Metamorphosis or development? Depends on how close we look… Parashat Miketz
The Torah Potion “Miketz” symbolically starts with Joseph thrown in the dungeon, ending with him as ruler over all the land of Egypt. How did this happen? Did Joseph go though some metamorphosis?
To answer this, we can start by asking why he was thrown there in the first place. Joseph arrived at the prison eventually as a result of his brothers selling him. So we’ll ask again – why did his brothers (sell) throw him out? This leads us to the coat of many colors, which was the gift he received from his father Jacob, and which symbolizes Jacob’s preference of one child over the others, mixed with insensitivity. And of course this goes further back, to Jacob himself being the preferred child of his mother and less wanted by his father, as well as his marriages, his preferential treatment of his wives, Rachel’s infertility, Leah’s suffering, and of course the near to no mentioning of Bilhah and Zilpah who were also mothers to his children.
All this tension gets expressed by a single coat, which more or less declares: “I love you more”.
Joseph on his side was a brilliant and valuable boy. But like any other boy or adult, he had a lot to learn about self-restraint, sensitivity, tact; Joseph wore the extravagant shirt, and kept telling his brothers about his dreams where they all bow to him. This was all just too much for Joseph, too much for his brothers. And he found himself sitting in the dungeon.
From the prison Joseph came out thanks to his wisdom and his incredible capability to interpret dreams, and thanks to his interpretations to Pharaoh’s dream and his financial forecasts. Joseph managed to reach the highest position possible in the Egyptian kingdom.
During the years of famine, which Joseph had predicted, Jacob and his sons were also hungry:
“And he said, Behold, I have heard that there is food in Egypt; go down there and buy for us from there that we may live, and not die. And Joseph’s ten brethren went down to buy wheat in Egypt.” (Genesis 42:2-3)
This starts the story which will lead to Joseph and his brothers meeting again, as well as Joseph and Jacob. This family story ends well, but to its side we have the beginning of the period of the children of Israel in Egypt, which will continue to slavery and become the first exile and the longest disconnection we’ve had from the land of Canaan, which will later become Israel.
But I’d like to delay for a minute with the word “go down”. In Hebrew it is still very common to use this word when referring to “negative” immigration, to a person who is leaving Israel, as opposed to “doing Aliyah” – going up – which refers to the positive immigration to Israel. In the Torah Portion Miketz it is determined that our fate is to become slaves in Egypt, that we will have a period of lost identity, and great hardship. Could we have done differently??
This whole story is actually about how we hold! Yes, how we manage to hold and to value our belongings. We see around us many examples of negative immigration stemming from insufficient holding. For example, Israel for many years now has been dealing with “Brain Drain”. In addition, lately the headlines often mention people leaving Israel for financial reasons. These are no longer single events of scientists looking for better budgets in foreign countries, but people looking for a better quality of life, looking for the food in Egypt, children.
Another significant example of a negative “immigration”, though on a very different context, is where we see whole families leaving our Jewish congregations, especially following their sons’ Bar-Mitzvah ceremonies, because sadly they cannot find themselves and/or the continuation of their way in this framework, and they go on a different search journey.
So let me get back to the first question; between Joseph the tactless teenager who ended up in jail, and the ruler of Egypt, was there a metamorphosis? The answer is definitely no. Joseph did not undergo metamorphosis. He developed, he matured; a beautiful expression of this maturation is his compassion to his brothers. The material hadn’t changed, hadn’t transformed, only developed. Because Joseph is also a story of a “brain drain” – the same guy who managed to prevent hunger for a whole nation of course would have been able to do the same for his own family had he only been with them, had he only received some direction and patience. But this is not what happened, they did not know how to handle him.
Perhaps if there was a bit more understanding we wouldn’t have become slaves, we wouldn’t have built the pyramids, wouldn’t have sacrificed our sons… We will never know but it’s likely that much suffering would have been prevented.
How sad it would be to experience the maturation of our children as a metamorphosis rather than watch an take part in this gradual process…
We face a challenge – as families, as congregations, as a People – to manage to accompany the development of our sons; to be a supportive and relevant framework throughout their lives. Perhaps in this way we will manage to stop going down and rather go up big time.