WHAT WAS WRONG WITH JOSEPH?
Things did not prove easy for Joseph. The lad who embodied so much potential, who dreamt such visions of the future, was degraded and sold as a slave by his own brothers. Whether they were justified in taking offence at what he dreamt and said is another question, as is their choice of what to do about him. But Joseph ended up lonely, misunderstood, and hardly able to see daylight at the end of the tunnel.
He almost lost all his self-confidence and generally feared the worst. Even when he succeeded in explaining the dreams of Pharaoh’s servants, he could only ask, probably quite plaintively, that they should not forget him but try and get him freed from prison.
A question – where was his faith in God?
One answer is that even if he did not realise it, God really was guiding the events that came upon Joseph. One of the worst features of his youthful years was his self-pride and arrogance. He had dreams, but they all showed him as the one who came out on top. Everyone else had to bow down to him. He was the giant and they were the pygmies. An impossible show-off!
Life (i.e. God) needed to take him down a peg or two, to teach him humility, to learn to appreciate other people. Only after he had become a nicer, more modest human being was he beginning to fit himself for the role of leadership.
HOLDING UP THE HEAVENS.
There are a lot of dreams in the Book of B’reshit. Jacob dreams, Joseph dreams; Pharaoh dreams. Dreams are a way to unite the earth and heavens.
Human beings through their dreams implement the Mission Impossible. The boundaries that limit us to the earth are no longer a barrier. Heaven strengthens the earth; the earth strengthens the heavens.
The dreams have cosmic significance. The Kotzker Rebbe said that man was created to hold up the heavens.
Whatever the Rebbe himself meant, we can use his words to suggest that what happens with us on earth can make a difference on high. This is not necessarily a question of what we dream about in bed, over which we probably have little rational control… even though the sages say in the Midrash,
“We see in our dreams that which is suggested by our thoughts”.
But if we have the right ambitions, choose the right decisions, and live the right sort of life, Heaven says “Thank you!”
There was a famine in the land. Jacob sent his sons to Egypt to buy corn. Food supplies in Egypt were in the hands of their own brother Joseph, but they did not know it. Long before, they had sold him as a slave, and there had been no communication with or from him for years.
In due course they were to discover his identity and to see the family reunited, but not yet. In the meantime, the delegation set off from Canaan on the shopping expedition that would hopefully enable the family to eat. What does the Torah say? “And Joseph’s ten brethren went down to buy corn from Egypt” (Gen. 42:3).
But why only ten of them? Where was the eleventh, Benjamin? And why are they described as “Joseph’s brothers” and not “Jacob’s sons”?
To answer the first question, Jacob would not let Benjamin accompany them for fear that some danger would befall him (verse 4). Rashi makes the important point that harm can befall a person at home too. (Don’t we know it in our own generation, when more accidents happen at home than on the roads?). However, adds Rashi, Satan is especially ready to make mischief when people are on the road, where there are many outside forces that one cannot predict or control.
Another way of looking at the number ten is to link it with the concept of the minyan; a minyan brings together ten otherwise separate individuals and unites them for a common purpose. Here, as Rashi also points out, there were ten separate people who had found it difficult to agree on family policy such as their feelings for or against Joseph, but when an economic challenge faced them they were able to make common cause.
Perhaps this is why they are called “Joseph’s brothers”; there is something sarcastic about the phrase, because the one thing on which they had hitherto not been united was their brotherliness towards Joseph.
Rabbi Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, and was Australia’s highest profile rabbi and the leading spokesperson for Jews and Judaism on the Australian continent. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem.