Alexander A. Winogradsky Frenkel

Jealousy or survival

There is an in-depth, permanent relational question that we face at times or constantly. It depends upon how we cope with the people whom we have to meet, to work with, to socialize. In the parashah-reading portion – Vayyeshev/ וישב usually read in the month of December the issue shows the personal experience of Joseph, the son of Jacob. A special path to learn, examine the meaning or irrationality of suffering and betrayal.

(Jacob) lived (in the land of his father’s sojourning, Eretz Canaan\ארץ כנען), the weekly Torah portion is from Bereishit 37:1-40:23. It is said: “Israel loved Joseph more than all his sons because he was his son born in the old age and he made him a striped tunic (k’tonet pasim\כתונת פסים). Joseph was talented and did not really pay attention to the evil gossip his brothers had about their father.” Joseph has a special biography: a seventeen years old shepherd pasturing the sheep; a dreamer: “vayyachalam chalom – ויחלם יעקב חלום – Joseph had a (leading ahead) dream.”

Joseph had dreams that were to mature over a long-term extended period of time that still remains unaccomplished at the present. He was sold by his brothers who were so jealous they could not though decide to to kill him. The division of opinions may at times save the lives of some people endangered by enemies who would not agree on such a simple issue as murder and thus would choose a distorted solution.

This is why it became a mitzvah and real duty to pay ransoms in order to free and save the prisoners. It has been a major mitzvah in all Jewish communities and it is still in force at present. In Israel, this obliges making every possible effort to redeem and obtain the liberation of Israeli soldiers captured by other armies. This mitzvah is a basic commandment, and remains an indisputable sign of “love towards our fellow people”. Indeed, Jews who observe the Mitzvot and develop a loving and caring spirit of love toward God and any human being cannot betray any single Jew the way Joseph was sold by his embezzled brothers.

Ransoming is also a must as it has always been in force throughout the history of Christianity. The main problem consists of considering how we accept or not the realm of the Mitzvot as a true way to make freedom true. “For four (transgressions of Israel), I will not pardon them (ashivenu – אשיבנו : we shall not give any positive response or change of penance) for their selling of a righteous man for money (michram bekesef tzadik – מכרם בכסף צדיק) and a destitute/poor man for shoes (veevyon baavur na’alayim – ועבעון בעבור נעליים) … And a man and his father go to a betrothed young girl (naarah – נערה) to profane My Holy Name (cf. Tamar) (Amos 2:7). These are real and pending issues that we have to face with regard to history and present-day news. They allow us to fathom how to apprehend Joseph’s fate and destiny.

Judah’s affair with Tamar, Potifar’s wife harassed Joseph. This shows the development of what is wrong and can be corrected and lead to freedom after false possession or desires and treason. Once upon a time, we had a woman who was the only man in the Israeli government, Golda Meir aka Golda Mabovitz/Meyerson (1898-1978). Born in Kiev/ Kyiv (Ukraine), she joined her father who had left for Milwaukee (Wisconsin) and had worked as a carpenter there. She went up to Rome to visit then-Pope John XXIII who welcomed her: “I am your brother Joseph (you hardly can recognize)”. A recent movie will allow consider her life and destiny. Director Guy Nattiv’s latest film, starring Helen Mirren as Golda Meir, skips the broader history lesson and focuses on her humanity as she navigated the Yom Kippur War. The film ““Golda” looks at Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir not through her entire life, but through the crucible of the Yom Kippur War. What’s more, rather than being a simple tale of triumph over adversity, “Golda” is a story about the costs of leadership and the human mistakes our leaders make along the way.” (Times of Israel, “Not your standard biopic, ‘Golda’ is a gritty warning about the cost of victory”, August 24, 2023.)

At least her father had a Vatican/Holy See-appreciated profession. It is known that Jesus’ father, Joseph, as her dad was a carpenter. Things can be clear or, on the contrary, interrogate: if Pope John XXIII was comparing himself to Joseph who is the symbol of the typical Jewish exceptional personality, it can be considered as superseding and “condescending”. Some would opine that the Church leader was comparing himself to the sweet and handsome son of Jacob/Israel, jealously betrayed (twice because the tunic “had enveloped him”) and sold by his brothers who could represent an image of the Tribes of Israel. It is always problematic when Christians “kindly” intend to compare their links to the Jewish Community. Silence would always be better or more adequately suitable. And, in certain circumstances, it is good for the Jews to respond with wit and wisdom, insights to such pretense.

When she went on a mission in Russia (somehow her home country), Golda Meir had asked a supposedly trustworthy friend to free from jail some of the most valuable Jewish fighters who could help create the State of Israel. She was promised they would be released. They were all murdered overnight. Clearcut. On the one hand, this shows how this kind of persistently but honestly confessed substitution was declared with much bonhomie – good nature expressed by the good old Pope who actively saved thousands of Jews during the war. He was kind, human, a real מענטש \mentsh. Undoubtedly, he would save any living soul, because he was faithful, a man of faith, indeed but he was a believer because he truly perceived the Divine Presence and felt that it is evident to do our best to save one or a lot of people, individuals, any human groups.

This statement precisely shows how the relationships between Judaism and the Christian Churches are affected, misleading at present.

Indeed, Pope John XVIII made a meaningful statement to Golda Meir, the daughter of the Jewish carpenter. Just as Joseph’s brothers could not recognize the brother whom they had sold, Golda Meir – in the name of the Jewish people portraying the State of Israel – could hardly imagine or even accept that the Pope could be her brother sold by Jewish brothers who would save her and her new-old State rescued from history and permanent substitution. The Pope’s words were abusive but, after two millennia, of heralding the Good Tidings of Jesus of Nazareth, of conquests, and at times of cruel power, the old pope could think that his declaration consisted of humbling down in his “usual places” but could hardly feel the Kyevan carpenter daughter’s astounded reaction. His tongue had slipped nicely, friendly, and mistakenly. At least, some did not see and would not understand nowadays what the slip was.

The real question, which could turn into some vitz-וויץ (joke, a kidding and kind one), is that the Pope did not confirm that he had recognized Golda Meir as being the real daughter of Benjamin and Jacob.

This continues at the present, in most cases, about who is the Verus Israel (True Israel of God) whose substance and nature cannot be changed by vestments or attitudes foreign to the world of the Mitzvot. There is a strong misleading attitude that is overshadowed by pretending that dialogue has resolved, resolves, and will resolve the issues that may still be pending. But the issues are numerous.

At least, both Judaism and the Eastern rite Churches do not pretend to accept each other. They do not sign a series of documents on a regular basis, in which the main, leading denomination (usually the Latin Catholic Church) ascertains that everything is in order. It makes no sense. It is worse when such a jurisdiction is convinced that her assertions are correct, done, finished, and accepted. Definitely not! A particular Church can be persuaded that her declaration for instance on “deicide” (the Jews alone who have killed Jesus of Nazareth which is in contradiction with the faith of the Christian Churches) closed the debate. It is fake, it is a lie. Not a willingly conceived lie, not at all! Words seem to be more real and true than authentic eradication, the removal of such a “deicide/God-killer” accusation. It makes no sense because one particular Christian denomination is not alone, singled out. Her Faith depends on the consent of all her Sister Churches from which she is separated. So how can she remove such an odious accusation,? yes, she can pretend to on her own and for her own faithful and clergy – but it only means that a long-term process of discussions starts up. It will take decades, long centuries to repair what has been broken and developed into adversity and most rarely in true dialogues and respect. Who knows when it will adequately be settled?! When have to right to fancy on such serious issues.

Similarly, Judah and Tamar came wrongly together by some dramatic mistake and trick. The concern is that blindness does not mean falsification. Blindness means that we do not accept to see what exists because reality is too much for what we can stand for and what others can accept.

The Gemarah has it about the roots machar-מכר – to sell, mecher – sale, makkar-מכר – be acquainted, friends, mecherut-מכרות – sales/neighboring friends. Thus, “the seller is presumed to sell liberally, i.e. all except what is excluded (and ought to be defined)” (Bava Bathra 64b). Or, “a man can be sold for his theft, not a woman” (Sota 1c).

On the other hand, Joseph had not usurped, captured, or, worse, bought his father’s love.

Jealousy remains a spiritual disease or discomfort that was ravaging Joseph’s brothers. Joseph and his brothers could not anticipate the far-reaching spiritual significance of their mutual attitudes and decisions. When Prophet Amos accounted the events, he envisioned something of what history had brought from the limping march of Israel and its survival that still stuns or even stupefies the Nations and the Jews alike.

Joseph’s sale to the merchants is definitely the prelude to a will of extermination. The Shoah (“Churban Yid. Chirb’n/חורבן = destruction of the Temples” is more appropriate) has been for decades after the Catastrophe, a major European concern, and a Western Church interrogation whilst the Eastern Churches and Orthodoxy keep silent on the matter for the moment. The present apostasy in Europe can be considered as a consequence of the terrible rejection of the Divine Commandments to love oneself, each other, our fellow people, those who are close to us or very far away, apparently foreign. No human being can be foreign to any living person.

The State of Israel emerged and developed as the impossible challenge allowing a rescued nation born to bless to be overflowing with unexpected pardon. Things are simple and crude: who is/are my brother/s? Disguised or rescued from flames of passion, ignorance, and hatred? We are thus the descendants of Cain who had dared say to God: “…hashomer achi anochi השומר אחי אנכי – am I my brother’s keeper?” God said: “What have you done! The voice of your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground.” (Gen. 4:9-10). The same blood continues to cry out. Then, the miracle means something else.

Cain had killed his brother; God put a sign of protection on his forehead.

The real question that we face in the most dangerous present-day wars is that we have the responsibility to reflect on what God accomplished and said: He made something, a dealing – ‘alila – עלילה (“He is terrible in his dealings with man/נוֹרָא עֲלִילָה, עַל-בְּנֵי אָדָם, Psalm 66:5”). Whatever faith, philosophical, or doubtful attitude, humans seem to miss the chance of really getting to know if God accepts goodwill or exerts a strict determination.

This is why let’s cool down and act in the most open, caring, kind way. These are not words to be uttered systematically as parrots can do. Humans, in particular the religious categories are likely to scroll down pious sentences as parrots do, but not always. God’s dealings include hurricanes, wildfires, in the US, diseases, and climatic catastrophes. The hideous imbalance in the way humankind has to live, survive, or enjoy too wealthy situations can be challenged by the Master of the Universe when it is too much and time to say “finished, fed up”.

This corresponds to the Passover Seder Dayenu verse: it would have sufficed – דינו. The root could be interpreted as “the judge (judged)”. All the disciples of Jesus, to begin with Peter, the first of them, had abandoned and betrayed him. And still, we are alive! We might stop betraying because in incredible contexts we participate in the joy of the creation.

About the Author
Alexander is a psycho-linguist specializing in bi-multi-linguistics and Yiddish. He is a Talmudist, comparative theologian, and logotherapist. He is a professor of Compared Judaism and Christian heritages, Archpriest of the Orthodox Church of Jerusalem, and International Counselor.
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