Freeing the Broken Heart

Then the chief cupbearer told his dream to Joseph. He said to him, “In my dream, there was a vine in front of me. On the vine were three branches. It had barely budded, when out came its blossoms and its clusters ripened into grapes. Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand, and I took the grapes, pressed them into Pharaoh’s cup, and placed the cup in Pharaoh’s hand.” Joseph said to him, “This is its interpretation: The three branches are three days. In three days Pharaoh will pardon you and restore you to your post; you will place Pharaoh’s cup in his hand, as was your custom formerly when you were his cupbearer. But think of me when all is well with you again, and do me the kindness of mentioning me to Pharaoh, so as to free me from this place. For in truth, I was kidnapped from the land of the Hebrews; nor have I done anything here that they should have put me in the dungeon.”

When the chief baker saw how favorably he had interpreted, he said to Joseph, “In my dream, similarly, there were three openwork baskets on my head. In the uppermost basket were all kinds of food for Pharaoh that a baker prepares; and the birds were eating it out of the basket above my head.” Joseph answered, “This is its interpretation: The three baskets are three days. In three days Pharaoh will lift off your head and impale’ you upon a pole; and the birds will pick off your flesh.”

On the third day — his birthday — Pharaoh made a banquet for officials, and he singled out his chief cupbearer and his chief baker among his officials. He restored the chief cupbearer to his cupbearing, and he placed the cup in Pharaoh’s hand; but the chief baker he paled-just as Joseph had interpreted to them.

Yet the chief cupbearer did not think of Joseph; he forgot him.Genesis 40:9-23 (JPS Tanakh)

This story certainly makes for high drama, but why were all these farfetched developments necessary? Why didn’t divine providence manifest itself in a simpler way? Couldn’t Joseph’s release and rise to power have been effected through more commonplace events?

The commentators explain that Joseph’s release from prison is meant to serve as a paradigm of the ultimate in human emancipation.

-Rabbi Naftali Reich
“Freeing the Spirit”
Commentary on Prashas Vayeishev

I have a hard time understanding God sometimes. I suppose that’s quite an understatement and I imagine most people reading this “morning meditation” share my confusion on occasion. Take yesterday’s Torah Portion for example. I know Joseph’s brothers hated him, but did they really think they could get away with murder? Didn’t it hurt anyone besides Judah to see their father reduced to a mere shell of a man out of his heartbreaking grief at the loss of his favored son? What about the parallels between the wife of Potiphar trying to seduce Joseph and Judah’s “relationship” with his daughter-in-law Tamar?

And why, when sold into slavery and with no hope of ever being reunited with his family again, did Joseph, who started out as a spoiled and selfish 17 year old brat at the beginning of this narrative, eventually rise not only in stature and power, but in spiritual strength and holiness to be a savior to his family and the world? It seems obvious that his tenure as slave and prisoner was to train him for the role of a man who would all but rule the vast empire of Egypt, much like Moses had to live both as prince and as shepherd to finally take on the mantle of Prophet and “King” of the nation of Israel.

The First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) commentary on Vayeishev draws the obvious comparision between Joseph and the Messiah, but it does something else.

Yet the story of Joseph is not an allegory, written merely to serve as type, shadow, and symbol. Too often believers have diminished the Torah’s literal reading for the sake of messianic interpretations. It is a story in its own right and a great story at that. Joseph is a real character; his adventures and misadventures are his own. If we are able to look into the Joseph story and perceive the person of Messiah, that is only to be expected, because God is the author of salvation both then and now. Joseph’s story is simply an example of what it looks like when God saves His people.

Sometimes Jewish scholars complain about how some Christian pundits tend to interpret every possible occurence in the Torah of a mysterious or symbolic figure as “the pre-incarnate Jesus.” As the joke goes, they say such Christians don’t engage in Biblical exegesis but rather, Biblical “I see Jesus.” FFOZ is saying something along those lines but in a much more platable way. Much of the Christian world looks at Joseph as a “type and shadow” of the Jesus to come without crediting Joseph to a life and purpose of his own. We also have a tendency to discount what people like Joseph can show us about ourselves and the larger context of our own “Messianic” role in the world.

Tikkun Olam or “Repairing the World” is one of my favorite themes because it not only empowers us to help others but requires us to enter into (junior) partnership with God in fixing our broken world. There are just tons of ways to do this, from promoting environmental causes to volunteering at your local homeless shelter. Even people with modest incomes can donate one can of soup a week to their community foodbank. Joseph fed the population of the entire civilized world for seven years. We can at least feed one person one simple meal once a week. We just have to realize that we are not the most helpless and downtrodden person on earth and to rise up and act on the behalf of someone less fortunate than we are.

The Satmar Rav, zt”l, spent one summer Shabbos in Ardiov, a city where many great tzaddikim and talmedei chachamim spent time during the summer. He ate the Friday night meal at the tisch of Rav Moshe of Shinova, zt”l, an exceptional tzaddik who only thought about doing God’s will. Many other luminaries were present at the crowded tisch which had an uplifted yet comfortable feel to it.

After singing some inspiring melodies, the kugel was served. It was a very scrumptious kugel. So much so that some of those at the tisch whispered to one another that they hadn’t tasted such a delectable kugel in a long time. To the surprise of all, Rav Moshe immediately got up and went into the kitchen. After a short time he returned.

Everyone wondered what the rebbe had been doing in the kitchen. When Rav Moshe noticed their wonderment, he told them where he had been. His deep sensitivity for others revealed by his unabashed statement completely astounded the Satmar Rav. “I heard people saying that the kugel is exceptional. Since the cook is a poor orphan girl, I immediately went into the kitchen to tell her. How could I wait until later to gladden her broken heart?”

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“Gladdening an Orphan’s Heart”
Bechoros 32

This story teaches two important and hopefully obvious lessons. The first is that, no matter how exalted and learned you are, you have a responsibility to gladden the heart of someone less fortunate. The second lesson is that you should do it as soon as possible.

Like Joseph, we have been slaves and prisoners, but in our case it is the imprisonment of our own humanity. Joseph had to be reduced down to about as low as you can go as a human being so that he could find out that freedom isn’t the absence of chains, but the presence of mercy. This is the answer to the mystery of Joseph and it is the answer to our mystery as well. As disciples of Jesus and believers in the God of Joseph, we have it within us to not only be free of our chains but to free others as well. All we have to do to escape our jail cells is to realize that we are sitting on the keys.

The scroll of Yeshayah the Prophet was given to him, and he opened the scroll and found the place where it is written,

The spirit of HaShem is upon me in order to anoint me to bring good news to the humble. He has sent me to care for the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the exiles, and for the blind an opening release … to send the oppressed away free … to proclaim a year of favor for HaShem.

When he rolled up the scroll, returned it to the chazzan, and sat, the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were focused on him. –Luke 4:17-20 (DHE Gospel)

We don’t have to be Jesus or even Joseph to save the world. We can partner with them and be a “savior” too, one heart at a time.

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