12.20.01   Vayigash: Joseph & Marx - Work & Alienation


How to Ensure that Your Work does not Alienate You
The Continuing Story of Today's Events

And Joseph could control himself no longer (Torah portion this week - 45:1)

Joseph said to his brothers: Don’t 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… 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 Pharaoh’s vizier, director of his entire government and ruler of all Egypt (45:5-8)

Joseph gathered all the money in Egypt and Canaan in payment for the food the people were buying. Joseph brought all the money to Pharaoh’s 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…One 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 week’s 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 time.

But with one major distinction: Jacob and Esau’s 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.[1]

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 biy”a, acronym for briyah, yetzirah, asiyah.

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 Egyptian archetype.

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. Today’s prevailing fear and uncertainty is having a particularly devastating effect on our economy. The security of this country’s 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 don’t 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 real change?

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 year’s 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 didn’t 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 week’s 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 the land.

When Joseph’s 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-d’s 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 Pharaoh’s vizier, director of his entire government and ruler of all Egypt.

As immersed as Joseph was in the massive Egyptian grain industry, 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 Judah’s faith and bittul could dominate (see essay The 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 country’s 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 unalienable 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 began.

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 Joseph’s 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-d’s plan in our lives, we can reclaim the core beliefs that are the secret of the nation’s endurance.

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 called America?

New paradigms are always difficult. That’s why they are new.

Copyright The Meaningful Life Center, 2001. May be reproduced in print media with permission of the author. May be forwarded as e-mail as written, without editing.


You can now order the tape of Rabbi Jacobson’s elaborate class on this topic.

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This life skills article is one of many services that we are providing in response to September 11th. We want you to know that all of us here at The Meaningful Life Center are working overtime to provide clarity and direction in these trying times. As people everywhere are undergoing a new soul search, we are redoubling our dedication to our mission to help us all appreciate the deeper meaning of our lives and build security with all the uncertainty brewing around us.

If you or anyone you know has any specific needs or questions, please call on us. We are committed to doing everything we can to serve you.

Our ability to bring you more such vital services is entirely dependent on your financial support. We have established a special September 11 fund specifically dedicated to address the unique needs of our times. We urge you to make a donation to this fund and help us reach as many people as possible with insight and direction. Some of the programs we have provided so far include:

  • Special classes and workshops, both in New York and around the country
  • A special series of weekly articles addressing the situation
  • Syndicated articles in the national and local press.
  •  TV and radio commentaries.
  • Special life skill tools to deal with fear and uncertainty, to build security in your life.
  • Personal comforting sessions.
  • Healing workshops
  •  Special September 11 section on our website, www.meaningfullife.com.

    We need to join together as never before to nourish the grass roots awakening that has consumed this nation and its gravitation to faith and G-d, and transform it into a permanent spiritual transformation. Our calling today is to demonstrate leadership and light up the way in which to forge ahead amidst this tragedy, and these new, challenging times.

    Our sages teach us that by intensifying our charitable acts we open up new channels of blessings. In this spirit, may your commitment be a source of blessings in all aspects of your life.

    We look forward to working together with you in this divine cause. Through our joint effort we can grow through this process and build a better world – a world where there is no evil and destruction because it is filled “with Divine knowledge as the waters cover the sea.”

    Phillip, Jason, Neria, Shoshana, Chani, Sarah, Yael, Eli
    and of all us at The Meaningful Life Center

    “Helping You Redefine What Truly Matters”

    Our hearts, condolences and prayers go out to all the families directly affected by this calamity, and to all New Yorkers, Americans and the entire human race against whom this atrocity was perpetrated.


Join us in creating a passionate spiritual revolution for the good. As passions of violence have been released against humanity, our most powerful response is to counter with a passionate revolution of purpose.

This is our mission at the Meaningful Life Center.


[1] Jacob planted cedar trees in Egypt which would be later used for the Temple (Midrash Tanchuma Terumah 9. Rashi Exodus 25:5)

Rosh Hashana: Today the World Trembles
Yom Kippur Message Today - The Birth of Hope
Sukkot: The Power of Joy Amidst Uncertainty
Simchat Torah: Absolute Passion in the Face of Complacency
Bereishis: Renewal not just Survival
Noah: Flooding the World with Divine Knowledge
Lech Lecha: Abraham's Vision - Roots of Today's Conflict
Vayera: How to Treat Infidels
Chaya Sarah: Ishmael - How Does it End ?
Toldot: The Plot Thickens - Jacob & Esau: Two Nations
Vayeitze: Jacob's Ladder - The Rise & Fall of Nations
Vayishlach: The Big Confrontation - Jacob & Esau Meet
Vayeishev: The Selling of Joseph
Mikeitz: Joseph's Treasure - The Refinement Process Begins
Vayigash: Joseph & Marx - Work & Alienation
Vayechi: End of Book One - Jacob Never Dies



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