As you know, Pharoah calls on Joseph, delivered from his dungeons, to translate his dream. At this time, Joseph had suffered 13 years of slavery. From the status of his father’s favorite son, a pampered youth who told tales on his brothers, a peacock in his coat of many colours, he has undergone a profound transformation. He has suffered near-death at the hands of his brothers, slavery and imprisonment with long hours of solitude. Through these experiences Joseph has developed a sense of humility, religious sentiment and the spiritual power to divine and lead.
His accurate translation of Pharoah’s dream results in his elevation from slave to 2nd-in-command over Egypt and spares the land from certain catastrophe. The combination of competence and humility are a compelling standard for leadership. Pharoah describes Joseph as, “a man in whom is the spirit of God ...”
This part of the story is a commentary on leadership. As a younger man, and favoured son, Joseph taunts his brothers with his dream of becoming their ruler. His vision of leadership is having power over them.
By the time he is called upon by Pharoah, Joseph’s vanity has long gone. Joseph never claims his power as his own, but honors God and makes it clear that he is not a professional soothsayer. He humbly declares, “Not I! God will see to Pharoah’s welfare.” His dream is realized yet a young man’s focus on himself has been replaced by a focus on others.
Ultimately true leadership is not self serving but takes a hard focus on service to others. This is more difficult than it sounds. During chaotic times showing leadership is messy. Decisions have to be made with too little information, unpopular actions need to be taken, comforts of today must sometimes be sacrificed for future survival. Where does a leader, of a family, an organization, a community, find the courage to make the wise and compassionate choices that he or she is called upon to make? As we see in this portion, wisdom and compassion comes from understanding ourselves and working to resolve inner conflicts. True power is spiritual power. Finding peace is a first step to finding the strength to lead our own lives and lead others.
The second part of this story is about Joseph’s position in Egypt and his reunion with his family.
As the 2-I-C, Joseph takes on an Egyptian name and is fully accepted into official society. He is considered the first Jew to live in the Diaspora. He becomes the father of two sons, and names the first Manasseh meaning, “God has made me forget completely my hardship and my parental home.” ... which really means, “I have never forgotten completely my hardship and my parental home.”This is a reference to a man in conflict, troubled by his unresolved relationships with his brothers and father. His past would not and could not go away.
But sometimes life hands us a second chance...
Joseph’s brothers come to him seeking grain rations and don’t recognize him as their father’s beloved son who they sold into slavery. Joseph recognizes them immediately. At first, understandably, he thinks of revenge, but then sees them, maybe for the first time, as human beings in need of help.
He sets in motion a game of cat and mouse when he decides to detain Simon (the brother who had suggested that Joseph be killed) while the rest return home with rations for their households. He asks that when they return for more food that they bring their youngest brother Benjamin, the son that is his mother’s.
As the famine is severe, Jacob reluctantly allows his sons to take Benjamin to Egypt with gifts, and double the money for the mysterious prince. They are invited into the royal house where Joseph inquires about his father’s health. He is again overcome with emotion when he sets eyes on his mother’s son, Benjamin. At this point Joseph has worked out his feelings for his family and is ready for reconciliation however he again delays revealing his identity
He prepares an elaborate test, planting a treasured goblet in Benjamin’s bag before he takes leave of the city. He instructs his steward to overtake the men on their journey and accuse the brothers of theft, retrieve the goblet and insist that Benjamin pay with his freedom. Joseph plays the game of getting even yet weeps with a love that transcends bitterness. What does this tell us about power?
If we are constantly mindful of God as the true Source of power and serve him, then power will express the divine attributes of justice and compassion. But it is difficult to remain mindful when we, like Joseph, carry old wounds. Whatever is unhealed in us becomes an obstacle to the pursuit of justice, gets in the way of feeling love and keeps us locked in dishonest patterns.
How is power that comes from a spiritual centre different from power that comes from a strong personality or ego? Spiritual power is not about externals, not about Joseph’s status in Egypt, not about what we have or who we know. It is about who we are. Spiritual power is often preceded by our worst days and the choice to change ourselves rather than become bitter and isolated. It is about healing family relationships and being able to express the divine abilities to forgive, show compassion and lead from a place of humility.
This portion on power and leadership was chosen as the Haftarah during Chanukah. “Not by might and not by power but by spirit alone shall all live in peace.” As we light our last Chanukah candle tonight I hope to be mindful that we are a people who choose faith over military victory or being right, compassion over fear ... and that these choices serve us well as leaders in this world.