“Conocimiento llega por los ojos siempre abiertos y las manos trabajando; y no hay ningún conocimiento que no es potencia.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson
En nuestra era de la sobrecarga de información, hay ciertos conocimientos que a veces somos los únicos que estámos al tanto de ellos. Generalmente es en el ámbito personal. Un amigo comparte un secreto. Un miembro de la familia nos dice noticias primero. En otras ocasiones no es necesariamente información transmitida, sino una visión que es alcanzada. Finalmente usted entiende por qué un compañero de trabajo se comporta de cierta manera. Viste a tu prójimo actuando diferente. Eres testigo a algo que nadie prestó atención.
La cuestión teológica es ¿por qué somos los que poseen este conocimiento único y ¿qué vamos a hacer con él?
Faraón sueña un sueño que profetiza el destino del imperio egipcio. El Netziv en Génesis 41:39 explica que Dios provee información única específicamente a aquellos que pueden y deben hacer algo al respecto. Faraón tenía que recibir la visión del futuro de Egipto, porque era el único que tenía el poder y la responsabilidad de actuar sobre esa información.
Cuando se nos da información exclusiva, es porque tenemos que saber y tenemos que actuar. A veces, el acto puede ser guardar silencio, pero muestran cierta empatía. A veces puede ser dar una ayuda de una manera discreta. A veces puede ser despertar al mundo entero a una causa.
Que podamos utilizar nuestros conocimientos especiales en la forma correcta.
Shabat Shalom y Janucá Sameaj,
Para el embajador de Alemania en Uruguay, Dr. Heinz Peters, por el generoso apoyo de su embajada a la Biblioteca de la Memoria del Holocausto de la comunidad judía.
“Knowledge comes by eyes always open and working hands; and there is no knowledge that is not power.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson
In our age of information overload, there is certain knowledge that at times we are the only ones that are privy to it. It is usually in the personal realm. A friend shares a secret. A family member tells us news first. At other times it is not necessarily information conveyed, but an insight that is reached. You finally understand why a coworker behaves a certain way. You notice your neighbor acting differently. You witness something that no one else paid attention to.
The theological question is why are we the ones to possess this unique knowledge and what are we to do with it?
Pharaoh dreams a dream that prophesies the fate of the Egyptian empire. The Netziv on Genesis 41:39 explains that God provides unique information specifically to those that can and should do something about it. Pharaoh needed to be given the vision of Egypt’s future because he was the only one who had the power and the responsibility to act upon that information.
When we are given exclusive information, it is because we need to know and we need to act. Sometimes the act may be to keep quiet, but show some empathy. Sometimes it may be to give a helping hand in a discreet way. Sometimes it may be to rouse the entire world to a cause.
May we use our special insights in the proper fashion.
Shabbat Shalom and Chanukah Sameach,
To the German Ambassador to Uruguay, Dr. Heinz Peters, for his embassy’s unique, quiet but generous support of the Jewish community’s Holocaust Remembrance Library.
“If real is what you can feel, smell, taste and see, then ‘real’ is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain.” – Morpheus, The Matrix
Do you ever taste sound? Hear a view? Smell a touch? See a scent? It would seem physically impossible; however it is part of our language. We talk about sweet sounds, loud lights and various other confusions of the senses.
However, there are some people for whom mixtures of senses are common. There is a condition known as Synesthesiawhereby people will actually see different colors, hear different sounds, feel different textures, smell different scents and/or taste different flavors, when no such stimulus is present.
Our Patriarch Jacob speaks with a cross-sensory metaphor when he “sees the food in Egypt” while he’s sitting in Canaan listening to the reports of the food in Egypt. Ibn Ezra (on Genesis 42:1) picks up on the language and provides the first description of Synesthesia centuries before modern medicine diagnosed the condition.
Ibn Ezra explains that because all the sensory inputs connect and are interpreted by the brain, sometimes they get mixed up, hence the beautiful, artistic and surprising cross-sensory metaphors that we end up with.
May we keep mixing metaphors to our listeners’ sharp consternation or bright delight.
To synesthete physicist Richard Feynman. Other notable synesthetes include Billy Joel, Itzhak Perlman and Nikola Tesla.
“The heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of.” – Blaise Pascal (1623 – 1662)
Chemistry between people is an unusual phenomenon. How or why certain people get along and others don’t is a mystery that has confounded scientists and matchmakers since the beginning of time. Some may explain the confluence of interests, backgrounds, priorities, tastes, intelligence and a long checklist of factoids that will determine the success of human interaction, whether it be friends, relatives or spouses.
Predictors of compatibility are often right, but just as often wrong. Two people who otherwise seem entirely attuned, for some reason cannot stay in the same room with each other. Or two people who have almost nothing in common become life-long friends.
The Ohr Hachayim (Genesis 42:8) proposes that in the interaction between two people, it is often the heart that is in driver’s seat. Hearts are perceptive. They communicate with each other on a subconscious level. The Ohr Hachayim adds that hearts may tell secrets to each other. They may confirm or deny what the mind is not yet aware of, or refuses to acknowledge.
In the back-and-forth between hearts a message can percolate to the conscious mind. “I like him,” the heart will say. Or “he’s a jerk,” the heart will confirm. Or “that’s my long lost brother,” as with Joseph and his siblings.
May our hearts tell us no lies and may they always interact well with the hearts around us.
Shabbat Shalom and Chanukah Sameach,
To my friends of the heart. Though we may have little in common, the heart knows otherwise.
At first glance, Joseph’s accusation of his brothers of being spies when they show up in Egypt seems ludicrous. Furthermore, the brothers give true and cogent answers that Joseph apparently ignores. It would seem to be a case of heavy-handy tyrannical rule with no sense of justice or defensible rationale.
The Kli Yakar (Genesis 42:9) however interprets each verse and gives us a back and forth of a real trial which Joseph won based on logical accusations and counter-arguments to the brother’s explanations (it also didn’t hurt him to have power on his side).
Joseph accuses the brothers of two different espionage crimes: information gathering, by mixing with merchants and the local population; and reconnoitering, by entering the city from ten different entrances and surveying the city for weak points. They did not deny either act, but gave a different rationale (searching for their missing brother).
I won’t go into all the back and forth, but the linchpin of the argument is that there is a youngest brother still at home (Benjamin). Joseph argues that Benjamin must have also been a spy and went back to report on the interim findings. Therefore the only way to prove the veracity of the brother’s argument would be for Joseph to cross-examine Benjamin personally and find witnesses if he had been in the city previously (presumably spying) or not. The brothers had no way to prove Benjamin had not been there, so therefore they had little choice but to submit to this judgment and eventually bring Benjamin down to Egypt to end the trial and clear their names.
Joseph’s stratagem is successful. The accused missing spy is brought to him and Joseph continues the subterfuge leading to the eventual reconciliation of the children of Jacob.
May all intrigue in our lives have a happy ending.
Shabbat Shalom and Chanukah Sameach,
To the real spies out there defending the State of Israel. Though unlauded, we still appreciate the tremendous service.
“That was not as terrible as I feared,” Benjamin exhaled. “In fact, it was truly pleasant. The Viceroy was a gracious and generous host.”
“Yes,” Simeon added. “Even after he imprisoned me, I was treated as a royal guest.”
Benjamin and his ten half-brothers were riding their grain-laden donkeys out of the Egyptian capital.
“The entire encounter was bizarre,” Judah warned pensively. “The Viceroy’s behavior was unusual. First he accuses us of being spies, and when we bring Benjamin he treats us as long lost brothers. His line of questioning was also strange. Very personal. I think he was not convinced Benjamin is our brother. It was as if he was trying to ascertain our feelings towards Benjamin – why would he care?”
“Let us be thankful that we retrieved Simeon,” Reuben counseled. “There is no need to seek further worries. Let us make haste back home to Canaan and put this episode behind us.”
Agreeing with Reuben, Benjamin looked behind as if to say a final farewell to the capital. “What is that cloud?” he asked, perplexed.
It is moving towards us quickly, Benjamin thought.
All the brothers turned around.
“It is not good,” Judah stated.
“It is an army,” Simeon noted.
Yes. The rising dust of a quickly moving platoon. Benjamin’s heart beat faster.
“Perhaps it is some troop redeployment?” Reuben said hopefully.
“No. It is an army in pursuit,” Judah declared.
“Who are they after?” Benjamin asked nervously.
“Seeing as there are no other groups on this road that have entangled with the rulers, I suspect it may be us,” Judah concluded.
“Let us run,” Simeon urged.
“Our donkeys will never outrun their horses,” Judah replied, “and we have done nothing wrong, though I am apprehensive. Form a perimeter around Benjamin, and let us continue casually.”
“I do not need special protection,” Benjamin protested weakly. Will they sell me out at the first sign of trouble? My half-brothers have a history of treachery to the sons of Rachel.
“I promised Father your safety,” Judah answered. “If something were to happen to you, son of his favorite Rachel, Father would probably die from the grief. He would not take such news of the rest of us as badly.”
Benjamin nodded his understanding as his brothers surrounded him on their mounts. Judah is a man of his word, the rest might follow his lead.
Moments later a cavalry one hundred men strong encircled them. They were led by the Viceroy’s Captain, the young but authoritative Menasheh.
“Halt! Brigands!” Menasheh called as one hundred spears enclosed them.
“Why do you address us so, my Lord,” Reuben responded.
“Why have you repaid evil to my master’s generosity?” Menasheh retorted angrily. “You have stolen his precious drinking vessel. Did you not expect him to discover its absence? You have done wrong by him.”
“Heaven forbid that your humble servants should do such a thing,” Reuben replied. “We have already returned the money that was mistakenly placed in our bags. How could we take anything from your master’s house, whether silver or gold? Search us! By whomever you shall find a stolen object we shall put to death, and the rest of us shall become your slaves.”
“It shall be as you speak,” Menasheh grinned, “though we shall not be as harsh as your judgment. Simple Egyptian justice shall suffice. The thief shall become my slave and the rest of you shall be free to go.”
Reuben unloaded his heavy burlap bag from his donkey, placed it on the floor and opened it for Menasheh’s inspection. Each of the brothers in turn repeated the gesture.
Menasheh dismounted from his proud Egyptian steed and under cover of his cavalry’s spears approached the bags. He retrieved a short sword from his right side and thrust it into Reuben’s open bag. Menasheh then swirled the sword in the bag, only to hear the swish of grain on steel.
Menasheh repeated the motions with each of the subsequent brothers: Simeon, Levi, Judah, Gad, Asher, Yissachar, Zevulun, Dan and Naftali. The brothers had relaxed, feeling that they were being proven innocent of their wrongful accusation. Judah was wary, sensing trouble.
Menasheh thrust his sword into Benjamin’s bag. “Clink!” was clearly heard as metal hit metal. Menasheh plunged his hand into the bag of grain and triumphantly revealed the Viceroy’s silver goblet.
The brothers gasped in shock. They tore their garments in the symbol of grief. Benjamin was incredulous. Simeon whispered angrily, “Thief, son of thief! Just as your mother was a petty bandit, so have you turned out!”
Simeon has always been the roughest, Benjamin fought back his despair. I cannot let him turn the other brothers against me.
“Do not speak to me of chicanery,” Benjamin hissed back. “Was I the one who sold Joseph into slavery? Who deceived our Father? Do not presume to show righteousness with me, Simeon. I am as blameless of this theft as I am of Joseph’s sale. This is not my doing.”
“I do not care to endure a family squabble,” Menasheh interrupted. “You! Benjamin. Come with me. I shall be a firm master, my new slave. The rest of you are dismissed.”
This is it. This is the moment of truth. Shall my brothers again betray a child of Rachel – shall they prove themselves to still be jealous half-brothers?
No one moved. The brothers looked at Menasheh blankly and then again at Benjamin. They did not react to the new situation.
“Are your brains addled Hebrews?” Menasheh grunted. “Did you not hear me? Move away from the slave, so that I my take my lawful property. The rest of you are free to go.”
Do not forsake me! Benjamin thought to his brothers. If you leave me, we shall all perish! I will be enslaved, Father will die from heartbreak and the family will fall apart. Do not let the family of Israel end before it has begun.
Menasheh motioned to his troops and the ring of spears became tighter around the brothers. Instinctively, the brothers encircled Benjamin in a closer formation, each with their back to Benjamin, facing the soldiers.
My brothers are with me. Benjamin felt hopeful.
Then an opening of spears was formed towards the north.
“Sons of Jacob!” Menasheh commanded. “You are now interfering in my business. Please leave my new slave. I assume you do not want to entangle with my troops. Furthermore, if you ever want to purchase more grain from Egypt, I strongly suggest that you leave forthwith, with no further delay or resistance.”
Do not leave me. Benjamin prayed. Judah, please, say something!
“We shall all return with Benjamin,” Judah stated, standing taller.
“That is not required or preferred,” Menasheh replied, trying to hide a smile.
“Nonetheless, we insist,” Judah reaffirmed. “We shall go together, or you will have a nice little brawl on your hands.” At that all the sons of Jacob took a step forward, sword in hand. The spears moved back apprehensively.
“I will not risk harm to my new acquisition,” Menasheh was taken aback by the Hebrew determination. “We shall escort all of you back to the Viceroy, where he shall lay his judgment.”
With another motion of Menashe’s hand, the spears parted way southward and closed in on the north side, pushing the brothers back to the city.
“We shall not abandon you,” Judah whispered to Benjamin. “We shall never abandon you. We shall never again betray a brother.” And then in an undertone to himself Judah continued, “I have made that mistake once already.”
* * * * * *
“And my goblet – the silver goblet – place in the mouth of the youngest one’s sack along with the money of his purchase.” And he followed Joseph’s word exactly.
The day dawned and the men were sent off, they and their donkeys. They had left the city, had not gone far, when Joseph said to the one in charge of the house, “Get up, chase after the men; when you overtake them, you are to say to them, “Why do you repay evil for good? Is it not the one from which my master drinks, and with which he regularly divines? You have done evil in how you acted!”
He overtook them and spoke those words to them. And they said to him, “Why does my lord say such things? It would be sacrilegious for your servants to do such a thing. Here, look: The money that we found in the mouth of our sacks we brought back to you from the land of Canaan. How then could we have stolen from your master’s house any silver or gold? Anyone among your servants with whom it is found shall die, and we will become slaves to my lord?”
He replied, “What you say now is also correct. The one with whom it is found shall be my slave, but the rest of you shall be exonerated.”
Hurriedly, each one lowered his sack to the ground, and each one opened his sack. He searched; he began with the oldest and ended with the youngest; and the goblet was found in Benjamin’s sack. They rent their garments. Each one reloaded his donkey and they returned to the city. Genesis 44:2-13
When the time came for Benjamin to go down with the brothers to Egypt, they placed him between themselves and guarded him. Bereshit Rabbah 95:1
When the goblet of Egypt’s viceroy was found in Benjamin’s sack, his brothers said to him, “Thief, son of a thief (referring to Rachel, who stole the teraphim)!” He replied, “Is my master Joseph here? Is the goat (that you slaughtered in order to dip Joseph’s coat in its blood) here? Brothers who sold their brother!” Bereshit Rabbah 92:8
When the goblet was found in Benjamin’s sack, each of the brothers turned his face away. Who stood up? The one who became surety for Benjamin – Judah. Tanchuma, Vayigash.
Because Menasheh caused the Tribes to tear their garments in grief over the episode of the ‘stolen’ goblet (when he chased after them and accused them of stealing it), his inheritance was torn: half was in the land of the Jordan and half in the land of Canaan. Bereshit Rabbah 84:20
According to Dr. Laurence Peter, author of “The Peter Principle”, employees in large organizations will be promoted as long as they do good or satisfactory work in their current role. The assumption is that they can replicate their success in a bigger role. Dr. Peter claims that invariably these successive promotions will lead the employee to their “level of incompetence” – meaning they are no longer qualified for the new role. Nonetheless, they remain in such promoted roles, with the actual work being done by the underlings who have not yet reached their own level of incompetence.
One can find examples going back to antiquity of organizational incompetence. It does not matter what method of government or business one selects. Incompetence (not to be confused with corruption) can be found in capitalism, socialism, communism or good-old-fashioned tyranny.
It seems though, that in old tyrannical regimes, the price to pay for incompetence was often higher than in today’s world (death, exile and/or other nasty results). The candidate with any sense of self-preservation would not be so quick to accept a promotion beyond his capabilities.
In ancient Egypt, Pharaoh gives Joseph a historic promotion, from lowly slave and convict, to Viceroy of the Egyptian Empire. As part of the transference of power, Pharaoh hands over the royal signet, a very concrete symbol of the power and responsibility of the office. Rabbi Hizkiyahu ben Manoach (Hizkuni) claims that Pharaoh’s offering of the signet ring was to test Joseph.
Pharaoh was impressed with Joseph’s divine dream-reading skills, his initiative, his problem-solving abilities and his original and out-of-the-box thinking. What were still unclear were his leadership and management capabilities. According to Hizkuni, the first test of such capabilities would be if the candidate himself felt he had them and was confident enough to accept the role. Joseph proved his worth in these areas just by his willingness to take on the task. The next step was to actually deliver, and save the Egyptian Empire from starvation and ruin.
Too bad many of both our business and political leaders do not show the same level of self-honesty and responsibility. Perhaps if we brought back the death-penalty for incompetence…
May we be blessed with more competent leaders and employees and know when to keep ourselves and others at the “level of competence”.
Shabbat Shalom and Chanukah Sameach,
To incompetent leaders. If it weren’t for them, we would have much less to chit-chat about, especially with cab drivers.
Dutch painter. He was the son of a well-to-do Mennonite cloth merchant in Amsterdam. He served his apprenticeship there among the artists now called the Pre-Rembrandtists. After his marriage in 1620, commemorated by the poet Joost van den Vondel (1587-1639), he settled in Leeuwarden, his wife’s native city, where he became a preacher in the Mennonite community and worked primarily as a painter. He was also active as an art dealer, as is known from his estate inventory, which records transactions in Amsterdam with the Mennonite art dealer and patron of Rembrandt, Hendrick van Uylenburgh. Two of Jacobsz.’s pupils were Govaert Flinck and Jacob Backer. His son, the painter Abraham van den Tempel probably also studied with him before becoming Backer’s pupil c. 1642-46.
Joseph has successfully interpreted Pharaoh’s dream regarding the upcoming years of plenty and years of famine, to the amazement and delight of all those present (Genesis 41). Joseph then recommends that Pharaoh appoints and empowers an overseer for the entire operation of organizing and saving the produce from the feast for the famine (verse 33).
Pharaoh and all his ministers are so impressed with Joseph that they realize there is no better candidate for the position than Joseph himself. Joseph’s subsequent and immediate rise from slave and prisoner to regent of the Egyptian empire is spectacular.
However, before Joseph finished giving his advice, there is a verse where Joseph goes beyond detailing the job of the overseer. In verse 34 Joseph adds that Pharaoh should also hire the second level of management.
Rabbi Ovadia Sforno wonders at this level of detail that Joseph provides and asks why Pharaoh has to hire the second level of management. Why can’t Pharaoh leave that task to whoever the overseer will be?
Sforno answers that perhaps contrary to modern corporate practice, where managers prefer to bring in “their own people”, it is more advantageous for the organization if the hires are made from the “top”. Sforno explains that by Pharaoh appointing the people to work under Joseph, they will take both the job and Joseph more seriously, and will better function as a cohesive unit. They are beholden to Pharaoh, but answerable to Joseph on the day-to-day business implementation.
This probably goes against many modern day organizations. However in the Egyptian culture and business environment at least it seemed to have been highly successful. Joseph, together with his Egyptian management, was able to save more produce than they were able to count with their numbering system at the time. This successful management team lead to the survival and prosperity of Egypt during a regional famine and made the Egyptian empire the dominant power of the ancient world.
May we learn from Joseph’s success; may we not be afraid to go against conventional wisdom; may we form strong teams and partnerships, and not only survive, but flourish in all our efforts.
Shabbat Shalom and Chanukah Sameach,
To the memory of Yaakov ben Yosef Matityahu Tocker, my wife’s grandfather, who passed away this week at the age of 93 in his home in Washington Heights, NY.
He was a humble and hardworking man, a carpenter by trade, who built not only beautiful wooden masterpieces, but built a home, a family, a community, and merited to see his third generation growing and thriving, like his namesake, Yaakov Avinu.
It is symbolic that his father’s name (and his son’s), Yosef Matityahu is connected with both the current parasha, and Chanuka. May God comfort Safta Raba, my father-in-law, Sammy, and the entire family amongst the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.