Say it Ain’t So, Joe: Vayigash 2021

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: How do we evaluate otherwise admirable people who make a prominent mistake? Does it depend on the mistake? Does it depend on how much we admire them?

Joseph is successful, intelligent, God-fearing, and forgiving – but his decision to make the Egyptians serfs of Pharaoh is a blight on his resume:

The Pitch: “And Joseph made it into a land law in Egypt, which is still valid, that a fifth should be Pharaoh’s; only the land of the priests did not become Pharaoh’s.” – Genesis 47:26

Swing #1: “Joseph provides short-term relief in the midst of a ghastly famine, but he also systematically and relentlessly strips the people bare. There is something to be said for administrative aptitude, but it is sobering to realize that it can be coupled with profound shortsightedness. It is also a great virtue to behave honestly and honorably with our superiors. But the greatest test of character may lie elsewhere – in the empathy we display toward those who stand powerless before us.” – Shai Held, The Heart of Torah, Volume 1: Essays on the Weekly Torah Portion: Genesis and Exodus

Swing #2: “Joseph out-Pharaoh’s Pharaoh, acting toward Pharaoh’s people as the later tyrannical Pharaoh (who knew not Joseph) will act toward Joseph’s people and, not incidentally, toward the Egyptians. … Joseph’s sagacity is technical and managerial, not moral and political. He is long on forethought and planning but short on understanding the souls of men.” – Leon R. Kass, The Beginning of Wisdom: Reading Genesis

Swing #3: “‘Into a land law’ – without repeal.” – Rashi

Late-Inning Questions: Joseph’s decision to essentially make Egyptians into debt slaves is not commonly discussed when we reflect on his life. Does this change the way you feel about his character? Do you think he does this because of the desire for power, or because of an ill-conceived desire to help the Egyptian people? Do our decisions get worse when we’re granted more power?

On-Deck at Temple Beth Tzedek: We have two collection barrels near our coat room. One will continue to collect non-perishable food to be donated to local food pantries. There is always a need. The second barrel will be used to collect items for our new Afghan neighbors. With our new partnership with Jewish Family Service, items will be collected regularly. To see the complete list of what is needed to welcome the evacuees to Buffalo, click here. Gift cards are valued, but please leave those with a member of the office staff, not in the barrel.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of poor decisions by the powerful, MLB’s decision to literally blot out the faces of modern players on its website has only infuriated the players at the start of the lockout. The owners need to realize that baseball is nothing without its players and can’t take them for granted.

Shabbat Shalom!