Jewish History Blog

Joseph & “Non-Jewish Jews”

Jewish brilliance which is harnessed and within the parameters of Jewish morality leads to good and unity. Jewish brilliance outside such parameters historically becomes destructive and full of self-hatred. In our long history, there is unfortunately no shortage of such examples. Karl Marx, and, to a lesser extent, Sigmund Freud, among others come to mind. These are people some historians like to call “Non-Jewish Jews.”

Sigmund Freund

Joseph is a continuous source of friction among the brothers, as well as the tribes long after his death. He was the one who most resembled his father, and whom Jacob loved the most. That is why the other brothers could not live with him peacefully.

Joseph was a man of enormous talents. He is the personification of Jewish brilliance – but Jewish brilliance which is harnessed and within the parameters of Jewish morality. Therefore, he is able to escape Potipher’s wife and the heavy influence of Egyptian culture. Judaism is a religion of restraint; nothing is allowed to go ungoverned. Even piety has to be governed.

Jewish brilliance outside such parameters historically becomes destructive and full of self-hatred. In our long history, there is unfortunately no shortage of such examples. Karl Marx, and, to a lesser extent, Sigmund Freud, among others come to mind. These are people some historians like to call “Non-Jewish Jews.” Unharnessed Jewish brilliance can easily turn negative and nihilistic.

Karl Marx

The greatness of Joseph is that it demonstrates what genius can do harnessed. He saved the world in his day. He gave food to everyone. He built Egypt into the greatest empire of its time, an empire that will last almost 200 years after his death.

Joseph is given the role of competitor to the throne of Israel. His descendants challenge the kingship of David and initiate civil war between the Jewish people. In a positive sense, Joseph is the balancing force, the opposite wheel, to Judah. However, his presence also brought about friction, terrible friction.

They are two great people who do not see eye to eye. This goes so far, Jewish Tradition tells us, that there will be two Messianic figures: one descended from Joseph and another from Judah (through the line of David). The final and ultimate one will be through Judah/David. Nevertheless, there is a Messiah descended from biblical Joseph as well.

Their struggle remains in the Jewish people today. Within us are competing, diverse elements that are almost irreconcilable. At our best, the genius of Joseph gets absorbed into the resilience of Judah. Either way, their friction was also implanted in the Jewish people for its ultimate good.

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Posted in:
Bible/ Tanach
by
Rabbi Berel Wein
  • Comments Off on Joseph & “Non-Jewish Jews”
  • November 22, 2010

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