Saturday, December 16, 2006

Yosef and Yehoshua, from Slavery to Redemption, Dust and Stars

In the beginning after the flood there was Abraham. As a child in a Godless world, Avraham looked around for G-d. He looked up at the sky and saw the moon and wondered if that was god. Then the sun came up and he wondered if that was god. And realizing that neither was god, he came to find the true G-d.

Avraham had been a shepherd and like most shepherds he had to live a nomadic life moving from place to place, so did his son Yitzchak after him and his son Yaakov after him and his adult sons.

Yitzchak had emerged miraculously at a time when even Avraham himself believed that Yishmael, the stronger aggressive son, would inherit. Yitzchak like Avraham too believed that the stronger of his two sons would inherit, Esav, the hunter and warrior. With Yosef the pattern repeated itself, the beloved younger son, was hated by his older brothers and this time the pattern seemed to have been nearly broken. Yosef was abducted and sold into slavery in a distant land and all seemed lost.

Before this Yosef had related two dreams he had had. Let us turn to those dreams for a moment. His first dream was of sheaves of wheat bowing to him. On the simple level these represented his brothers and the coming support he would provide them in grain but there is a deeper context. From Avraham's time, the family of the patriarchs had not been city dwellers but nomadic shepherds. With the curse of Adam the ground had been cursed and though the curse had diminished, cities had been built, but on to Jacob's family they continued being shepherds. But a sheepherding people can never be properly settled, it takes farming to claim land and become settled in it.

Yosef's first dream showed that he would not merely dominate the brothers or support them, but that he would pave the way for their eventual entry into Israel, the land where the family of Jacob would finally become settled, would become farmers who would bring the produce of their fields to the Beit Hamikdash, truly becoming a people with a land. This was a fundamental transformation of their way of life that would have threatened the brothers, as it threatened another ten men, the ten meraglim, sent to spy out the land of Israel, who did their best to prevent it from coming about. There too it would be Yehoshua ben Nun of Ephraim of Yosef who would oppose them.

Yosef's second dream showed the sun and moon bowing to him. Avraham had at first wondered if the sun and moon were deities before realizing they were subject to the true deity. The deeper meaning of Yosef's dream showed that even the sun and moon would be subservient to the forces that would redeem his descendants, which would indeed come about when his descendant Yehoshua would command them to stand in place, in order to win a battle part of the conquest of Israel. In its many forms idolatry was often a worship of the sun god or the moon, relics of which continue to remain even in our language today and in world religions, G-d's action was to demonstrate that idolatry had no power in halting the redemption.

Avraham had begun as a powerless man subject to the whim of kings and ended by defeating the most powerful kings of the region and bringing the rest to their knees. Yaakov had been the rejected younger brother and had emerged as the head of a mighty clan that was able to fight for its rights and slay an entire city. Yosef had been a despised slave, a foreigner and a prisoner and wound up ruling the mightiest empire of the time. Tamar had been the wife of unworthy men born of a Caananite wife, forced to pose as a harlot and facing death and had wound up becoming the mother of a dynasty of kings.

All this would be a lesson to the generations of Jews suffering under Egyptian slavery how quickly what seems like the inevitability of fate and destiny changes. Men of the ancient world believed themselves bound by natural forces, the sun and moon, the rivers and the seas and all these would be overturned. Nothing in the world is inevitable but G-d's will would be the message that would resound from the redemption of the Jews.

This is not merely a matter of history. In a decade the Jews went from despised victims murdered by the millions while the world watched to one of the boldest respected armies and nations in the world. What was true for Yaakov and Yosef and Tamar is true for us as well through the ages to the present day and beyond. We may be slaves one day and freemen the next. Dust one day and the next as high as the stars.


Lemon Lime Moon said...

Encouraging words!

Keliata said...

Very encouraging! Thank you Sultan, that was beautiful.

Itzhak Schier said...

Yasher koiach.

Unfortunately, in Vienna there is a puny little Friedman who would rather we be slaves than free men.

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