(Written on the 2nd anniversary of my blog)

“I am your brother Yosef…” [1]

At what point in his life did Yosef become so spiritual?

When he was young, he had visions of the stars bowing down to him. Isn’t that spiritual?
When his brothers threw him in a pit, he was “rescued” by “Yishmaelim” – Ishmaelites; “children of Ishmael; today, we call them “Arabs” – only to be carried away by them and sold as a slave in Egypt.  Yosef couldn’t have missed the Divine irony that he was taken from a pit into which his brothers had thrown him, by his “cousins” — a people who wouldn’t even exist, if not for G-d’s providential planning in allowing Avraham to have a child with Hagar, before Sarah ever conceived Yitzhak.  Did Yosef think, at that moment, “Ah, now I know there’s a G-d?”

Or: after being sold as a slave in Egypt, and rising to a position of honor in his master’s house, did Yosef then say, “Ah, I was taken from a nomadic life to one of less freedom, but greater material comfort” and, in this, “find” his spirituality?

When he was falsely accused of attempted rape by his master’s wife, lost all his honor and comfort, along with every friend he had in the world, and was imprisoned, did he then say, “Ah, such unjust suffering can only come from G-d, for a spiritual purpose?”

When he interpreted dreams to others in the prison, did he say, “OK, I was put in prison by G-d, to minister to these around me?”  Did he then feel that his fate was to accept life-long imprisonment? Did he have the thought that maybe the “bowing stars” of which he’d dreamed, meant not his brothers, but the prisoners in the fetid prison with him?

Was it only when he was released, to interpret Pharoah’s dreams, and, as a result of doing so, given an even higher position in Egypt than he could possibly have imagined, that he then said, “Ah, now I know that there’s a G-d?”

Perhaps it was when his brothers appeared, and he recognized them, but they didn’t recognize him, that he said, “This can only be from G-d?”  But if so, why did he not reveal himself to them, until they had proved to him their devotion to their father, and their remorse for the shame of attempting to kill him?

Any of these might have been Yosef’s “moment of awakening.”  But if any one of them had been, he would have been no different than us, and hardly worthy of the special attention he receives in Torah.
Many people have “awakenings.”

For some, they’re brief – a passing sense in a prayerful or peaceful moment that G-d’s presence is something real.  It might not seem like something “major” at the time. No visions, no voices from Heaven, no miracles. Just a quiet sense of certainty.  Just for a moment.  But life after such a moment is never quite the same again.  The memory of the certainty of that moment is indelible, even when our minds are afterwards assailed by doubt, worry, anger and so on.  You never really, fully forget it.

Spirituality has a greater promise, though.  Yosef represents the ideal of that promise.

The promise is of a life in which we continually, perpetually see every moment – through all of our wonderful ups and terrible downs – as being “from G-d” and “by G-d.” It’s being able to look on the events of our lives and say, as G-d did at the various stages of Creation, “Ki Tov” – “It’s good.”

It’s way beyond a “point of view;” it’s a different level of consciousness.

It’s the perspective of Adam and Havah in Eden, before they ate the forbidden fruit.

It’s how Yosef saw his life at every moment –- even in the moment when his own words antagonized his brothers to a homicidal extent.  He never said what he was doing was “right;” but when he saw his brothers years later, neither did he apologize for antagonizing them.  He knew at that moment, and in every moment, that G-d was the One in control, doing whatever is done for a benevolent purpose we do not often comprehend.

[1] Bereishith/Gen. 45:4
The Italian form of “Joseph” is “Giuseppi.”
There’s a famous story about Pope John XXIII, whose birth-name was Angelo Giuseppi Roncalli:
“Pope John [XXIII] welcomed a visiting delegation of Jewish rabbis by quoting [that day’s] Lectionary reading from Genesis 44-50, introducing himself to his visitors with the words “I am Joseph, your brother.”
I’ve heard this story before. Reading it today, I wonder if the Pope intentionally scheduled the meeting with the rabbis to coincide with the “Joseph” quotation, or if he spontaneously saw a providential connection between his name, the meeting and the Scriptural narrative being read that day in the Catholic sequence of readings (Lectionary)? Either way, I find it a very moving anecdote, echoing closely the rapprochement in the Scriptural narrative itself.