The Dreamer; the Fixer

These are the generations of Jacob: when Joseph was seventeen years old, being a shepherd, he was with his brothers with the flocks, and he was a lad, [and was] with the sons of Bilhah and with the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives; and Joseph brought evil tales about them to their father.

The story of Joseph defies easy understanding. It has divided the greatest of commentators in their search of meaning. There are numerous questions: Why would a teenager loved so much by his righteous father provoke his older brothers until they wanted to literally kill him? Why would Joseph inundate Jacob with lies about the sins of the brothers? Why would he provoke them with visions of grandeur?

There are clues that open the window of understanding into Joseph. First, it is his name Yosef, which means to add as well as gather. That name was given by his mother Rachel who had hoped that her first-born would lead to additional children. The race was on to complete the 12 tribes of Jacob and Joseph’s arrival did not spark any celebration.

Another clue is Joseph’s position as the favorite son. The text attributes Jacob’s love of Joseph to being a “son of his old age…” But the 1st Century Aramaic translator Onkelos uncharacteristically provides a different meaning. Onkelos wrote that Jacob loved Joseph because the boy was “intelligent.”

The Talmud in tractate Tamid 32a defines a chacham, or an intelligent person. “Who is an intelligent person? One who sees the future.”

An intelligent man does not need prophecy. He simply needs a clear and objective vision. Joseph saw that his family’s stay in the Land of Canaan would soon come to an end. Jacob and his children would be forced to leave for a hostile country where they would be subjugated for 400 years. This was no secret: G-d had told this to Abraham in their covenant more than a century earlier.

Joseph’s brothers violently disagreed. They dismissed Joseph’s admonitions and insisted that they hang on in Canaan. If G-d wants the family to leave, He will simply do what He did with Abraham and Issac — bring a famine that will force them to seek greener pastures. Meanwhile, the family would maintain the status quo despite all the signals to the contrary.

The debate continued with Joseph’s dreams. The dreams further angered his brothers, who saw Joseph as lording over them. Actually, the message of the dreams was that Joseph would take care of his family in exile. He would be in a position to provide food and allow them to maintain their faith despite their new and pagan surroundings.

The one who urges change has never been popular. Many were alarmed by Hitler’s rise to power in the 1930s but few thought that he would focus his evil designs on Poland, with 3.5 million Jews. Zionist leaders swung between black moods and delirious optimism. On March 7, 1938, Revisionist leader Zev Jabotinsky, who sought to evacuate Polish Jews, wrote:

“We anticipate great changes in the world, and particularly in the Jewish world. I do not know what these changes will be, but I feel they will be constructive, positive and uniting.” [1]

In the dog days of August 1939, tensions rose throughout Europe. But many insisted that Poland, with 500,000 soldiers, could stop a German onslaught. Indeed, a war would unite the Jews with the gentiles.

“Hundreds of Orthodox Jews with beards and earlocks are working shoulder-to-shoulder with Polish citizens [in digging trenches],” the Mizrahi daily, Hatsofe, reported. [2]

When Germany invaded Poland in September, some of the Jews fled to the east. Most stayed in Poland and trusted in the Polish army or, at worst, prayed for a benign Nazi occupation. Within days, the Jews were packed into ghettos.

Some of the Jewish refugees remained in the Soviet Union and eventually imprisoned in Siberia. Others kept moving and reached Japan and China.

In March 1944, the Germans invaded Hungary and began the roundup of Jews. Most convinced themselves that they would not be killed. Hitler was busy fighting a war. Others ran for the forest.

In every case, those who fled maintained a better than even chance of survival. Those who stayed and relied on the sweet promises of the Germans were sent to Auschwitz. In the fall of 1944, the Germans tried to bring the Jews of Czechoslovakia out of hiding. Authorities said anybody who arrived in a town in Bohemia would be given a job. Thousands of Jews responded and were soon arrested and deported to Poland.

Years later, some of those stranded in Europe admitted their tragic mistake. The prominent were too busy to run; their professional and social lives gave them little time to think. “I deluded myself [that] we still have time,” Revisionist leader Yohanan Bader recalled.

Joseph’s warning nearly got him killed by his brothers. He was thrown into a pit of snakes and scorpions. He was sold to the Arabs and became a slave in Egypt. He endured prison and the threat of execution.

In the end, Joseph had nothing but his G-d-given intelligence. That allowed him to rise above his surroundings and eventually become viceroy of Egypt. Throughout it all, he thought of his family and their future: It was time for Jacob to bring his wives, children and grandchildren to Egypt as part of G-d’s plan to convert a tribe into a Jewish nation. Joseph would take care of everything — travel, food, water, jobs.

Joseph’s dreams would come true. A nation would be born.


1.. The Road to September 1939: Polish Jews, Zionists and the Yishuv on the Eve of World War II. Jehuda Reinharz and Yaacov Shavit. Page 364. Brandeis University Press. 2018

2. ibid. Preface. Page xv

About the Author
Steve Rodan has been a journalist for some 40 years and worked for major media outlets in Israel, Europe and the United States. For 18 years, he directed Middle East Newsline, an online daily news service that focused on defense, security and energy. Along with Elly Sinclair, he has just released his first book: In Jewish Blood: The Zionist Alliance With Germany, 1933-1963 and available on Amazon.