During the 22-year disappearance of Joseph, Jacob fell into what I can only describe as a depression. The Rabbis tell us that as a result, he lost his ability to receive prophecy. Prophecy, in Judaism, is a connection to the spiritual world such that one has access to concealed truths. The rabbis tell us that in contrast to Jacob, Isaac, his father, did not lose his prophecy and hence knew that Joseph was alive and well in Egypt. Jacob’s depression blinded him to reality – as depression often does. Were he not depressed, he would have seen that there was actually nothing to be depressed about because Joseph was not actually dead! But that’s true with each and every depression. It is the state of mind shaping the perception of reality rather than the reality shaping the state of mind.
The Rabbis tell us, as a general rule, that one cannot access prophecy when depressed. Because connection to God is only available in a state of joy. Misery drags us down such that we lose our connection to the spiritual world and then all seems lost. In a certain way, misery is a self fulfilling prophecy. Life looks no good to us; so we feel hopeless and lost; so we don’t invest in life; and life without investment produces no fruits.
Joy is also self fulfilling. We feel uplifted and elated. So we are eager to invest and engage in life. And a life invested and engaged in produces the goodness that satisfies us.
When we are feeling down, it’s easy to blame life and circumstance. But that’s never the case. It’s simply that upset thinking about life is causing us to withdraw and as we withdraw, life starts to unravel. But the great thing about this is that it’s never a problem to ravel it up again. As soon as we stop feeling sorry for ourselves and start to engage again, life gets back on its feet. It’s a beautiful world in that way – we get out of it whatever we invest into it. There is always fruit to our labour, as long as we are patient. If we withdraw, life indeed, has nothing to offer. If we engage, life offers us bounty beyond measure.
Parsha in a Nutshell
This portion is packed with emotion and intrigue. We left off last week with Joseph’s pronouncement that he was keeping Benjamin as a slave. Judah steps forward to challenge the decision and offers himself instead. The two most powerful brothers each stand their ground. With neither willing to give an inch, the tension is palpable. Finally, Joseph, overcome with emotion, can hold out no longer. He clears the room and reveals his identity to his brothers. They are, understandably, quite shocked. Joseph sends a message to his father who leaves immediately to be reunited with is favourite son.
Jacob meets Pharaoh and settles with his family in the Goshen district of Egypt, the first Jewish ghetto – in suburbia of course! As the famine continues, Joseph buys up all of the property in Egypt for Pharaoh in return for grain.