By Simon Jacobson
And Joseph could control himself no longer
(Torah portion this week - 45:1)
Joseph said to his brothers: Dont worry or feel guilty
because you sold me. Look, G-d sent me ahead of you to save
lives. There has been a famine in the area
me ahead of you to insure that you survive in the land and
to sustain you through great deliverance. It is not you who
sent me here, but G-d. He has made me Pharaohs vizier,
director of his entire government and ruler of all Egypt
Joseph gathered all the money in Egypt and
Canaan in payment for the food the people were buying. Joseph
brought all the money to Pharaohs treasury (47:14)
I am the Omnipotent G-d of your father. Do not be afraid
to go to Egypt, for it is there that I will make you into
a great nation. I will descend into Egypt with you, and I
will also bring you back and ascend with you (46:3-4)
Israel settled in Egypt, in the Goshen district.
They acquired property there and were fertile, with their
population increasing very rapidly (47:27)
I will take the stick of Joseph
and put it together with
the stick of Judah to form one stick, so that they are one
in my hand
I will make them one nation in the land
king will be the king over them all, and they no longer will
be two nations
And David My servant will be their prince
forever (Haftorah this week - Ezekiel 37:19-22,25)
Finally some good news. In this weeks
Torah portion Joseph and his brothers reconcile.
Macrocosm/microcosm: Just as Jacob reconciles
with his brother Esau after building his family in Charan,
Joseph reconciles with his brothers after building his family
in Egypt and establishing himself there. He spearheads the
huge business of Egypt, selling grain to the famished nations
in return for their money. The great wealth Joseph generates
turns Egypt in a superpower, the most powerful empire of its
But with one major distinction: Jacob and Esaus
reconciliation was incomplete and they needed to separate
ways (See: The
Big Confrontation). Joseph and his brothers, on the other
hand, make peace and stay together for the rest of their lives.
Only later, would their rift manifest itself again, in the
split between the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah.
Jacob, Joseph and his brothers are now together.
They are planting the seeds that would empower the Jews as
they begin their exile in Egypt and redemption.
In spiritual terms: Jacob concludes the work
of Abraham and Isaac in constructing the building blocks
of existence the structure of Atzilus, the world of
unity. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are the sefirot of chesed
(love), gevurah (discipline) and tiferet (beauty and compassion)
the three primary pillars that define the vision of
life; the vision of transforming existence into a home
for G-dliness, of integrating matter and spirit as it was
in the Garden before the Tree of Knowledge. The twelve tribes
with Joseph at their head actually carry this
vision into the material world of Mitzrayim (which refers
to all the constraints and boundaries of material existence),
the spiritual worlds of biya, acronym for briyah, yetzirah,
However, the real work of refining Egypt begins
in the next generation, with the Egyptian bondage. The children
of Jacob and the tribes would spend 210 years under very harsh
conditions to refine and elevate the 202 Divine sparks embedded
in the first great empire. And this work would in turn imbue
in the people and ultimately in the entire human race the
personality of true freedom and transcendence, the ability
to face any material challenge or adversary. It instilled
in future generations the power to face all the challenges
posed by the empires to come, all of which are rooted in the
The strength and ability to achieve all this
work begins with Joseph and his brothers permeated
with the strength of their forefathers -- paving the way during
the first years following their arrival in Egypt. As G-d tells
Jacob: I am the Omnipotent G-d of your father. Do not
be afraid to go to Egypt, for it is there that I will make
you into a great nation. I will descend into Egypt with you,
and I will also bring you back and ascend with you.
There are therefore many lessons in these weekly
Torah sections that give us both guidance and strength in
dealing with different aspects of our particular crisis today,
as the children of Abraham Ishmael, Esau and Jacob
are pitted against each other.
Let us touch upon one of the lessons we can
glean from Joseph as he began the process of uniting his family
- both scions of Judah and Joseph - which empowers us with
the ability to unite Esau and Jacob, matter and spirit.
One of the most compelling forces haunting us
today is: Uncertainty. Todays prevailing fear and uncertainty
is having a particularly devastating effect on our economy.
The security of this countrys basic business structure,
even with its inevitable ups and downs, is now under question.
We would like to believe that we are undergoing just another
economic downturn albeit a very different type, but
still one that has precedent. But this premise is built on
our old paradigm. And that is a big but: perhaps we are entering
a new paradigm in which old rules dont apply. Perhaps
this will not just be another repeat of old market patterns.
Is anyone willing to bet that this will just pass with no
These and many other plaguing uncertainties
cloud the business climate. And like bad weather, everyone
is taking cover. People everywhere are withdrawing. As we
enter this years holiday season, there is conspicuous
lack of enthusiasm, actually lack of anything optimistic coming
from any given sector of this country.
Allow me to submit the following theory: A study
of Joseph in Egypt will give us a powerful forecast for the
future of business in America and the world. I will allow
myself to make a bold prediction: Understanding Joseph will
help us create certainty in these uncertain times.
In his scathing critique of capitalism, Marx
brilliantly describes how the Capitalist system devalues the
worker, reducing him to no more than a commodity, thus leading
to mans inevitable alienation and estrangement from
his essential self. Labor is external to the worker,
i.e. does not belong to his essential being; that he, therefore,
does not confirm himself in his work, but denies himself,
feels miserable and not happy, does not develop free mental
and physical energy, but mortifies his flesh and ruins his
mind. Hence, the worker feels himself only when he is not
working; when he is working, he does not feel himself. He
is at home when he is not working, and not at home when he
is working. His labor is, therefore, not voluntary but forced,
it is forced labor. It is, therefore, not the satisfaction
of a need but a mere means to satisfy needs outside itself
(Paris Manuscripts, 1844).
Marx asked all the right questions; he just
didnt have the answers, as we retrospectively know today
after the failure of the Socialist and Communist experiments.
He highlighted the flaws of capitalism without ever really
providing a viable alternative.
Reading this weeks Torah portion I was
thinking how Joseph, the first Capitalist, would
respond to Marx. Joseph was faced with this very dilemma.
His fathers chose to be shepherds, thus avoiding confrontation
with a corrupt marketplace, allowing them to discover their
true essence while meditating among nature as the docile sheep
grazed in the fields. Joseph, however, was thrust into Egypt,
first becoming an accountant (yes, there you have the first
Jewish accountant) in the house of Potiphar, and then becoming
the viceroy of Egypt, running the entire grain business of
When Josephs brothers and then Jacob reunited
with Joseph the first thing they recognized was that despite
the formidable challenges he faced for 22 years, he had not
in any way compromised his profound spiritual connection.
The first words Joseph utters to his brothers, as he is no
longer able to control his emotions: I am Joseph! Is
my father still alive? I am Joseph your brother! Joseph
sends a sign to his father that he is intact by telling him
the topic in Torah (the laws of the eglah arufah) they
were discussing 22 years ago when they were separated!
How did Joseph maintain his spiritual integrity
his connection with his essence even while hard
at work, in a corrupt Egypt at that?
Over all that transpired during these years
Joseph never lost his connection to G-d. As harsh as it was
to accept that his brothers sold him into slavery, Joseph
never became bitter and was never broken. He always knew that
his arrival in Egypt and the work he did there was G-ds
plan. As he tells his brothers: G-d sent me ahead of you
to insure that you survive in the land and to sustain you
through great deliverance. It is not you who sent me here,
but G-d. He has made me Pharaohs vizier, director of
his entire government and ruler of all Egypt.
As immersed as Joseph was in the massive grain
business of Egypt, he did not experience alienation or estrangement,
because his work was not something external outside of himself;
he saw it for its true nature: Divine work, as part of his
Divine essence and mission in this world: to save lives, to
insure the survival of his family and ultimately the entire
Jewish nation. Arriving first in Egypt allowed Joseph to prepare
the ground so his family could survive the great famine; it
allowed the Jewish nation to be born fulfilling G-d
promise and vision to Abraham.
Throughout all his work as head of state and
ruler of Egypt, Joseph never let go of the vision; he always
held on to the promise; he was eternally connected to the
Divine process, always recognizing the deeper spiritual meaning
of his work as director of the grain industry the biggest
business of its time.
Joseph had to first be leader before Judah could
become leader, because Joseph had the unique power to integrate
spirit and matter in an imperfect world where materialism
dominates. Joseph begins preparing the ground for a more perfect
world when Judahs faith and bittul could dominate (see
Selling of Joseph).
The message and lesson to us today is clear:
America today is suffering from some of the
flaws of Capitalism that Marx describes. September 11 just
amplified these weaknesses. Joseph can teach us how to get
back on course.
The unprecedented prosperity of this nation
has spoiled us. We have built the greatest empire in history,
with the highest standard of living, and the most powerful
technology. Witness the American firepower in Afghanistan,
a new type of war if it can even be called war, fulfilling
its goals with virtually no casualties.
Everything seemed to be going so well. The unheard
of economic boom, the information revolution, the unbelievable
advances in medicine and science, promised to deliver a new
world order. Consumption mass consumption, enabled
by mass industry became the dominating driving force
in our consumer driven economy.
But this great corporation lost its soul somewhere
along the way. American business forgot its true mission statement.
The mission statement of this country was defined
by the Founding Fathers 225 years ago when they established
this great nation. They engraved it on the currency of this
nation: In God We Trust.
By studying different systems and their failures,
by personally experiencing the consequences of being denied
basic human freedoms, by building this countrys pillars
not on their own subjective whims but on eternal values rooted
in the Bible the Founding Fathers understood that the
grand American experiment is only possible with a firm foundation
that absolutely guarantees individual rights.
And they fought the Revolutionary War to defend
this mission stated in the Declaration of Independence: We
hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created
equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain
inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and
the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments
are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from
the consent of the governed.
A nation built on the principle that All
men are created equal as One nation under God
created the best business climate to allow this nation to
flourish. With its promise of freedom and equal opportunity,
the United States has welcomed people from all over the world
and encouraged them to contribute to the growth of this country.
And flourish it did. The investment of the
Founding Fathers paid off. The synergy of people from all
backgrounds coming together as equals under God created the
highest developed country of all time.
For 225 years our mission statement the
principles of the revolution has never been challenged.
Indeed, our sustained prosperity has given rise to a profound
complacency. Now, 225 years later, on September 11, this nation
has been issued the greatest challenge it has ever faced.
The attacks put into stark relief the fact that we have taken
for granted many of the freedoms and blessings that were contained
in the vision of our founding fathers. Our newfound vulnerability
and deep feelings of uncertainty expose more than ever the
emptiness of financial security. It makes us realize how alienated
we become when we our jobs and careers become an end in themselves,
divorced from their deeper mission statement: an expression
of our souls.
We are locked in a struggle to renew our contract
with the soul of our nation. In many ways we now are faced
with the formidable task of finishing what our founding fathers
One cannot be sure whether the Founding Fathers
saw in Joseph the model businessperson and CEO paragon, but
their extensive knowledge of the Bible definitely could not
ignore Josephs critical contribution to balancing business
and spirituality, Capitalism and compassion, matter and spirit.
Joseph offers us a new business model, a new
paradigm one that integrates our work with our essence.
By recognizing that our careers and businesses are means and
vehicles to fulfill G-ds plan in our lives, we can reclaim
the core beliefs that are the secret of the nations
But with all that Joseph accomplished, he was
also fully aware of the sad reality to come. When he meets
his younger brother Benjamin, he weeps over the destruction
of the Holy Temple. Additionally, his descendants would split
away from the Kingdom of Judah. Both these fracturing events
would have profound implications in the split between matter
and spirit and between work and the human essence.
Today we are faced with the challenge to finally
and permanently mend the fracture. By reconnecting our material
lives, our businesses with their true spiritual mission statement.
Let us learn from Joseph how this can be achieved.
The United States now stands at perhaps the
most defining moment of its history. We need to fight a war
that goes far beyond the military one. This is not a war against.
It is a war for: For the fundamental beliefs that this nation
was built upon. Our greatest enemy is not Bin Laden, or any
terrorist; it is complacency.
We must balance our economy of consumption with
higher values. Let us learn from Joseph how to reclaim our
mission statement: What are we? Who are we? What is this company
New paradigms are always difficult. Thats
why they are new.
 Jacob planted cedar trees in Egypt which would be
later used for the Temple (Midrash Tanchuma Terumah 9. Rashi