The Israelites in Egypt: Jacob Appoints a New Leader–But It’s a Political Upset

Here follows the Report of Menashe ben Joseph, regarding the Recent Conclave of Israelites Assembled in Egypt, Brought Down There Due to an Occurrence of Famine in Their Homeland, Israel:

All the unrest started, I suppose, when Grandfather Jacob chose Reuven to succeed him as Head of All Israelites in Egypt. This was a great surprise to all; my father, Joseph, had been the favorite, and we had all expected him to become Tribal Leader. Jacob had encouraged this thinking, we believed: first, by gifting him with the Coat of Many Colors, and then, with his keeping Joseph at home, rather than sending him out into the field to shepherd the flocks.

But there was no questioning the Old Man’s judgment: “Joseph is young, and too eager to make peace with the Philistines,” he told us, “I am getting older, and can see that our people need someone who will place Security at the forefront of our concerns.”

There was also the issue of the Famine in Canaan—I mean, Israel. Our people were moving down to Egypt to find and purchase grain, and the Pharaoh Obamasses, while ostensibly our friend, was not entirely trustworthy. Our own people then living in Egypt, it seemed, were divided into two camps: those who hung on his every word as a friend of Israel and Israelites, and those who believed him to be a closet anti-Israelite, waiting only to spring some sort of trap upon us.
“Just look at how he favors the Philistines,” they would say, “You know, he himself is a closet Philistine. You only need to look at his personal, secret history. Where was he born? What’s his middle name—Hosferatu? That sounds oddly Philistine. And he runs off to Crete whenever he gets a chance—isn’t that where the Philistines come from?”

There was no stifling their protests.

The pro-Pharaoh group was equally vociferous. “He’s the best friend we Israelites ever had,” they would claim, “He’s sent grain to our starving people for months, and never expected repayment. We are number one on the Egyptian Foreign Aid List. And, when the Assyrians attacked us with flaming catapults, he sent gigantic reed-water-buckets to catch and douse the fires.”

So there we were, with Reuben gathering and welcoming us into his Conference-Tent, ready to tell us what sort of Leader he would be. We were suspicious: what sort of leader speaks only of Security? We had concerns with education for the young children, housing in Egypt—the Egyptians were talking about granting us title to the Land of Goshen, but the Philistines were encroaching upon us, and their birthrate was daunting. What about a suitable living space for our elderly and our sick?
We sat nervously and waited, until Reuben mounted the podium. His new concubine, Bilhah, who was mother to a number of our tribal elders, sat off to one side, wearing his tribal colors and a large commitment ring he had given her. Her status, as concubine to both Jacob and Reuben, was confusing, to say the least.

Reuben cleared his throat.

“Father has spoken,” he said, “And I am to be Head. I will be leader, not only of the Israelites in Canaan and Egypt, but of all Israelites, the Wide World Over.

“There will be no separate dwelling-places for Israelites and Philistines; there will be one Goshen for all.”

This gave pause to the Josephites. They shifted in their seats, and muttered darkly under their breath, but Shimon and Levi stared at them until they grew silent again.

Reuben smiled and continued: “This, my Eldership, will be a New Era in Philistine-Israelite Relations. Israel and Egypt will continue their historical connection, and I extend the hand of friendship to Pharaoh Obamasses, and, in particular, to the Ramesside Party which invited me to address them in a Special Convocation held before the Great Sphinx in the Valley of the Pyramids. I regret that the Pharaoh was in Tyre at a State Boat-Launching at the time of my speech, but one cannot interfere in Matters of State.

“However, this will not impede our future peaceful and friendly relations. Our Israelite people will move into Goshen, and continue to occupy West Philistia, as we have done in the past.”

Just then, Benjamin, Joseph’s brother, leapt up, and began shouting, “Peace between Philistia and Israel! Peace for All!” But Levi’s grandsons, Pinchas and Korach, laid hands on him, and escorted him bodily from the tent.

Reuben continued his remarks: “A New Era is dawning between Israel and Philistia, and between Israel and Egypt.”

A young Israelite of my acquaintance—Amram, I believe his name is– got up, shaking his head, and left the tent.

We are all waiting to see what will happen….

About the Author
David was born and raised on NYC's Lower East Side, and attended Hebrew Day School, Yeshiva Univ. HS, and Yeshiva Univ., where he learned English, Bible, and Jewish Education degrees. He attended the CUNY Graduate Center, and received both an MA and M.Phil. in English Literature, with a concentration in 17th Century, John Milton, and the Romantic Poets. David also received semicha/rabbinical ordination from the Academy for Jewish Religion, Yonkers, NY. He has also attended the Hebrew College in Brookline, MA, where he received a Certificate in Advanced Hebrew School Administration. David serves Temple Sholom of Pompano Beach, FL; prior, he served pulpits in Warren, NJ, Fayetteville, NC, and Portsmouth, NH. He is married, with two grown children and a Shih Tzu. He recently published a book of his Torah stories, "The Torah Book: New Stories of Bible People & God."