseph says, ‘GOD HAS MADE ME MASTER OF ALL EGYPT’…” [*2]

Unfortunately this notion was also abused when in the name of the “Divine Right of Kings”, royals fatefully imagined that they could impose any sort of warped plan and demand that the enslaved subjects of a feudal tyranny fulfill it.

Eventually this cynical abuse of the real purpose of a “Divine Obligation” (which is what the “Right” demands of the kings) caused the collapse of the kings and rulers themselves, when they either died out, or were overthrown and ignominiously executed by an enraged and tired population. Sadly, many times it was Jews who became the victims and even dupes of corrupt leaders and revolutions that claimed to herald new freedoms for mankind but just brought on even worse tyrannies, which were in turn overthrown in time.

The saga of Hanukah is a watershed case in point. Alexander the Great of Macedonia established the ancient Greek Empire over 2,200 years ago. He defeated the Persians (of ancient Iran), who had earlier in history defeated the Babylonians who destroyed the Jewish temple in Jerusalem and sent the people of Judea, the Jews, to exile in Babylonia (ancient Iraq), over 2,500 years ago. Thus Alexander the Great in effect “took over” as the ultimate power over the Jewish people who had moved back to live in Judea with the blessings of the Persian kings who consented to the building of the Second Jewish Temple in Jerusalem.

Classical Judaism records that Alexander was actually kind to the Jews and respected them greatly. They say that it was he who claimed to have had a recurring “prophetic” dream with a saintly rabbi in it blessing him on the eve of all his successful battles, (all his battles were successful). When he came to Israel he bowed down to a rabbi who matched the one in his dreams. The admiration was mutual.

The educated Greeks were very “intellectual” and “refined”. They had PHILOSOPHY, which means “love of WISDOM” in the Greek language, so who can blame the Jews for liking the people who invented “academies” (“ivy league colleges”) and “democracy” (“Democrats”) and the “polis” (Jews love “politics”). They built beautiful temples and adored athletics. What can be wrong? Jews adopted a Greek civil calendar, and gave the name “Alexander” to their children, which even the very religious do to this day.

It was an era when a prophecy to Noah that “God’s Beauty for/of Japheth (Greece) to dwell in the Tents of Shem (Israel)” (Genesis, Chapter 9, v. 27) WAS FULFILLED!

Noah’s two “good” sons could live in historical harmony. Or so it seemed till Greek rule started to unravel and they began to overstep their bounds by poking around and interfering with Jewish religious life, a sure recipe for trouble if ever there was one!

Pathetically most Jews took it too far and started becoming “Greeks” themselves (i.e. they “Hellenized”). In droves, they abandoned circumcision, the Sabbath, the Jewish Months, and sure enough, the wheels of history started turning…Alexander suddenly died unexpectedly very young, going overboard with his battles (Afghanistan was the quagmire, where else?) and from over consumption of booze (and incessant sex), but his visions lived on after him. His empire was split between his leading generals, and the Jews were trapped between the Egyptian Greeks and the Syrian Greeks. Things got nasty when the Syrian Greeks decided to clamp down on the Jews’ religion, riding in on armor-plated elephants! One cruel Greek-Syrian “brainstorm”: They “required” that before virgin Jewish women could live with their husbands, Jewish brides must first have sex with the local Greek governors. Shades of Uday Hu-Insane @;--$$ . Another reason the Maccabees launched the revolt of Hanukah!

Bizarrely, this was a prophetically predicted collective “punishment” (shocking but true) and also part of God’s Inscrutable Great Divine Plan that called for FOUR GREAT EXILES - EMPIRES THAT THE JEWISH PEOPLE HAD TO ENDURE, SUFFER UNDER, AND SUBMIT TO BEFORE THE ARRIVAL OF THE JEWISH MESSIAH: 1. BABYLONIA; 2. PERSIA; 3. GREECE; 4. ROME.

In each one of these exiles the Jewish people would undergo an experience similar to Joseph’s: They would be seemingly defeated and “sold into slavery”; God would perform either open or hidden “miracles” and save them from oblivion; They would even rise to the top of their exiles and take command of the leadership in some way and then reform the entire system for the good of the world. It would be an ongoing historical cycle of repetitive “ups and downs” only ending when the Jewish messiah arrives at the end of time. All part of God’s plan as Joseph originally told his brothers.

First this would actually take place in the land of ancient Egypt itself when a foolhardy Pharaoh would try his misguided hand at Jewish “end games”, and the Jews would experience God’s open intervention, special miracles, defy Pharaonic slavery, eventually becoming a Torah Observant Nation headed for the Promised Land of Israel, and emerge as the FIRST LIBERATED PEOPLE IN HISTORY under the leadership of Moses and Aaron, two brothers from the Priestly Tribe of Levi, over 3,300 years ago!


In Babylon, about 2,500 years ago, the evil king Nebuchadnezer who had overseen the First Jewish Temple’s destruction (the source for the Jewish Fast day of NINTH OF AV) and the Jews’ exile, is himself overthrown and humiliated, much like his latter day protégé Saddam “Hu-Insane” @;<{{{{ .
The great Jewish prophet and leader DANIEL arises and predicts the downfall of Babylonia and that the Jews will be saved.
“Daniel became one of the leading figures in the royal court. Kings tried to intimidate him to follow their ways, but he refused and prevailed…Daniel was flung into the lion’s den, but he came out unharmed…The kings of Babylon had no choice but to turn to Daniel to explain God’s cryptic messages, and he brought them terrifying truths. When the king Belshazar saw the ‘handwriting on the wall’, only Daniel could interpret its frightening message for him (that he would be killed and that Babylon would collapse). [*3]

In Persia, the evil Haman of Amalek convinces the Persian King Ahasueres that the Jews are “separatists” and “elitists” and planning to “rebel” (The great Granddaddy of the vile ‘Protocols’). He is granted a royal charter (“Nuremberg Racist ‘Laws’ ”) to commit genocide, a literal Holocaust, against the Jews but his plans are thwarted by the Jewish leaders Mordechai and Esther (she marries the king), and in turn they are given the power to act as rulers under the king and destroy Haman and the Jew haters, save their fellow Jews, and allow Persia to be benevolent and flourish and dominate the world. Jews celebrate these events at PURIM.

The Greek Empire splits after Alexander’s death and the Syrian Greeks under Antiochus attempt to wipe out the Jewish state in Judea. Their larger armies are defeated by the Jews headed by Matityahu (Matathias) leading the Priestly Hasmonean Maccabees to victory and who rededicate the defiled Jewish Temple, starting with the miracle of the one-day oil-supply that lit up the temple Menorah for eight days.
The name “CHUNUKA” means “(RE)DEDICATION” OF THE SECOND JEWISH TEMPLE in Jerusalem, which is what the HOLIDAY OF HANUKAH celebrates.
In 1948 a reborn JEWISH State of Israel with a rag tag motley fighting force of a few thousand determined to fight for Jewish sovereignty and survival in their own land, defeats the armies of all the Arab States who have millions of people combined. This is repeated in 1956, 1967, 1973, 1982 to the present time, as a small Jewish army of the reborn Jewish state, thrashes and/or holds at bay Arab armies many times its size.

Imperial Rome’s long exile CONTINUES and is an elongated historical “encapsulement” and REPLAY of all the above events, repeated and spread out over the two thousand years of the Christian messiah, who is no friend of the Jews. In fact because they don’t believe in him, Jews are subjected to even more harm from a Rome that can’t forget or forgive them. The mourning, pain, and joy of survival of each holiday reflects different sides of the longest and still ongoing situation under “Rome”…

Yet, even though the Second Temple was destroyed so long ago, and Jews sent away again into exile repeatedly, we witness in our own times that the Jews have miraculously returned to the Land of Israel, the Land promised by God to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their children forever, to resettle and rebuild it and make it flourish for the first time in almost 2,000 years. So Jews lead the way in showing the world that Rome’s “grand finale”, Hitler’s European Holocaust, was not “the end”, as no-one human force can “end” Jewish history, as they rebuild and lead in new and fresh directions, even technologically showing the way!

It is Joseph who “nails down” Jacob’s life-quest and accomplishment once and for all: To attain a form of “immortality” for his descendants till “the end of time”, to become a sort of “legend in his own lifetime” in that he becomes INDESTRUCTIBLE.

Why? Because God wants to rectify the world (Tikkun Olam) from the blemish of DEATH that Adam and Eve brought about.

How? By creating Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and Jacob’s Twelve Sons to re-establish the world on its Godly foundations of Mercy (Abraham), Justice (Isaac), Truth (Jacob), and Torah (For the Children of Israel).

Who? Joseph is the greatest of Jacob’s sons since he has MASTERED and HARNESSED the power to subjugate the crass external materialistic world through his powers of self-control over his “YETZER HARA” – “EVIL IMPULSES/DESIRES”, and submission to God’s Will, through FAITH (“EMUNAH”), and ABSOLUTE TRUST (“BITACHON”).

What? He is “YOSEF HATZADIK”, the RIGHTEOUS SAINT who fights off sexual temptations of ruin.

When? With Joseph’s life becoming part of the Torah’s Blue Print for the world and for life, his tribulations and triumphs will ALWAYS be valid, and direct the outcome, of any and all exiles Jews may find themselves in!

So? He generates and ingrains a Godly powerful universal magnetic spiritual force that ultimately, the Jews will NOT be lost to the exile, because God will NOT abandon them, if they can mould themselves on Joseph and draw on his personal example and courage. “LO YIDACH MIMENU NIDACH”, ( In the words of a popular lyric: “NO JEW WILL BE LEFT BEHIND!”). Even though at times God may “hide” His Face allowing the Anti-Semites to delude themselves that God “is not looking out for the Jews”, so they then “feel free” to butcher Jews like “sheep to the slaughter”, only to find out that these “sheep” don’t just don’t die out like “ordinary” sheep!

The Hanukah light that we kindle in the night is symbolic of the light of Torah, which is ultimately what Joseph symbolizes most.

Teachers of the mystical Zohar say that Joseph represents the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden. The Torah is referred to as a Tree of Life (“ETZ CHAIM”). The Greeks and the Hellenists tried to put out the light of Torah, and not just wage “simple” physical warfare. They waged a “cultural war” against the Jews. Little did they understand that the Jews were already metaphysically “armed” with the “spiritual genes” of a Joseph, who had already LEAD THE WAY OUT OF THE DARKNESS OF EXILE starting with the defeat of ancient “invincible” Egypt, pointing out that God has His own plans for the absolute safety, survival, success, and triumph of the Jewish People and the values and ideas they embody and teach the world to this very day!

Have Happy Final Days of Hanukah and a Wonderful Shabbat!
Let me know what you think!

[*1] Artscroll Siddur – English Prayer book, p.564.
[*2] The Living Torah, English translation by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, p. 225.
[*3] The Artscroll Torah/Prophets/Writings, English Translation, Introduction to Daniel, p.1773.

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