Joseph – Tool of a Repressive Regime?

parshat vayigash (genesis 47)

Listen to Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse on December 9th 2021 as they ask: What if our Prince of Egypt, was not an ancient-day Paul Samuelson using science and economic theory to serve society? What if Joseph and his Pharaoh were the villains and the new Pharaoh “who knew not Joseph” was an Egyptian patriot and liberator who saved the Egyptians from foreign exploitation? How would that change the message of the Exodus?

Joseph – Tool of a Repressive Regime?

Parshat Vayigash – A live recording of Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse on December 9th 2021 as they ask: What if our Prince of Egypt, was not an ancient-day Paul Samuelson using science and economic theory to serve society?

Sefaria Source Sheet:


Geoffrey Stern  00:04

Welcome to Madlik. My name is Geoffrey Stern and that Madlik we lite to spark or shed some light on a Jewish text or tradition. We also host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday. This week along with Rabbi Adam Mintz we asked, What if Joseph and his Pharoah were the villains of the story, and the new pharaoh who knew not Joseph was an Egyptian patriot and Liberator who saved the Egyptians from foreign exploitation. Talk about a plot twist. So fasten your seat belts and get ready for a few sharp curves and detours as we ask Joseph tool of an Oppressive Regime? Okay, well welcome everybody to Madlik. We published Madlik as a podcast. So if you enjoy the conversation today, you can feel free to share it with friends and give us a good review and a few stars. Welcome. We’re gonna start today the Parsha Vayigash and it is a continuation of the end of Genesis, the beginning of Exodus. It’s really a transitional story that sets up the whole exile in Egypt. And we’re gonna pick up kind of where we left off. Last week, we talked about how the Jews as shepherds were distinct and different, had to eat differently from Egyptians. Egyptians would not hang out with them. And that’s going to factor a little bit into today’s discussion. So we begin with  Genesis 47. And it says, “Then Joseph came and reported to Pharaoh saying, my father and my brothers with their flocks and herds, and all that is theirs have come from the land of Canaan, and are now in the region of Goshen, and selecting a few of his brothers, he represented them to Pharaoh. Pharaoh said to the brothers, what is your occupation? They answered Pharaoh, we Your servants are shepherds, as were also our fathers. We have come they told Pharaoh to sojourn in this land, for there was no pasture for servants flocks, the famine, being severe in the land of Canaan. Pray then let your servant stay in the region of Goshen. Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, as regards your father, and your brothers who have come to you, the land of Egypt is open before you settle your father and your brothers in the best part of the land. Let them stay in the region of Goshen. And if you know any capable men among them, put them in charge of my livestock.” Well talk about a twist, it seems as though Pharaoh was not similar to other Egyptians, he might have had his own flocks, he might have been a shepherd as well. Never dawned on us to ask that question. Rashi, in his commentary says, over that, which is mine over my sheep, so Rashi seems to believe that Pharaoh in fact, was a shepherd, in a sense, the Ibn Ezra, another classical commentary is bothered by this. And he says, rule over my cattle, such as horses and mules, because obviously an Egyptian would not be a shepherd having sheep. And as Ibn Ezra goes on to say, a shepherd was an abomination to the, to the Egyptians. So how could Pharaoh, the head of the Egyptians have such a flock. And interestingly enough, the Ibn Ezra says, and even till today, in India, the Indians have something very similar, where they look up to cows, and they do not drink the milk because milk is from a living creature, which they won’t have. So kind of interesting that you need to know about the cultures of the world to study the Torah, but I’m going to finish with the Shadal who we came across last week. And he quotes the same commentaries. And he concludes, this king was not a Egyptian, but rather from the shepherd kings who came from Asia and conquered Egypt. It is possible that it was a king of sheep and cattle. So let’s just stop here. Are we taking this too far Rabbi, or is there something here here that maybe this Pharaoh the first Pharaoh was a pharaoh who was not quite a Egyptian?

Adam Mintz  04:52

So there were a couple of things here. So as we have come to see, Geoffrey, the Shadal is very creative in his commentary. I think that’s the first thing we need to see. The Shadal lives in the 1800s, in Padua, which is just outside of Venice, he actually is secularly. educated, he kind of has a fresh new view of the Chumash. And his view of the Chumash is actually amazing here in this story, he suggests that Pharaoh was really an outsider. Now, what does it mean to be an outsider? Whenever I learned that Shadal Geoffrey, I think about John F. Kennedy. John F. Kennedy was the first Catholic president in the United States. Now for us today, that is totally meaningless, right? I mean, what difference does it make whether you’re Catholic or Protestant, but in 1960, there actually he ran against Richard Nixon. And some of the opposition to eventually President Kennedy was the fact that he was a Catholic, he was an outsider, America was a Protestant country, it came from England, and it was a Protestant country, America should not have a Catholic president. And when you take that, and you think about it, having an outsider be the king of the Pharaoh, the President is something that’s very problematic, because the idea is that the King, the pharaoh needs to represent the people, for him to be a from a conquering country. And therefore, he’s going to govern over a group of people who don’t really affiliate with him. That really is a recipe for disaster. But the Shadal suggests that, because how could it be that he be a shepherd, given the fact that the Egyptians worshiped sheep, or at least treated sheep in a certain way that made them special and kind of off limits? So let’s play it out a little bit. How about Geoffrey, if we take the Shadal, and we say, the Joseph is sold to Egypt to Potiphar? Now Potiphar is potentially really an Egyptian. So what happens? Joseph gets in trouble with Potiphar’s wife. Now the question in that story is, why isn’t Joseph killed in the ancient world, if you’re suspected of trying to take advantage of the minister’s wife, he should have been put to death. But maybe the relationship between Poty fire, and Pharaoh was one that was not so simple. Maybe they were actually on opposite teams, maybe Potiphar was a native Egyptian, and maybe Pharaoh was from the other side, and therefore Potiphar didn’t have the ability to kill Joseph. And maybe that’s why Joseph was kind of forgotten about in prison, because he was the prisoner of Poitiphar who was not part of the ruling class. And it was only after Pharaoh has absolutely no alternative that he reaches out to Joseph, and that he embraces Joseph and he makes some visroy over Egypt. And just one last point before we begin the discussion. How about the fact that Pharaoh embraces in this week’s parsha Jacob comes with his family now? Why do they accept these foreigners? They put them in Goshen? Put him in Goshen? You know, Geoffrey is almost like forcing them to live in Connecticut, right? means, you know, they’re not allowed to live in the city, they have to live, you know, far away from the city. So they don’t pollute the city. But the truth of the matter is that Pharaoh is willing to accept, he’s willing to embrace foreigners, maybe it’s because Pharaoh himself is a foreigner.

Geoffrey Stern  08:59

Okay, so I love the fact that you’re willing to run with the Shadal a little bit. But I really do think that this Shadal has a compelling case. I started by reading a passage that had almost Joseph coaching the brothers what to say to Pharaoh, and this was one of at least five verses, where the emphasis is always we are shepherds, children of shepherds. It’s almost as though they were establishing their credentials as shepherd foreigners to this to this ruler. And of course, you know, the context of all of this is what comes next in in Exodus when it says a new king arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph, did he not know Joseph, did he not recognize Joseph? He certainly did not like Joseph and the Shadal on that verse really flushes out the the crux of the issue here. And what he says is that, in fact, we do know and as you say Shadal was educated in the best of comparative religion and anthropology archaeology of his day. And he references the Hyksos dynasty. And he said that there was no question that when this foreign ruler and whether it coincided with the time exactly of Joseph or not, we don’t really know. But when the forign ruler was replaced by Ramses, who was definitely a local, tribal, alocal King, that there was real hatred towards the the foreign interlocutors, if you will, and that would explain a lot and in terms of what Shadal says, he ends by saying, and from here, we can understand, SheParoh gazar alYisrael mah shegazar, that Pharaoh decreed upon the Jews what he decreed. So this is a pretty critical message, and it really does make you read the text very differently. You said a second ago, that when the Jews was settled in Goshen, they were being sent out to the suburbs. Here’s what Genesis 47: 11 says. So Joseph settled his father and his brothers giving them holdings in the choices part of the land of Egypt, in the region of Ramses, as Pharaoh had commanded. So this Goshen, was in a larger area code called the region of Ramses so in fact, like we read in England about the tutors and and the other royal dynasties. There’s no question that any Egyptian reading this and knowing that the Ramses dynasty was about to begin, that the current pharaoh of Joseph was literally replacing the Ramses threat by settling or resettling the Jews there. And then it begins. And I want you all to listen to this, from the perspective what the Shadal just said, this Shadal said that whith his reading of this text, this might very well be an explanation of why all of the trials, all of the tribulations of the exile in Egypt, and the necessity for the Exodus came about. And remember, we’re not reading a Midrash. We’re reading the text of the Torah itself. And it says, Because you have to understand the famine was to last seven years. And the brothers and family of Joseph came in the first two or three. So Joseph gathered in all the money that was to be found in the land of Egypt and in the land of Canaan, as payment for the rations that were being procured. And Joseph brought the money into Pharaoh’s palace. And when the money gave out in the land of Egypt, and in the land of Canaan, all the Egyptians came to Joseph and said, Give us bread lest we die before your very eyes for the money is gone. And Joseph said, bring your livestock and I will sell to you against your livestock if the money is gone. So they bought their livestock to Joseph and Joseph gave them bread in exchange for the horses for the stocks of sheep and cattle, and the asses. Thus he provided them with bread that year in exchange for their livestock. And when the year was ended, they came to him the next year and said to him, we cannot hide from my Lord that with all the money and animal stocks consigned to my Lord, nothing is left at my Lords disposal. We are persons in our farmland. Let us not perish before you eyes, both we and our land. Take us and our land in exchange for bread. And we with our land will be serfs to Pharaoh, “avadim l’Parpoah”. Provide the seed that we may live and not die, and that the land may not become a waste. So Joseph gained possession of all the farmland of Egypt for Pharaoh, every Egyptian having sold his field because the famine was too much for them. Thus the land passed over to Pharaoh, and he removed the population, town by town from one end of Egypt’s border to the other. This is quite amazing. He not only took all their money took all their livestock, he took their land, and then he went above and beyond almost what he needed to do by dispossessing them of their locale and moving them to another. And of course, the commentaries all pick up on this. But before we get to the commentaries, I have two questions that I really invite anybody in the audience, but especially you Rabbi, to address. Is this just telling the facts? Is there an ethical or moral underpinning here? Do you sense? What is the Bible sharing this with us for? What is the message, if any here? How does this strike you when I read it?

Adam Mintz  15:36

I when I want to hear Geoffrey, what you have to say first? ,

Geoffrey Stern  15:41

Well again, from the context of a foreign Pharaoh who does not have the interests of the Egyptian people at heart. This seems to be a radical displacement and almost a taking into slavery, of all the population in Egypt. And if you think of it from that perspective, it gives a whole new color to ultimately what happened to the Hebrews, after this Pharaoh and this regime died.

Adam Mintz  16:18

So that’s an interesting point. I think you’re really Geoffrey asked him two things. One, is there a moral element? And second of all, what you’re asking is whether this sets up what’s about to happen later. Right? Isn’t that a more interesting question? What’s the relationship? You said at the very beginning of today’s class? You said this parsha is a transition to the beginning of Shemot (Exodus). I think that’s very interesting, because actually, the beginning of Shemot begins by “VeYakam melech hadash asher lo ladaat et Yoseph” a new king arrives over Egypt who doesn’t know Joseph. So the impression that you’re given at the beginning of Shemot is that there is that there’s no connection between the end of Bereshit (Genesis) and the beginning of Shemot. But you’re suggesting that there very much is a connection? Isn’t that interesting?

Geoffrey Stern  17:22

Well, I think that when it talks about a new king, who knew not Joseph, it’s literally talking about a regime change. You know, I think we all believed that there was a father and son, an older Pharaoh who had a warm feeling for Joseph and when he died, his son did not but it’s clear from the text, that Ramses was a whole different dynasty. But but I’d like to point out that we are not uncovering documents that were buried around in the Egyptian library or in in hiding, we are looking at our own text, and that makes it amazing that these clues are staring us out in the open. If you look at the Rashi to 47: 21 In Genesis, he asks, Why does it go out of its way to say that Joseph causes them to pass from one city to another, that they may be reminded that they had no claim to the land, he settled the people of one city in another city, and Rashi goes on to say, there was no need for scripture state this except for the purpose of telling you something to Joseph’s credit, that he intended thereby to remove of repproach from his brothers, because since the Egyptians were themselves strangers in the various cities that they dwelt, they could not call them Joseph breathren, strangers. So while she does two things here, number one, and this I agree with wholeheartedly, he says the Torah doesn’t say anything for no reason. Whether you believe it’s a divine document, or whether you believe it’s one of the most incredibly written and edited documents that assures that people like us can come once a week and study it and find new insight, but nothing is there for no reason; that I agree with. He says that the reason why it goes into detail of Joseph dispossessing the Egyptians from their home, was to make them feel like strangers in their own land, so that they would not be biased and bigoted against the Hebrews, who were strangers… that I’m not so sure about. But I do believe that Rashi is correct. And this is the real question that I ask why did the Torah leave us so many of these facts? Why did it repeat that the Jews the brothers were coached to tell Pharaoh that they were shepherds? Why does it talk about this concept of the sheep and tie the sheep to a pharaoh who clearly was a shepherd as well. And most importantly, why does it go through these truly, at least from a western point of view a modern point of view that we are bothered by what was happened to the Egyptians, but certainly taking their money, taking their animals and their chattel, and then taking and dispossessing them and making them slaves, even to the Biblical mind. Remember, this is a Bible that preaches that no one should be sold into slavery for perpetuity. It understood that when you are very poor, sometimes you have to become an indentured servant. It is a Bible that believes that land should never be taken away in perpetuity. And here we have Yes, it is before revelation. But we have a Joseph who is working with his boss, man, Pharaoh, and they are literally dispossessing the Egyptians from the land forever. And as far as we can tell, making them slaves forever. I’ll finish by saying that our good buddy Shadal, says, Actually, he moved them from city to city, he quotes the Rashbam. And it says similar to what the Assyrian king Sanhereb did to the peoples that he conquered. Now, those of you who know history, you do not want to be compared to Sanhereb. So Shadal is definitely saying and the Rashbam in this particular case, which is another classical commentary, is truly saying that what Joseph did was on par with what one of the greatest conquerors and dictators did when he conquered other people. It’s certainly not flattering.

Adam Mintz  21:55

Good. I think that’s interesting. And let me rephrase just one piece of your question. Geoffrey, let me ask you a question. Does Joseph’s actions reflect strength on Joseph’s part, or weakness on Joseph part? When you start acting like a tyrant? Does that mean that you’re powerful? Or does that mean ultimately that you’re weak, and you’re trying to compensate for being weak, because you know, in next week’s Parsha, Jacob dies, and Joseph has to ask special permission to be allowed to leave to go bury his father in the land of Israel, you kind of begin in next week’s parsha to get the impression that Joseph might not quite be as powerful as we had thought him to be. And I wonder whether that weakness is beginning to be reflected. You know, Joseph had done his job, you know, there were seven years of plenty, then seven years of famine. Actually, Joseph job was really was to divide the land and to collect all of the produce, during the seven years of plenty. during the seven years of famine, Joseph’s not so important, because all they need to do is just distribute the food, they don’t need Joseph to distribute the food, anybody could distribute the food. So I wonder whether Joseph loses a little bit, ffor lack of a better term, his cache. Now, at the end of this whole story, that’s how, kind of what I would add to your question, because you’re right, Shadal is painting a very unflattering picture of Joseph. And I’m wondering whether Joseph is actually working out of a sense of desperation at this point.

Geoffrey Stern  23:51

So I love your question and your insight, and I’d like to even increase it a little more. My impression of the pharaoh of the Exodus is that he never really became the target of animosity in the same way as whether Titus or Haman or whatever, you know, his heart was hardened. I think that if you look at the Joseph character, and you look at the Pharaoh, and I’m talking now about the pharaoh of the Exodus, that new Ramses Pharaoh. Both of them are conflicted and troubled individuals who come out of a past and I think that’s what you were referring to with Joseph, there is no question that he’s coming out of a position of weakness. He shows up, he’s put in jail, he’s got nothing, and he does what he needs to do to save himself and then ultimately, save His people. So I don’t think that even if you were to Shadal down on our podcast or on our clubhouse, he would not have mixed feelings about Joseph. I think ultimately where Joseph ended up was that he was forced by becoming who he became into this corner, where he became the tool of a very repressive regime. And on the other hand, this Patriot named Ramsess who took over Egypt, and therefore unslaved, all the Egyptians potentially could be forgiven for enslaving the Hebrews, the family of Joseph, who had been part of this regime. So I think that that kind of enters into it. And from a historical perspective …. I’d like to bring this into more of historical perspective, the the Jews, were forced to be tax collectors throughout history. And if you look at Joseph, he ultimately is a tax collector. And a lot of people will argue that one of the sources of anti semitism was, in fact, the fact that Jews because of their weakness, because of their lack of status, because they couldn’t be landowners were very easy targets to become tools of the local prince or the king, and made into tax collectors. And of course, tax collectors are collecting the tax like Joseph did for the ruling class, and are hated by those who they hate. So it’s, it’s, you know, even the most radical, higher biblical critic will never say that the Bible was written in the middle ages. It is an ancient document at the end of the day. And what’s so fascinating to me, that this kind of a weakness, this character flaw, caused by circumstance comes up so early in the Bible, and haunts the Jewish people. And I do think there’s a lesson there.

Adam Mintz  27:13

And the lesson is?

Geoffrey Stern  27:15

I think the lesson is, and this I am, I think I’m going out on a little limb here, because the Bible doesn’t give us the answer. But it does say that, therefore the Jews were enslaved. And so you know, where all of the Midrashim are asking, what did the Jews do? What did the Hebrews do to be enslaved? Nowhere in the Bible itself, do you find anything? Unless possibly you look at something like this, and you say, maybe we don’t have to look for some deep theological answer. Maybe it was a practical outcome of what they did. But if you take it that way, and therefore the lesson of the Exodus becomes that no matter how difficult your existence is, and what you’re forced to do, at a certain point, you have to understand that I am a human being and I share that humanity with others, and I need to be redeemed. And that to me, would be a fascinating takeaway of the Exodus, where we’re not simply a people who was victimized, but we were people that was victimized, became the victimizer learnt our lesson. And that lesson became so profound and maybe complex, that it resonated throughout the world, which I do think that the story of the Exodus has done.

Adam Mintz  28:37

I think that’s I love that. I think that that’s really, really good. And I think that maybe that’s why Vayigash, is the transitional Parsha that it is, right. I mean, maybe that’s the issue here is how this sets up. Everything we’re gonna read about at the beginning of the book have Shemot.

Geoffrey Stern  29:02

Absolutely. And I do want to bring it into the moment. When I started realizing what my takeaway was from this Pasha. I contacted a rabbi in Israel, his name is Avidan Freedman. He lives in Efrat. And he has started a charity, an organization called Yanshuf. And the purpose of the charity is to say that I understand how the State of Israel in its early ages in order to defend itself and not be dependent on the world had to develop an arms industry. But what he is saying is that today, Israel has to look at where it sells its arms. And those of you who have been following the story of the cyber warfare that Israel now is capable of doing, it’s getting into the wrong hands. And he’s done some polling in Israel. And the polling is very positive of people saying No, we are a startup nation. We are no longer a third world economy, we can make that transition. And I asked him to come on, and he really had wanted to. But unfortunately, he had something in his calendar that he couldn’t. But he is a rabbi. And he’s a teacher of Torah. And when I pointed out the verses that I was going to discuss, he agreed that they were totally relevant. And it’s a nuanced question. And it’s a nuanced challenge to us in this modern era. And I said, maybe what I would do is follow up with a conversation with him after he gets to listen to our discussion. Adam, do you know him?

Adam Mintz  30:39

I sure do know him. He’s a very impressive Rabbi. My impression is that he’s just, he’s just getting going. But that his, you know, but but he’s doing really, really important work in Israel.

Geoffrey Stern  30:53

And what is special about his message is that it is nuanced. He’s not saying that Israel had never any way to get into the arms industry. He’s not a bleeding heart. “beat your swords into plowshares” type of guy. He understands it as much as we understand why Joseph got to where he got. But he is also saying that within the prism of history, there becomes a time where you have to take responsibility. And that’s what’s so fascinating about this story of Joseph, there are no real villains here. And there are no real heroes. That’s the amazing part about our Torah, it doesn’t pull any punches. It includes verses such as this that can trigger this kind of conversation. I just love it.

Adam Mintz  31:46

I love it. I love it. And I think the idea that Joseph, you know, that Joseph does certain things that will lead the Shadal kind of bringing it back to the beginning to compare him to Sanhereb is worth everything. Because I think we we often because the story kind of has a happy ending, we often don’t focus on the challenges that Joseph faced, but I think the shutdown, you know, deals with it head on, and says that you know what, you have to realize that maybe not everything Joseph did was right, but maybe he didn’t have all that much of a choice. And that’s hard. It’s hard to be the viceroy over Egypt when you’re when you’re when you’re a nice Jewish boy from from the neighborhood. And I think that he’s really being very, very sensitive to that. So I thank you that you spoke to Rav Avidan, I think that’s great. And I think this was a super interesting topic. Again, interesting for this week’s parsah, but taking us to next week and then to the beginning of Shemot. I want to wish everybody a Shabbat shalom. And I hope that you’ll join us next week when we finish up the book of Genesis. That’s exciting. Geoffrey, we’re going to finish up the book of Genesis, all of these stories kind of come together with the blessings that Jacob gives to his sons and the death of both Jacob and Joseph. And we’ll read about that next week. So Shabbat Shalom to everybody. Shabbat shalom, Geoffrey, and thank you as always for joining us on our clubhouse.

Geoffrey Stern  33:09

Thank you so much Rabbi safe travels back to the states and next week we will be Thursday evening. At eight or nine o’clock Eastern. We’ll determine what time that is. So that’s it. Shabbat Shalom to everybody, and we’ll see you next week.

Geoffrey Stern  33:25

And now as I made reference in the podcast, I was able to catch up with Rabbi Avidan Freedman from Yansoof, after he listened to the podcast to get his insights and suggestions, sit back and enjoy. So Avidan, thanks for listening to the podcast. One of the things that came to my mind is, how do you teach your message through Torah texts? And you could consider that a klutz Kasha; a foolish question. Because it’s pretty obvious. We’re all created in the image of God, how can we do something that hurts other people in such a profound way as the weapons trade can. I guess it’s “Lifnei Ever Al Titeyn Michshol” don’t put a stumbling block in front of somebody you give somebody a gun and you know they’re going to use it. I get all that. But one thing that occurred to me is there is a growing disconnect between the galut community, specifically the US Jewish community and Israel, where Israel is so focused on making sure that the land of Israel is a refuge for the Jews that it provides security for the remnant of the Jewish people. That many times the messages of the liberal type of progressive la dee da messages of Beating swords into plowshares gets pushed aside is naive and vice versa with so many of our youth, and I’m specifically referring to youth that are trained in Hebrew day schools, and that take their Judaism very seriously cannot wrap their arms around being in an arms industry at all. Is part of what you’re doing bridging that gap? Do you have any resistance in Israel to your message based on that type of an argument?

Avidan Freedman  35:28

It’s a really well, well formulated question. And there are a lot of different aspects to it, there are a lot of angles, that that needs to be addressed. I think it there’s a funny irony, a kind of an inversion, because what you’re saying is that the opposition that I face, regarding this issue comes from that place of realpolitik comes from a place of okay, we need to do what we need to do in order to survive, Israel needs to be reckoned with, we have to prevent another holocaust, etc, etc, all those kinds of statements. So do I do I encounter that in Israel? Yes, I certainly I certainly encounter that in Israel. But when when thinking about the religious message of it and and the religious perspective, for me, it goes much, much deeper, then then just the question of “lifnei Ever” (stumbling block) which it’s true, it actually halachikly when this is spoken about this issue, it’s spoken about, somewhat in terms of those terms. But, but for me, it’s a much deeper question of how much is the Jewish state going to be defined by power politics by realpolitik? And see what you called “ladi da” see moral issues as a luxury? That we’ll get to sometime later, and one of the most dominant central messages in, in Torah, today was aseret b’Tevet (a fast day for the destruction of the Temple) So it was really sat exactly there. One of the most central messages in the Torah, actually, about what it means to be to be sovereign in Israel, is the idea that ultimately, what defines and what determines our ability to stay here in this land? And what determines our our safety? Isn’t our pacts with this country or that country, And it isn’t our physical and political strength, It is, to what extent are we living up to our moral vision and aspirations? And that’s as far as the Torah perspective, that’s really the raison d’etre of the Jewish state, as I understand it, and and it’s the necessary condition. So today I viewed a movie with my students about Jeremiah and the destruction of the First Temple. And the movie did a very nice job of really demonstrating how the political echelons were very concerned, are we going to be allied with Egypt? Are we going to be allied with Babylonia? And where are we going to do that? And Jeremiah says, You’ve got it all wrong. And in the end, on the one hand, it’s true, and many point out that the prophets educationally didn’t manage to convince people. That is true. But but on the other hand, the Kings didn’t win. The Kings didn’t win the day. And ultimately, as far as realpolitik, they always failed. The attempts to be allied with this power and this power and the other power, they never actually work. And the religious message is that the reason they didn’t work wasn’t because it was just bad politics. The reason they didn’t work is because they were much deeper societal issues of corruption and abuse of power. That were at play that spiritually and ultimately realistically tore Israel apart and led to its destruction. So So for me, it’s ironic because, to me, the galuty mindset (ghetto mentality), the exilic mindset is the mindset of, we have to worry about our survival. And we are so weak, and we always have to be concerned that the game are trying to kill us. And everything we have to do is in order to ensure our survival and the opportunity of Jewish sovereignty. The challenge of Jewish sovereignty is a challenge of responsibility. And it’s a challenge of coming to say that morality is not a luxury, but it’s it’s part of what we need to be, and that we’re powerful when we are moral. And we’re successful when we’re moral. And that, to me, is the worst importing of an exilic mindset in Israel. And the arms sale is is one example of of how it leads to moral failure, I really feel like it’s the most egregious example of how it leads to a moral failure. And there are many, many, many other examples of when we feel like we are besieged, and we need to do everything we need to do in order to survive a country can can come to try to justify all manner of terrible things in the name of survival. So, to me, it comes back to the vision of Abraham, like you said, it’s the vision of the of the Jewish people is to be a blessing to the nations. It’s what we want to do on an individual level, it’s “VeAhavta L’reacha Kemocha” what’s hated to you don’t do unto others. But on an on a national level we’re supposed to be a Venivrachu bcha kol mishpachot ha’adama”i (that all the nations of the world will be blessed from you) from the beginning, that was the vision. And so so for me, as far as the torah, it goes all the way through from lech l’cha and before with Zelem Elohim but nationally from Lech L’cha all the way through to the last chapter of Kings.

Geoffrey Stern  41:42

So one of the things that I mentioned in the podcast that I found particularly appealing about your message was that you didn’t have the naivete, or you couldn’t be accused of the naivete of saying that there was never a time that we couldn’t justify being in the arms industry, because we needed to be independent, and you can’t design a tank or a gun, unless there’s a market for it, because domestic demand isn’t enough. And it’s kind of like, there all these concepts of Chayecha Kodem that your life comes first. There’s certainly a value to protecting one’s own. But the nuance came from the ark of time. And that something that might be not right, but at least acceptable or permissible, or de facto, okay, at one time in a person’s life or in a nation’s life might not stay okay. And I think that nuance is totally lacking from conversations on the right and the left these days. And how do you find that? I think I found it a little bit in Yossef, where certainly, with Yosef, we really are privy to the development of a biblical character in ways that I don’t think we necessarily are with others, we really see him from being a braggart of a youth, guilty of everything that you one should be guilty of it as an adolescent, and then he grows. And I think if we were critical, or some of the commentators were critical of him in last week’s Parsha, it was that he didn’t continue to grow and that what was okay, at one stage of his life maybe stayed the same. But how do you convey that message when you’re talking about the subject that is the focus of your interest?


So first of all, Geoffrey, I want to say you overstated my position a little bit in terms of over time. I would formulate it a little bit differently. I would say, I sitting from my place in 2021. I don’t want to go back and judge Israel for what it did in the 60s and 70s. I’m not willing to say that I can morally justify I’m not willing to say that I really think it was necessarily the right thing to let’s say to, to arm the South African apartheid regime and and the various Juntas in South America. I do appreciate and agree that the stakes were different. Israel was in a much, much more vulnerable position. And therefore I can understand it much more. I still don’t know if it’s really morally defensible. Because the idea of “Chayecha Kodem (You’r elife comes first) can never come at the expense of an innocent bystanders late. And that’s that’s a different paradigm, that’s the paradigm of Yehoreg V’al Ya’avor” the paradigm of you actually have to be killed rather than kill, somebody comes and puts a gun to your head, and says, kill this person, or I’ll kill you. The simple logic of that, the the Talmud says, Who says Your blood is any redder? So you can’t say, Well, you know, my life comes first. And this person essentially by their existence is now threatening, you have to you have to give your life, so I don’t know, I don’t know, morally, but But I do think that there we’re in a much much more privileged position nowadays. And to continue saying and continue thinking and conceptualizing our position. Now in 2021, as if we’re still in, in the 60s and 70s is very dangerous thing. In other words, we put ourselves into the eternal victim or the eternal potential victim mindset. As I was saying before, I think that’s it’s dangerous. And it’s also not true. Nowadays, it’s just not true. We think God, where we’re powerful. As far as exports, we have wonderful things to export to the world that bring tremendous amount of blessings to the world. And the idea that we need to base ourselves on these kinds of experts that know that attack cyber and guns and drones, and those types of things. And that’s the start-up nation, as opposed to the startup nation being drip irrigation and solar energy and all of these things is, again, is we’re missing the point. So I think I think that the time should demonstrate to us that, that we’re much more able to and if we don’t feel like we’re able to if we’re still telling ourselves, we’re so vulnerable. Now we have a we have a problem with their self concept.

Geoffrey Stern  47:05

I love it, light unto the nation is an export strategy that that needs to always be our best export. So I am totally grateful that we could have this follow-up conversation. And Avidan as the parshiot move forward in the year ahead if there is a parsha that you stumble across, or think of in terms of any of the issues that you’re passionate about, send me a message and we’ll focus a session of Madlik on that I would love nothing more. But thanks for participating. And let’s, let’s keep keep your message out there. I think that we need to export more light. And I won’t even say and less arms, maybe no arms that should be the objective, but certainly arms to people that are responsible and have the same moral integrity that we would like to have of ourselves. So thank you for that.

Avidan Freedman  48:05

Thank you. Thank you for the opportunity.

Sefaria Source Sheet:

Listen to last week’s episode: Food Fights and Gastro Diplomacy

Food Fights and Gastro Diplomacy

Parshat Miketz- Shabbat Hanukkah – Food Fights-Gastro Diplomacy. Ancient Egyptians wouldn’t break bread with Hebrews and were known to have rigorous dietary restrictions….. How does this play out in the Exodus narrative and what does it mean for us?

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