Photo: Joseph Overseer of the Pharoah’s Granaries, by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, 1836- 1912, oil on canvas circa 1874. Courtesy of Wikipedia.



Presented at Temple Sinai, Saratoga Springs on 12/16/23


From the Morning Blessings Mishkan T’filah

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם שֶׁעָשַֽׂנִי יִשְׂרָאֵל

Blessed are You, Adonoy our God, King of the Universe, Who has made me a Jew.

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם אוֹזֵר יִשְׂרָאֵל בִּגְבוּרָה:

Blessed are You, Adonoy our God, King of the Universe, Who girds Israel with might.


38, Pharaoh said to his servants, “Can another one like this be found, a man who has God’s spirit in him?” 39, Pharaoh said to Joseph, “After Elohim has informed you of all this, there is no one so understanding and wise as you.

40, You shall be over my house, and by your word shall my people be fed. Only by the throne will I be greater than you.

Egypt was a kingdom that had tremendous power for hundreds of years. Joseph was thrown into this foreign land alone, far from his people. It was unknown to him at the time and yet, God was concealed in the plan. The Kabbalah teaches us that God conceals him/her/itself within situations for the purposes of increasing one’s understanding in connection to the Eternal One. Initially, Joseph does not have the realization that God has been involved throughout the series of events until the end of this portion when he realizes this truth as part of the Divine plan. This is not news to us. There are many times that we have been placed in situations in our own lives where we haven’t understood the purpose or portent of the current events. It has often remained hidden from us, sometimes for years, sometimes for decades.

In last week’s episode of the Book of Genesis, Joseph had two dreams he shared with his brothers, not understanding that they were premonitions. Genesis 37: 6-9.

He said to them, “Listen to this dream that I dreamt. Behold, we were binding sheaves in the middle of the field. Behold my sheaf rose and stood up straight; and behold your sheaves surrounded it and prostrated themselves to my sheaf.” His brothers said to him, ‘Will you then be a king over us? Will you indeed rule over us?” They hated him even more because of his dreams and his words. He had another dream and told it to his brothers. He said, “Behold! I dreamed another dream. The sun, the moon, and eleven stars were prostrating themselves to me.” 

Perhaps Joseph was too young and innocent to understand the resentment he was inciting in his brothers and the impetus that this would create to hurl him into his destiny for our people.

This week’s Torah portion continues the story of Joseph in captivity. Two years later, having correctly interpreted the chief butler’s dream, the chief butler remembers him. Joseph is called upon as an interpreter for the pharaoh’s dreams and interprets the dreams. The pharaoh immediately recognizes the truth of Joseph’s interpretation and recognizes in Joseph three main attributes of a gifted leader—understanding, wisdom, and divine spirit.  The pharaoh asks, “Can another one like this be found, a man who has God’s spirit in him?” Another translation suggested for the Hebrew Ruach Elohim is: “A man in whom the spirit of God is” There are so many gods and goddesses in the Egyptian tradition, which one is the pharaoh referring to? None are like Joseph’s God who has not yet been named. The pharaoh must have recognized the powerful God from whom Joseph took guidance and revered that guidance system. Joseph’s God’s name is revealed later in Exodus with Moses.

Joseph exhibits leadership with heavenly guidance. The attributes he expresses are seen as those of a royal, a person of substance, thus fulfilling the earlier premonitory dreams.

In Margaret Wheatley’s book, Who Do We Choose to Be? Facing Reality, Claiming Leadership, Restoring Sanity, she talks about leaders as warriors for the human spirit, the qualities she describes as critical for our times are compassion, discernment, and presence.

Are not these the same qualities that Joseph exhibited and the pharaoh acknowledged? It was a time of crisis in Egypt. The pharaoh was distressed knowing that his dreams had meaning and so he sought an interpreter.

Are we not in a time of crisis ourselves?

I believe that we, the Jewish people, stand in a state of crisis. There is no doubt about it. Around the world, people continue to speak out against us, keeping silent or worse yet, denying the truth of October 7, 2023 tearing down posters of children who were taken hostage, ignoring the rape and mutilation of women, children and men, and threatening our places of prayer. Since October 7, I have not slept one night in peace. We, the Jewish people, are in a state of crisis.

Hillel says, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?” Ethics of the Fathers, 1:14 

What leadership is required? Wheatley talks about the warriors as being those who “are part of a noble tradition of people who, in every age, devote themselves to protecting and serving others. The costs of that service vary widely as will ours. We make the choice to be there to preserve, protect, defend, champion, encourage, honor the human spirit.” She calls these warriors of the human spirit “decent human beings who aspire to be of service in an indecent, inhumane time.” (Wheatley, pg. 255)

How can each of us help? How can each of us serve? We first have to understand the larger context of the situation.

Based on Sir John Glubb’s Six Ages of a Civilization’s Growth and Collapse, we are in the last stage of this civilization, the Age of Decadence. He describes it in the following way: “After too long a period of wealth and power, empires decline in identical ways. ‘Frivolity, aestheticism, hedonism, cynicism, pessimism, narcissism. consumerism, materialism, nihilism, fatalism, fanaticism, and other negative behaviors and attitudes suffuse the population. Politics is increasingly corrupt, life increasingly unjust. A cabal of insiders accrues wealth and power at the expense of the citizenry, fostering a fatal opposition of interests between haves and have-nots. The majority lives for bread and circuses, worships celebrities instead of divinities … throws off social and moral restraints, especially on sexuality, shirks duties but insists on entitlements.’” (Wheatley, pg. 302)


What is concealed in this time? Where is G-d in all of this? If we are given free will to choose, then why are so many people not doing anything at all? Have we become so isolated as a society that we lack any care as to what happens to others? Are we afraid to do something because we might experience dangerous repercussions?

Who is the pharaoh and where is our Joseph? I posit that we, as a collective, are Joseph. Joseph ensured the future for not only the Egyptians he served but for the future generations of our lineage to come. Do we not bless our sons on Shabbat after his sons? Joseph took on the great responsibility placed upon him by the pharaoh and took Elohim as his own advisor. How can each of us do that during this time of crisis?

We are all supporting our people in some way. Some of us are praying or saying psalms daily for our people and the IDF; others are giving money to help Israel in their efforts to keep our homeland secure as a refuge for the Jewish people; others have returned to Israel to help gather in the harvest; some have worked side by side with medical personnel and others have offered counsel to families of the hostages. There are so many ways to contribute. We are the People of the Book. We are all together in this.

My daughter-in-law, Tal, and my son, David have a personal investment in our people. Tal’s older brother’s wife, Eleanor, is a major in the IDF in charge of the logistics for Tel Aviv. Her younger sister’s husband, Yaav, is a reservist, a computer programmer, fighting Hezbollah in the North and her younger brother, Eres, is a reservist and an electrical engineer fighting in Gaza. A few days ago, Eres called Tal and told her that the commanders had come to speak to a number of brigades, telling them that the situation was under control in a certain part of Gaza, that some of the soldiers could return home. The commanders asked for volunteers.

No one would volunteer to go home. 

Warriors of the human spirit are “decent human beings who aspire to be of service in an indecent, inhumane time.” Let us use our understanding, wisdom, and divine spirit as a collective ‘Joseph’ to help us and our people get through this time. “The warriors arise when the people need protection. The human spirit needs protection. May the Warriors arise!” Margaret Wheatley (pg. 297).



Wheatley, Margaret. (2017). Who Do We Choose to Be? Facing Reality, Claiming Leadership, Restoring Sanity. Oakland, Calif.: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.