Joseph reveals the truth
Judah begged Joseph not to keep Benjamin in Egypt while sending the others home. He told him that his father Jacob had not wanted to send Benjamin because
he had already lost the other son of his wife Rachel. If Jacob were to lose Benjamin too, he would surely die
of grief. Judah told him that he himself had assumed responsibility for bringing Benjamin home safely and had
given Jacob his own sons as surety. He begged Joseph to take him as a slave instead of
Joseph sent all the servants and courtiers away, and then he wept loudly and said, “I am Joseph.
Is my father still alive?” His brothers were too shocked to answer. But Joseph reassured them, saying that it
was to preserve life that God had sent him to Egypt. He asked them to go to Jacob, their father, and say on
his behalf, “God has made me a lord over all the Egyptians. Come down to me, as soon as possible and you
shall dwell in the land of Goshen…” Then Joseph, Benjamin and all the brothers wept.
Pharaoh, hearing the news, said, “Tell your brothers to take wagons from Egypt loaded with food
and bring your father and his households and I will give them the best of the land of Egypt, and they will
eat the fat of the land.”
The brothers went to Jacob and told him everything. Jacob’s heart stood still, for he did not
When he saw all that Joseph had sent and heard his messages, he was revived and overjoyed. Then
Jacob went to Beer Sheba and made an offering to God. And God spoke to Jacob in a vision, saying, “Do not
fear to go down to Egypt, for I will make you a great nation there.”
The family arrived in Pharaoh’s wagons, and Joseph
went to greet his father in Goshen, and fell weeping upon his father’s neck.
“Now, I can die since I have seen you are alive,” said Jacob.
Joseph told the family: “Since the
Egyptians despise shepherds and will not tolerate them, if Pharaoh asks your occupation, tell him that you have
been breeders of herds all your life and ask to dwell in the land of Goshen.”
Pharaoh agreed that Jacob’s family could live on
prime land in Goshen. Then Joseph presented his father to Pharaoh and Jacob blessed
Now the famine in Egypt and Canaan was so bad that Joseph had amassed all the people’s money
because they had used it to buy grain. All of Egypt came to Joseph, saying, “Give us bread, lest we
“Bring me your herds in exchange,” Joseph replied. And they did.
But the famine was too great, and eventually they
came back to Joseph with neither money nor livestock. So Joseph purchased all the farmland and gave the
people grain. He made a law that one-fifth of their land production went to Pharaoh, but four-fifths they
could keep for themselves.
So Jacob settled in the land of Egypt, in the land of Goshen. He and his descendants acquired
property there and became fruitful and multiplied exceedingly.
Commentary on the 11th parsha (portion of the
The Torah consists of the five books of Moses, the first part of the Old
To get to grips with this parsha, our Supermaven, Sigmund Albert Spinoza, interviews
Methuselah Solomon (an Ancient Elder). Supermaven is a modern philosopher who is trying to understand Judaism
and how we got where we are. He will do this every week by investigating the Old Testament.
SAS: Well, I see Joseph finally stopped playing games and told the truth to his brothers. Good for
him! What brought him to this stage? Smugness that his dreams had come true? Judah’s begging for mercy and
offering to be a slave in place of Benjamin? Or had Joseph exacted his revenge
MS: I don’t think you fully understand the story, Sigmund. Judah was one of the ringleaders of the
plot to sell Joseph. And yet it was Judah who begged Jacob to let Benjamin go down with his brothers to
Egypt, and gave his own sons as a surety. It was Judah who pleaded with Joseph and offered himself as a
substitute for the accused, Benjamin. It was Judah who told Joseph of his aged father and how the loss of
Joseph had weakened him, and warned of how the loss of Benjamin was going to kill his father. This shows true
repentance, and emotional growth.
SAS: Oh, I don’t doubt that. It’s Joseph, the trickster, I’m more interested in. Why does he now turn
into a loving and generous brother and a responsible, prudent son? I can’t fault him. What was it that turned
the tide, though? Was it Judah’s plea? If Joseph had been so worried about his father for all these years why
hadn’t he once sent word to say that he was alive and thriving? What made him break down and tell the truth
at this particular moment?
MS: It was when he realised that he would be punishing his father more than anyone else that Joseph
admitted who he was. Also, Joseph could no longer bear his own pain at being separated from his family. When
he broke down, he washed away all his negative feelings towards his brothers. His only desire was to see his
family safe and provided for.
SAS: I don’t know how you can talk about responsibility and moral growth when all your heroes make
their decisions on the basis of visions, including Jacob, who was only prepared to move to Egypt after the
Lord reassured him in a vision. So anyway, there was indeed a happy reunion, and Joseph, an advisor as well
as a dreamer, gave his father and brothers some interesting advice. Why on earth did he tell them to say that
they were shepherds and wanted to live in Goshen?
MS: Joseph was a prudent and canny man. He knew his people would be a minority in Egypt and he
wanted to protect them from the envy and blame that would follow if they lived among Egyptians in the cities.
Remember, there was a famine and people were suffering. Jacob and his family were very well provided for and
he feared they would be targets. So Joseph thought of a way to shelter them from attack, by making sure that
they were seen to be shepherds. Knowing that shepherds were for some reason abhorrent to Egyptians, Joseph
ensured that his family was given land in Goshen, part of Pharaoh’s realm, but remote from the Egyptian
people. There the land was good, and they could thrive undisturbed while keeping a low profile.
SAS: All right, so he made sure that they would be well provided for and safe. That was good of him,
considering how they had treated him. He didn’t consult the Lord, I notice. OK, that’s a good part of the
story. What about his career as a state capitalist —centralised ownership of all the money, the cattle and
the land? And a tax? Is this the sort of business ethic of which you approve? No question that Joseph was
quite an economist. But he prepared the ground for a pretty terrible political future, didn’t
MS: Joseph saved the Egyptians from certain death through starvation. He ensured that the people got
back on their feet, and were able to live and eat. His fiscal policies were sound and humane. For that reason
alone, we should respect his wisdom and judgment.
SAS: My friend, may I remind you that in your story collection, not a long way down the road, we read
of the Jews who were slaves in Egypt to a cruel Pharaoh. Now, who, I ask you, got them into that
MS: You, of all people, should know that times change, different people come to power and what is
good for one generation may turn bad for the next. God always takes care of his people in the end,
SAS: I suppose it’s a question of when you think the end is.
The Parsha we have just read comes from the five books of Moses, the Torah. The
dialogues between Sigmund Albert Spinoza and Methuselah Solomon are about the meaning of the
What we know about Jewish
History, however, is based in fact, and on historical records.
If you’d like to know
more about the real history of our extended Jewish family, read on.
Jews in Northern Europe, 10th century to 15th century
In the 10th century there were a number of Jewish settlements along the Rhine River in areas now part of Germany and France. These European Jews, known as Ashkenazis, formed tightly knit communities and many of their number worked as skilled artisans. Important centres of Jewish learning opened within those communities.
Once the crusades had been launched in 1095,
the position of the Jews was bound to be difficult. Certain
crusaders were determined to convert Jews or kill them. As the crusaders moved northwards and eastwards, Jews
Many Jews died in France and Germany, and by 1182 the Jews had been expelled from France. Riots and massacres in Germany started in 1096 and continued until 1349. An estimated 12,000 Jews died between May and July 1096, in cities along the Rhine. Persecution continued throughout the crusades, which ended in 1291, and there was no respite for Jews in the 14th century.
When the Black Death swept through Europe in 1348-1349, laying waste a third of the population, Jews were accused of causing the outbreak by poisoning wells. This led to a fresh series of murders, with the result that many Jews left for Poland. By the beginning of the 16th century, Ashkenazi Jews had a significant presence in Poland, Lithuania, Bohemia and Moravia. In the 16th and 17th century, the Polish community of Jews became the largest in the Diaspora.
For the Jews who remained in Germany after 1349, things improved with the reorganization of the Holy Roman Empire in 1356. Jews were granted a measure of protection, but conditions fluctuated and local rulers exploited Jewish success through onerous taxation or other schemes of financial plunder. In the 15th century, religious unrest led to attacks on Jews in Austria, Bohemia and Moravia, and Jews were driven out of Silesia.
By the end of the 15th century, Jews remaining in Germany were highly vulnerable to accusations of religious outrages and sudden expulsions from cities without warning. The main hope for Ashkenazi Jewry seemed to lie with Poland.
Here follows a discussion on this historical segment by the Father, Chaya and Ben.
Three celebrants can read the parts of Ben, Chaya and their father.
BEN: So Jews have actually been in Northern Europe for an extremely long time? I had no idea. I wonder how they managed to stay together as a people and not get assimilated into these European cultures.
DAD: Well, I’m sure some did. And obviously the Crusades and the Inquisition took many, either by conversion or murder. But people stay together as cohesive groups for lots of different reasons. One is because they see themselves as having a common identity. Another is because others force this common identity upon them.
CHAYA: So you mean that some Jews chose to be Jewish and different, and others were compelled to be separate and different because they were Jewish?
DAD: I think that this interplay between self-identification and enforced other-identification is one of the most crucial themes in our history as a people.
CHAYA: It seems as though Jews respond to both, though. Some of us are Jews because we want to be, and some of us are Jews because others insist that we are.
DAD: Well, it’s both and they’re interdependent. I guess you could say that the Jews started it by keeping themselves apart and jealously guarding their beliefs and traditions. Others saw this, and resented and hated the obvious successes of these tightly knit, highly motivated, and well-developed communities of achievers.
BEN: So they were separate and successful and other people hated them and blamed the Jews for their own relative lack of success and all kinds of misfortune? They were easy to identify as a group because they had already identified themselves. It’s human nature to hate and resent those who have what you don’t.
DAD: And in times of great stress, in a struggle for survival, when you can label a group as sufficiently different, it is easy to forget that they are humans just like yourself. And then you know what can and often does happen.
BEN: Yes. If we can’t see the humanity of others, and we think of them almost as a species apart, we don’t have to treat them as humans. That’s one way to live with killing other people – you just don’t think of them as people like yourself.
DAD: This is something that we as humans tend to do. And when you are inside it, it is difficult to see what is happening. That’s why history teaches us to be ever vigilant, with ourselves as well as others.
Three celebrants can read the parts of Ben, Chaya and their father
Every Shabbat we read five
short sayings that express, with typically Jewish wit and humour, insightful reflections on this life of
Here are tonight’s
- When the Messiah comes, all the sick will be healed – but fools will remain
- The remarkable thing about my mother is that for 30 years she served us nothing
but leftovers. The original meal has never been found. (Calvin Trillin)
- One’s own poverty doesn’t hurt as much as someone else’s
- Out of snow, you can’t make cheesecake.
- The knowledge of Scripture is no obstacle to sin.
Celebration of Great Lives
Every Friday night we celebrate the achievements of our Jewish family in contributing
to changing the world for the better and having an extraordinary impact on those around
Emile Durkheim was a French
social scientist credited with discovering modern sociology and making sociology a science. From a long line of rabbis, he chose to
be an agnostic but remained close to his family and the Jewish community. He showed that
all the aspects of human society work together much like the parts of a machine, and this concept is referred to
today as sociological functionalism. In 1887 he held the Chair of Social Science at the University of Bordeaux –
the first such chair in Europe. In 1902 he went to the Sorbonne to
teach sociology and education. He pursued research in the science of moral phenomena and religion in search of a
secular, scientific, rationalist basis for a system of ethics. He had immense influence on the French education
system and emphasised the importance of scientific objectivity in all research. His career ranks him with the
greats of the period.
Marc Chagall (1887-1985)
extensively about Jewish life in Vitebsk with exuberant colours. His paintings were seemingly out of time and space
in a dreamlike world of fairy-tale imagination. He went to Paris, back to Communist Russia and then to Berlin and
Paris again. Chagall’s works fit into several modern art categories. He took part in the movements of the Paris art
world which preceded World War I and was thus involved with avant-garde currents. However, his work always found itself
on the margins of these movements and emerging trends, including Cubism and Fauvism. He was closely associated with the Paris School and its exponents, including Amedeo Modigliani. In the 1960s and 1970s, Chagall
involved himself in large-scale projects involving public spaces and important civic and religious buildings.
His series of 105 biblical etchings completed in the 1930s in Palestine was considered
exceptional. His Twelve Tribes of Israel in stained glass for
Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem is outstanding as well as the Peace Window for the United Nations and windows
for the Vatican. He is still very popular and is one of the modern greats.