In this week’s reading, the time for Yosef’s redemption finally arrives. Pharoah has dreams, his sommelier (wine butler) suddenly remembers Yosef, and Yosef is hastily pulled from jail, given a haircut, and sent to interpret the dreams of Pharoah.
Two weeks ago, I spoke about the need to make our own efforts, while knowing that in the end it is G-d who determines the results. But I closed with a question: what was wrong with Joseph’s efforts? Why was he punished for asking the sommelier to remember him?
It’s clear that is what happened. Last week’s reading concludes with the verse, “and the sommelier did not remember Yosef, and he forgot him.” Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki explains that he did not remember him that day, and forgot him afterwards — because Yosef had placed his trust in the sommelier rather than G-d. That is a startling indictment of the only one of Yaakov’s sons who was the forefather of two tribes. For someone of his exalted standard, we are told, what Yosef did was wrong. But why — what was wrong with trying?
2 dead after shooting at Las Vegas hotel Gunman Wounds 3 at Ala. Hospital 28 Dead, Including 20 Children, After Sandy Hook School Shooting
I am angry/disgusted. Amazing that some think the solution is more guns. Madness. Even NRA members want more control. LLAP
Late Friday I said a prayer for the victims of the horrible shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. On the same day, 22 school children were attacked by a man with a knife in China but thank God, none of them were killed. As Actor Brent Spiner’s “tweet” on the micro-blogging site twitter indicates, there have been other tragedies in the world as well. Actor Leonard Nimoy laments the response to these events among some elements of our society to take control, in this case by replying to gun violence with gun violence.
And according to midrash, Joseph condemned himself to additional prison time by desiring to take control of his situation (asking the “chancellor of cups” to remember him to Pharaoh, King of Egypt) rather than relying solely upon the King of the Universe.
But as Rabbi Menken asked above, what’s wrong with trying to take control of a situation with our own efforts, especially when the situation, the world we live in, seems to be totally out of control? Rabbi Menken’s commentary continues.
I saw an interesting explanation attributed to Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, a world-renowned religious leader who passed away barely 25 years ago. He said that Yosef’s high standard was very much part of the issue. Yosef, being who he was, should have recognized immediately that the peculiar circumstance of his being imprisoned together with Pharoah’s personal sommelier and baker, and them having dreams, and him knowing exactly what to tell them — all of that was clearly not coincidence. It should have been obvious to him that G-d’s Plan was already in motion. As we see this week, he was rushed from prison to tell Pharoah that fat cows mean times of plenty, and starving cows mean times of starvation, and was instantly appointed second in command over the whole country. With “20/20 hindsight” it’s obvious that this was all planned out — and enough signs were there that Yosef should have seen it coming.
But we, alas, are not Yosef. Very rarely could we be confident that we are in a situation where our efforts aren’t needed, before the gift of hindsight. We always have to do our best. When should we be idle? When we have done everything humanly possible.
We can read last week’s Torah portion and as we review each word, we know in advance what’s going to happen, because we’ve read and studied these pages many, many times over the years. The story of Joseph’s redemption and rise to Messiah-like authority and position is like an old friend to me. But while Joseph, at his exalted spiritual level (according to midrash), should have known better than to forget to rely on God alone, as Rabbi Menken wisely points out, that is hardly ever the case for you and me.
We are faced with an insurmountable problem, a terrible tragedy, children have been injured and murdered, and what are we going to do about it? The blood of the victims cries out to us, demanding that we respond. Should we ban private ownership of all firearms in this nation? Should we pour more tax dollars into mental health research and treatment? What can we do to prevent this from ever happening again? What could we have done to prevent the deaths of those 20 small lives in Newtown, Connecticut?
Experts of every type, from political pundits, to psychologists, to the clergy are all weighing in with their opinions. Some people feel that the strict separation of church and state in our nation, which “bans God from our schools” is to blame, but for others, that response seems cheap, shallow, and hurtful. Other people and groups want to arm school officials with firearms so that, should such a situation happen again, teachers and school counselors could fire back, protecting the children.
To be perfectly honest, I haven’t the faintest idea what to do. I don’t know if these sorts of attacks are happening more frequently or if we just react as if they are every time something like this happens.
Joseph’s situation and Rabbi Menken’s commentary on it doesn’t seem to help, but then again, neither one was facing what we are facing right now as a nation…as a world. It is said that everything is in the hands of Heaven except fear of Heaven. Christians are fond of saying that God is in control. Tell that to the parents of the 20 dead children in Newtown and see how they answer you…if you dare.
No one knows what the right thing to do is but everybody has an opinion about what they think the solution should be. We people of faith rely on God but it is a bitter thing to lose a child and if I were the father of one or more of the dead children, I would be asking where God was when they died. Rabbi Menken reminds us that faith is not blind, but while that makes for interesting intellectual discussion, how does it help when a parent’s heart is being torn to shreds as they cry bitterly over the loss of a son or daughter?
Don’t look for my opinion or my answer to this disastrous mess. I don’t have one to give. I’m still too angry and too sad and too miserable to render one, and even when I manage to tame my emotional response, my intellect and wisdom will still fail me here. Like Joseph, I want to take control. I want to do something. I want to prevent even one more child from dying. I don’t have the power to even begin to make such and effort and as I’ve already said, I wouldn’t know what to do if that power were mine.
Joseph rose to a position where he had power to save a starving world. His authority was second only to the greatest King who ruled over the most civilized and prosperous nation of his day. Joseph saved Egypt, and he saved Canaan, and he saved everyone who came to him, and he saved his family. He finally reunites with them, provides for them, takes care of them, and sees his aging father before he dies.
And yet, Joseph died just like all men must.
And none of us is like Joseph…or like Jesus…or like God.
God is in control but He rules over a broken world. We broke it. Only God can fix it. But as I’ve mentioned numerous times over the years, according to Jewish thought, human beings are partners with God in tikkun olam, repairing the world. That may mean our human desire to want to act when disaster strikes is built into us by God and part of who we are as His “partners.”
God, what can we do to help? What can any of us do in the face of such an unimaginable pain? I don’t know. All I know how to do is ask for help. Help us. I’m not the only one asking for help.