Israel Drazin

What We Do Not Know About Joseph

Jacob’s beloved son Joseph committed some inexplicable acts, raising many questions, such as whether we consider him a good man.

  • Many Jews call Joseph Yosef Hatzadik, meaning “Joseph the righteous one.” Is this accurate? A minority of “pious” people apply terms like “holy” and “righteous” to people and items when the majority feel otherwise. We do not find monikers for Moses the righteous, King David, or Rashi, but we find it with the mystical book Zohar called “The Holy Zohar” and the mystic Ari as “The Holy Ari.” It reminds us of Shakespeare’s statement in Hamlet, “The Lady doth protest too much methinks.” He is saying that the overemphasis shows what is said is untrue.
  • Why did Jacob love Joseph so much and with such enthusiasm that he made his other sons jealous? Among much else, he gave Joseph a coat that he wore and caused envy whenever his brothers saw it. Was it because he loved Joseph’s mother more than Leah and his two concubines? Didn’t Joseph provoke even more jealousy by telling his father and brothers that he dreamed he would reign over his brothers? Was he thoughtless?
  • Did not all of Joseph’s dreams and interpretation of dreams not transpire precisely as he predicted? While true, this should be no problem since Sigmund Freud stressed that “every” dream is meaningful, no matter how nonsensical it or some of it seems or how little of it we remember; in fact, Freud stresses that most dreams contain wrong elements. He taught that even if in dreams things go wrong, are impossible, contain matters we know are incorrect, or do not make sense, dreams should not be taken at face value as if thoughts were a fulfillment of wishes.
  • What was Joseph’s wish? If it was to be the ruler over his family, where did he get this idea? Was it from the way his father treated him? Is Jacob to blame for Joseph’s behavior? Was he thinking of ruling over the world? Did this affect his interpretation of Pharaoh’s dreams? Did he think that giving an explanation that Pharaoh liked would prompt Pharaoh into telling him to take care of it?
  • Does the Bible not hint that Joseph decided to give in and have sex with his master’s wife but stopped at the last moment? He visited the wife of his overseer when he knew that she was alone at home. Rabbis in midrashim accept this view and suggest that he abandoned the sex only when he had a vision of his father.
  • When Joseph ran from his overseer’s wife, he hurriedly left his coat. Does this coat remind us of the one his father gave him? Does it hint that he abandoned his dad’s teachings until the last moment?
  • Is it ironic that Josephin Hebrew means “more” and “add to” since it is arguable that this was Joseph’s goal?
  • Why did Joseph not notify his father for some twenty years that he was still alive? This is especially troubling since there were seven years of plenty in Egypt when Joseph served as second to Pharaoh, and it would have been easy for him to contact his family. Is there a relationship between the twenty years Jacob was absent from his parents when he was with Laban and Joseph’s stay in Egypt? Rabbis in midrashim thought so. Shouldn’t we explain the rabbinical view as a parable told to teach a lesson rather than as a fact? God certainly did not control Joseph and stop him from telling his father that he was alive because God wanted to punish Jacob for staying away from his parents for twenty years. This notion would depict God as being cruel.
  • Does the prediction of seven years of plenty and seven years of famine relate to the ubiquitous usage of the number seven well over a hundred times in scripture, including the Shabbat?
  • Why did Joseph persuade his father and family to come to Egypt and abandon the land God had promised Abraham’s descendants? It was not because Jacob’s family worried that the famine in Canaan would continue indefinitely. Should we consider Jacob and his family’s decision to settle in Egypt until they died a failure to acknowledge God’s view that Jews should live in Israel?
  • Why did Joseph live only 110 years, ten years less than Moses did? And why, although he was a younger son, did his death come before the deaths of his brothers? Was it a punishment?
  • Why was he the only son of Jacob who did not want burial in Egypt and requested his brothers to arrange his burial in Canaan? Why did the brothers and their families not care about burial in Israel? What does this tell us about many Jews today preferring to be buried in Israel?
  • Why bury Joseph in Shechem and not the Cave of Machpelah? What does this tell us about the Cave of Machpelah and burial generally?
About the Author
Dr. Israel Drazin served for 31 years in the US military and attained the rank of brigadier general. He is an attorney and a rabbi, with master’s degrees in both psychology and Hebrew literature and a PhD in Judaic studies. As a lawyer, he developed the legal strategy that saved the military chaplaincy when its constitutionality was attacked in court, and he received the Legion of Merit for his service. Dr. Drazin is the author of more than 50 books on the Bible, philosophy, and other subjects.
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