Story of Joseph receives positive response

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, February 11, 2004

The response to last week's column on the victim who refused to be held hostage to hate has been quite amazing.

The column was a retelling of the biblical story of Joseph, sold into slavery in Egypt as a teenager by his spiteful brothers, but elevated by Pharaoh to oversee a grain-distribution program during a lengthy famine that threatened the entire region. The highpoint of the story saw Joseph extending food and forgiveness to the very brothers who 22 years earlier had wished him dead.

Coffee companion Debbie Faulkner wrote that Joseph not only avoided the temptation to wallow in his victimhood but saw his mistreatment as a means to a greater good.

"He didn't see himself as the centre of the play anymore," she said. "Something much bigger was happening for others. Because his abandonment and multiple betrayals worked good for many, the mistreatment was transfigured and embraced by Joseph. Wow!"

Sandy Corenblum shares Debbie's enthusiasm. Longtime coffee companion and personal mentor in Jewish issues, Sandy wrote:

JOSEPH IS MY favourite Torah personality. Whenever I feel that it is not within me to forgive or forget, I look to the story of Joseph in the Old Testament.

He not only lost his family but he had to dig very deep to retain his Jewish (Hebrew) roots. When he was taken away from his land, his people and his God, he never left them far behind. He never forgot his language, his people, or above all, his God.

Joseph always reminds me that one can never abandon his/her origins and that holding on to the gift of our heritage keeps us connected to what is ever so important in life.

He serves as a lesson for mankind in the most profound way. We tend to let ourselves be consumed with feelings of hatred and revenge for people who have harmed us or who have gone against what we believe in. Joseph could have been consumed with hatred for his brothers and his God, but he loved them passionately and never lost touch with them in his heart and mind.

Joseph was given a great gift from God, the gift of prophecy and dream weaving. In the context of strict Jewish law in today's world, we are not allowed to predict the future or interpret dreams, but I think that Joseph understood that this was the gift that God gave him for some specific purpose. To think that Joseph's gift led us into our slavery in Egypt is a whole other issue, and God tells us that we must forgive the Egyptians and understand their sorrow as well as our own. At the Pesach seder (the Passover dinner) we dip our finger into the wine to remind us that we must take away from our own joy to recall others' sorrows.

When I read the story of Joseph I often cry, because in him I see all the things I wish I could be. He is a man who walked so closely with God and had the strength to rebuild and forgive.

Your column delighted me as always, and you always seem to touch on those things I hold so dear to my heart.

You made Joseph so alive. He was someone we could all understand. You gave the text, the background, and most importantly, the psychology of the situation. You used modern-day terminology to bring to the forefront issues that Torah scholars have had to grapple with for thousands of years. You made Joseph 'Technicolor,' and you made him our father, our brother, our neighbour – a real person. I think if you portray other Bible stories in just the same way that you did "Mr. Joseph," we will all continue to learn a lot, as we always do from you, "Rabbi" Warren.

—Sandy Corenblum, Calgary

"RABBI?" ACTUALLY, I think we're all in this life to learn from each other, and that's what this column is about. But thanks for the compliment, Sandy. With you at our table, we always learn a lot.

© 2004 Warren Harbeck

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