Torah Study Notes 11-30-13

November 30, 2013
p. 268
The Joseph story is in two parts and the narrative arc moves from a jail cell to a prince of Egypt.
41:1 The gaunt cows eat the fat ones. CJ: But cows are herbivores? Note that the number seven is used more than 500 times in the Torah. See Essay on page 35. The number seven is utilized in Genesis but not in the sense of a week.
41:5 The second dream – this time of grain. P recognizes now that he has had a dream. “His spirit was troubled…” –
41:8 He puts out a call for the soothsayers. It is not likely that the professionals would have any trouble interpreting the dreams. But then what do they do about it?
41:9 The chief cup-bearer recalls a lad in jail who is good at interpreting dreams. This is the cup-bearer who was supposed to put in a good word for Joseph but forgot. This is only the second time in the text that someone is identified as a Hebrew. The etymology of “Hebrew” is obscure – having only been used before with respect to Abraham. Both Sumerian and Babylonian have a similar word referring to “foreigners.” Those who are passing through. Note that “efper” refers to dust – possibly the dust of a traveler or of a herder. “evri” refers to an unkempt person.
41: 17 “Not I – it is God who will account for Pharaoh’s dream.” In short, it is the implementation of the dream that will provide for their well being. SF: We need to set aside time to think about what God is telling us.
41:25 The meaning of the dream revealed by Joseph. Note that God is acting through Joseph whereas in the past he has been present. Here he is only present in the language of Joseph. LL: This is a good example of the role that human beings must play in the outcome of any situation. We know that famines happen but here a solution to famines is developed. PG: Pharaoh knows that he is not divine and wonders what to do in the case of severe famine. The innovation may not be a radical change from past practice that took them from growing season to growing season. Here the thinking is long term and on a larger scale. LL: Is this the first example of social engineering and innovation in the Torah?
41:33 “Let Pharaoh now select a man who is discerning and wise…” Note the connection here to Purim “What shall be done with the man that we wish to honor.” The plan is simple in concept but complex in administration.
41:39 Eureka! Let Joseph do it! He gives his signet ring, dresses him in linen and placed a gold chain around his neck.
41:44 Now Joseph is thirty years old. He traverses the whole land of Egypt. He becomes more Egyptian in order to carry out his mission and be obeyed by the Egyptian people. PG: A hero, as a matter of genre literature, has to come from outside the norms of society. Note the parallels with the story of Moses who rose up through Pharaoh’s household. LLant: It is useful to retain the concept of Jewishness even though you may be subsumed into another society. PG: They were able to retain their essence despite the captivity in Babylon. Consider the work of Judah Halevi in the 11th C. in his book on the Kasars. In the 6th C. their king converted to Judaism and decreed that all of his people were Jewish. Halevi argues that everyone has a soul – even plants but the soul has different components and manifestations. In humans there is intelligence, reason, compassion etc. The part of the soul that can directly connect to God is special to Israel. There is also a midrash that the people who observed Sarah giving birth offered up their own infants to suckle at Sarah’s breast. All who “suckle at the breast of Sarah” are Jewish. The connection to Jewish consciousness is something that can be acquired. It is more than blood. It is a matter of choosing to be Jew. Consider the science of hermeneutics – which is finding the borders and essence of any identification. In Hertzl’s view it was a matter of land and language. Jabotinski differed in the sense that creating a homeland was not enough – he felt that Jews would always be outsiders and would always have to defend themselves. See:

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  1. With respect to 41:44 –the hero genre, and the tie-in to Moses that was mentioned: In literature, as in real life, in order to be taken seriously–and in order to be able to become a true hero/leader–one needs to be a part of, but not one of, the group he/ she will lead/ to which he/ she will become a hero. Being an outsider, and not one of the “in” group, actually facilitates the transformation into a hero/ leader.

    Why? Because, while the hero/ leader needs to have some tie or connection to the people he/she will lead; it is also necessary for the hero/ leader to be apart from the hoi poloi–to have an “otherness” that will enable the people, as a whole, to view the hero/leader as someone special–not one of them; because, if the hero was, indeed, only one of the many, the people–be they Egyptians preparing for an upcoming famine, or Israelites preparing to flee a captivity that has become onerous–they would be inclined to question the fledgling hero/ leader’s ability. After all: if a person that you had seen as a child , with the requisite runny nose, scraped knees, and tantrums of childhood, tried to tell you what you needed to do in order to prepare for an impending disaster; or, wanted to lead you to freedom across deserts, seas, and other uncertainties–would you listen, or follow? Would you follow your own counsel? Would you respect this person who you had seen grow up, with all of the attendant foibles and awkwardnesses of growing up?

    I would argue that the tendency would be to dismiss the advise/ leadership of someone too closely involved in the group; and to heed to words of the wise outsider (echoes of the Thebans in Oedipus Rex, anyone?)–just as the Egyptians heed Joseph’s words, and the Israelites follow Moses. These two men have just enough belonging–Joseph through his Egyptification by Pharaoh, and Moses due to his Israelite birth; and enough “otherness”–Joseph through being identified initially as a Hebrew/ evri, and Moses, through his upbringing in the Pharaoh’s household–to enable the transformation to hero/ leader.


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