Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Cunning of Politico-Economics (d'var Torah by my husband)

as i was reading bits & pieces of this d'var Torah (commentary on the bible), "The Psychological Brilliance of Joseph," by Rabbi Ari Kahn, posted by Chana here, to my husband, he abandoned his home office & joined me by my computer, responding with thoughts that i found interesting enuf to ask that he write them down as a blog post.

so, without further ado . . .


It all began with Joseph in prison. One fine night, the Pharaoh had two dreams. It being two dreams, even Pharaoh figured that there must be a deep purpose behind it. Neither he nor anybody else could interpret them. As it turned out, Joseph was brought out from prison and interpreted the dreams. There being two versions of the same dream, Joseph interpreted that there would be seven years of economic plenty followed by seven years of famine. Then, citing Joseph’s brilliant insight, the Pharaoh placed Joseph second-in-command to himself, essentially to run the economy of Egypt.

Joseph’s interpretation proved true. During the seven good years, Joseph had plenty of food stored away, so that, when the lean years arrived, Egypt was not short of food. The famine (depression???) being regional, not limited to Egypt, people from other nations went to Egypt to buy food. Thus, Egypt under the rule of Joseph became rich. That is the picture we see in the Torah. There is not much if anything said about the Egyptians themselves. The Egyptians were also faced with the famine and had to buy food from the storehouses maintained by Joseph. Those that did not have money had to sell themselves into servitude in exchange for the food.

Joseph’s brothers were among the foreigners who went to Egypt to buy food. That lead to a series of events whereby Joseph got his revenge for what his brothers had done to him some twenty years earlier. Eventually, Jacob and his community were invited to come and live in Goshen, with privileged status.

Now, let us stop for a moment and analyze the situation. The Pharaohs in power during the sojourn of Joseph were not Egyptian Pharaohs. They were Hyksos invaders, a Semitic tribe. In fact, these Pharaohs were more closely related to Joseph than they were to the Egyptians, and the Egyptian people knew it. The Semitic tribes were known to the Egyptians as “desert dwellers,” and considered to be on a lower level of society. Therefore, whatever good Joseph was doing for Egypt, it was only noted by the rulers, not by the people being ruled. In fact, the majority of the people being ruled had become servants (or slaves) of the Pharaoh. They hated Joseph. Meanwhile, the family of Joseph was situated in a community of its own with privileged status. What does it lead to when the majority are subservient to the small minority on top? In the last 250 years or so, what happened in America, France, Russia, and Cuba? A revolution!

It happened in Egypt too, when a militant group of Egyptians rose up and overthrew the Hyksos. Now, with the Egyptians themselves back in power, there arose a Pharaoh “who did not know Joseph.” Was this not a set-up? Now, the new dynasty of Pharaohs could do to Jacob’s descendants in Goshen what Joseph had done to the Egyptian people. Now, the Hebrews would be the slaves to build the cities and grow the food for the new rulers. Politico-economics had played its tricks.

Sun., Jan. 11, 2009 update: See The story of Yosef/Joseph for links to other recent posts re Yosef on my blog.


Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Copied from the comments to “Quick Torah Thought” posted by guest JS on DovBear’s blog--note that my comment included a link to my husband's d'var Torah:

“I have it on tape, and IIRC, Rabbi Etshalom's reading of the last episode in sefer Bereshit and the first few verses of Exodus is basically telling the reader that while the Egyptians had to basically get rid of everything and sell themselves, the hebrews were serving it up in the lap of luxery. It is THIS that caused the animosity against the hebrews...yet was taken too far.

I need to go hear the shiur again. It was quite well.
Anonymous | 01.08.09 - 4:31 pm | #

"So Joseph bought all the land of Egypt for Pharaoh"

Today we call it a "government bailout"
Think | 01.08.09 - 4:45 pm | #

RE Rabbi Etshalom's theory, see my husband’s d’var Torah on the Joseph story
Shira Salamone | Homepage | 01.08.09 - 5:26 pm | #

Did the purchase include Gaza?
GoldaLeah | Homepage | 01.08.09 - 6:34 pm | #

Of course, the whole point of that obviously P episode is that the priestly class is supposed to get special benefits.
Anonymous | 01.08.09 - 10:45 pm | #

"RE Rabbi Etshalom's theory, see my husband’s d’var Torah on the Joseph story"

Has the pharaoh of Joseph's time definitively been identified as one of the Hyksos? I thought that was still not certain.

In any case, over a thousand years later the entire people of Egypt were still serfs. And Herodotus reported that they practiced circumcision! I wonder if Joseph taught it to them?

Another thought: In the Middle Ages in Christian Europe, almost all Christians were serfs, tied to the land by the feudal system. The only way out of this was to join a religious order or a crusade, chas v'shalom. (The urban population was very small.) But Jews were not a part of the feudal system, could travel, and did! Furthermore Jews were educated and literate, while the only literate Christians were those in religious orders. I wonder if that apparent higher status contributed to the anti-Semitism of the Christian masses?
Charlie Hall | 01.08.09 - 11:56 pm | #

The evident meaning of the text is that Yosef, after buying the lands of the farmers, moved them into the nearby cities where they were available as laborers on civil projects.

This plan was a deliberate effort by Yosef to increase the power of the Pharoah over the Egyptians. Yosef distrusted the feelings of the native Egyptians towards the nomadic Asians. These peoples did not interact socially. The Egyptians hated the animal smell of the Asian shepherds. Pharoah, in contrast, was, presumably, a Hyksos ruler, i.e. a member of the warlike Asian conquerors of Egypt. It was a situation analogous to the situation of Jews in Spain under Muslim rule. Unfortunately, both in Egypt and Spain, the new conquerors were, in turn, defeated by a resurgent native population once they got effective leaders. The situation for Jews then became precarious.

Y. Aharon
Anonymous | 01.09.09 - 12:25 am | #

Charlie: I know of no archaeological evidence, but the Yosef saga in Egypt is consistent with a Hyksos ruler. The best indicator that I can find in the text is the fact that the Pharoah marries off the newly elevated former slave to the daughter of the (high) priest of On. That would be unthinkable for a class- conscious native Egyptian. Imagine, forcing a shidduch between a despised Asian former slave and the daughter of the (high) priest of the major Egyptian deity, Ra (On, called Heliopolis, was the ancient center of sun worship). Only a foreigner would consider such a thing.

Y. Aharon
Anonymous | 01.09.09 - 12:34 am | # “

Sun Jan 11, 11:33:00 AM 2009  

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