Evan McClaren of NPI couldn’t join us as intended but a good show nonetheless.
Today’s Torah reading is Parashas Vayigash (Genesis 44:18–47:27) Join the live chat at Luke’s YouTube Channel.
Joseph brings his family to Egypt and they begin taking over.
Last week we talked about Joseph as the prototypical court Jew. His brothers sell him into slavery for his arrogance after he prophesies he’ll rule over them, and the very stars in the sky will bow down to him. Hard to blame them too much.
But Joseph comes to Pharaoh’s attention after interpreting a pair of his dreams–in the only bible passage I can think of where a non-Hebrew’s dreams are brought into the narrative. Because of his superior intelligence Joseph ends up running Egypt for a grateful Pharaoh. He sets about storing Egyptian grain to withstand the seven year famine that he prophesied from Pharaoh’s dreams.
His brothers, suffering the same famine in Canaan, come to Egypt to buy grain. They find themselves before Joseph in his capacity as Pharaoh’s minister and do not recognize him. After some typically Old Testament subterfuge he reveals himself to them, forgives them and invites them to bring their aged father Jacob (Israel) to Egypt.
In this week’s section Joseph presents five of his “weaker” brothers before Pharaoh, instructing them to tell Pharaoh they’re shepherds, not traders in livestock. Shepherds are disdained–but they aren’t an economic threat. Pharaoh gives them a choice piece of land and tells Joseph to put the capable among them in charge of his livestock. The Jewish elite is developing, having arrived via chain migration.
Joseph has wisely stocked up on grain to withstand the famine, and now he’s trading that grain for livestock and other forms of capital–the wealth of the land steadily being transferred into his hands until at last landholders have sold their land to Pharaoh for grain. Egypt is a country of slaves, with a foreign elite at its head. I don’t think the Egyptians of the time needed fascism, anti-Semitic tropes or Donald Trump to have felt some gnawing sense of resentment, to say the least.
But the Torah doesn’t have anything to say about that.