Politics & Parsha: Miketz 5771/Shabbat Chanukah

Posted on December 2, 2010 In Archives

Each week IPA Deputy Director of Public Policy Howie Beigelman takes a look at the weekly parsha and discusses it in a way you may never have seen. Any hashkafic, halachic or political opinions are personal and do not reflect the official psak or policy of the OU.

Unemployment Insurance

“This job isn’t just carrying mail.” – USPS postal carrier Paul Bryant, who noticed an elderly man, one of his 365 daily stops, wasn’t picking up his mail. After an unanswered phone call and a second day with no pick up, he had his supervisor call 911. Firefighters found the man in a coma, supposedly two hours from death.

Joseph, matured by tragedy, is no longer the cheeky, tell all teenager. The provocateur taunting his brothers that one day they will bow to him is gone. In his place, a humbled prisoner admits the Lord (with a capital L) interprets dreams. Following this dramatic about face is one of the Bible’s most climatic scenes. Falsely accused and denied even a show trial, this imprisoned, friendless slave, miles from home, cut off from family, is now, in the space of a few moments, viceroy of Egypt.

How did he – we – get here?

Let’s focus on the scenes immediately prior. Imagine them. The entire Egyptian brain trust, the King’s Cabinet, his War Council, the Royal Sorcery Corps, the Palace Guard and the castle staff are together in Pharaoh’s throne room, desperately trying to make sense of his two maddening dreams. No one satisfactorily answers what it all means for King & for country.

Amid this uncertainty the butler – yes, the butler – speaks up. Not exactly Alfred Pennyworth offering advice to Bruce Wayne, this butler was a recently rehabilitated felon speaking candidly before anyone – likely everyone – who mattered in Egyptian diplomatic, political and governmental circles. Can’t you see the smirks, stifled laughs and arched eyebrows? Or hear the whispers, likely derisive or annoyed, but some with newfound respect for the aide’s sheer, brazen chutzpah?

The royal sommelier reminds Pharaoh of his very recent, very personal misdeeds. He does not gloss over his incarceration or even the Baker’s execution. Nor does he try a lawyerly obfuscation: “My lord, there are rumors of a Hebrew slave who interprets dreams.” Directly on point, he reminds Pharaoh “You were angry with me. I was imprisoned. The Baker and I had indecipherable dreams, but a young Hebrew slave explained them and exactly as he said, so it came to pass.”

There are two lessons here.

A servant – whether truly a servant, or an employee, contractor, hired hand, conscripted soldier, well paid consultant, or willing volunteer – must, first and always, keep his task and mission in mind. They serve a particular leader, working to a specific outcome. Loyalty is to the cause, not themselves and irrespective of any embarrassment or even physical danger to come their way they keep their eyes on the prize. The Butler cared less about what the world thought of him, or even Pharaoh’s temper. His job was serving the King. Sometimes that meant pouring wine. Sometimes it meant unvarnished advice.

Moreover, we are all conditioned that different people have unique skills and competencies. When sick, we don’t visit our stockbroker. Nor do we ask doctors tax planning tips. We forget the right idea can come from anywhere, the right connection could be anyone. Without Chaim Weizmann, the British landlords of Palestine might never have looked “with favour” on a Jewish homeland in the Land of Israel. Without Eddie Jacobson, a Kansas City haberdasher, the American president, Harry Truman – Jacobson’s former business partner – would never have recognized the fledgling Jewish State.

We would all do well to remember in politics, our professional life and back at home, the best idea could come from the least expected place and the least important person may be the most critical.

Words to consider, ideas to ponder – politics & the parsha.