Stand Up on a Chair

by Rabbi Yisrael Kaniel – April 2, 2015

Events in the Torah portion of Miketz mark a culmination of a period of servitude and imprisonment imposed in Egypt upon Joseph the son of our forefather Jacob as well as an initial stage prior to the eventual cruel enslavement of Jacob’s descendents at the hands of the Egyptian until the omni-benevolent G-d miraculously freed them.

Beginning this portion is an anecdote of Pharaoh’s dream and the inability of anyone to explain it to his satisfaction.  Finally, a government minister, who, while in prison, met Joseph and had his own dream interpreted in an amazing fashion by Joseph, recalls his fantastic encounter with Joseph and tells Pharaoh (Bereshit 41:10-13): “Pharaoh had become incensed at his servants and placed me in the ward of the house of the chamberlain of the butchers – me and the chamberlain of the bakers.  And we dreamt a dream on the same night, I and he, each according to the interpretation of his dream did we dream.  And there, with us, was a youth, a Hebrew, a slave of the chamberlain of the butchers; we related it to him, and he interpreted our dreams for us, each in accordance with his dream did he interpret.  And it was that just as he interpreted for us so did it happen.”

Regarding the minister’s description of Joseph as a “youth, a Hebrew, a slave,” the famous medieval commentator Rashi states, “Cursed are the wicked for their goodness is not complete since he mentions him [Joseph] in demeaning terms: A youth, a fool unworthy of greatness.  A Hebrew, who is even unfamiliar with our language.  A slave, and it is written in the protocols of Egypt that a slave may not rule nor may he wear princely garments.”  The minister, in the course of complementing Joseph for his amazing capabilities and his ability to assist Pharaoh like no other, cannot leave it at that.  He attempts to maintain his superiority and that of his countrymen over Joseph by referring to him in a demeaning manner.

In being maligned in the above manner, Joseph was subjected to a trait that has plagued humanity since its inception – raising oneself by knocking another down.

A story is told of two brothers who constantly fought.  One was about eight (8) years old but short and the other about 6 and rather tall – taller than his older brother.  The older brother would attempt to reinforce his superiority, saying that he was bigger, meaning older.  The younger, on the other hand, constantly insisted on his superiority since he was actually bigger – in size.  One day, the older brother pushed the younger one into a pit laughing that now he is taller than his younger brother too.  Having noticed this, their father chided his son.  If he wanted to raise himself up, the father argued, his son should have gotten up on a chair, rather than pushing his brother into a pit.

Sadly, the nation of Israel has been subject to various forms of animosity at the hands of other nationalities since the time of Joseph up to this very day.  Even more sad, as reported at various points in the Talmud by our Sages, internal strife and various forms of backstabbing among different members of our own nation has plagued us after the second Bet HaMikdash was built until it led to this magnificent structure’s destruction and the exile of the Jewish people from their homeland and the pursuant persecutions and tragedies that the Jewish people have endured since (see Jerusalem Talmud, Yoma 1:1).

Instead of our concentrating on raising ourselves up by investing time and energy to grow in our capabilities and talents – spiritually and otherwise – we too often direct our attention at putting others down and belittling them through all forms of mudslinging and means of distancing fellow Jews.

In the State of Israel, long awaited by so many Jews, where rule by means of democracy was accepted, elections as of late have been punctuated much less by addressing the many issues important for the proper governing of the country and much more by expressions of “us not him” or “me not them” or “anyone but him” or “stop them” etc.  Little attempt has been made by most of those in the running for leadership to describe how that individual or party would help with the different issues important to the Jewish nation, thereby raising themselves up above the rest.  Rather, most of what was heard was how bad the others were, thereby trying to stay above the others by bringing them down.  And so we see so much in Jewish society at large.

We should resolve to do what is right – as a nation and as individuals.  Stand up on a chair.  In truth, what someone should do to really grow and really be perceived above others is to better oneself.  Do not push the other into a pit.  That does not really reflect on one’s superiority.  It was a “low blow” when expressed by Pharaoh’s minister against Joseph and it continues to be unwarranted by others who have done so since – especially those who do so against their own brethren.  It is not a way to better oneself nor is it a way to better the community at large.  In doing so, we only reinforce divisiveness, hate and resentment, that only harms us.  Let us not harm ourselves any longer.  Let us all stand up on a chair and show what we really have to offer.