Arrogance or Love? – the Biblical Story of Joseph

Two years ago, my life-partner, co-author, and often co-teacher Rabbi Phyllis Berman and I wrote and Jewish Lights published  a reinterpretation of the biblical stories of Exodus and Wilderness: Freedom Journeys. (If you’d like to have this kind of biblical reinterpretation available to stir your own journeys toward freedom in the world – and/or you’d like to give its gift of freedom for Hanukkah or Christmas —  you can receive Freedom Journeys, with a personal insciption, by clicking to

Our book beckons toward freedom. Yet it begins with a story of enslavement, not liberation.  It begins with the story of Joseph, which we enter this week in reading the Torah.

The story of Joseph is a novel that takes up one-third of the Book of Genesis. There is a recurrent pattern in Joseph’s life: He depends on a powerful overlord in his life to lift him above others who feel they ought to be treated as his equals, and who are enraged by his arrogance.

  • The pattern begins when with his father’s help in favoring him. He rises above his brothers

Joseph and his Brothers

Rabbi Arthur Waskow 12/18/2003

Each year as the days darken into winter, the cycle of Torah readings returns to the story of Joseph and his brothers. It is almost as if the rhythm of the seasons were joining in the rhythm of the readings, to teach us that we are entering the dark side of the tradition.

And the story darkens us, each time we read it.

For the story of Joseph is one of ambition, envy, material power and slavery. Even darker: it is a story not only of slavery to human beings, but slavery to fate. It is a story of determinism, not the free will and vigorous choice that marked the lives of his forebears. Indeed, Joseph himself explains his suffering by saying it was all foreshaped by God, inevitable; and he explains the doubling of Pharaoh's dream/s by saying they were proof that the future was cast-iron.

The Missing Daughters of Jacob

Rabbi Phyllis Berman and her smikha sisters, 12/27/2004



Breishit : In the beginning of the process of creating four women rabbis and a rabbinic pastor there were five women living in three continents ranging in age from 41 to 61.

One, a Sabra whose Orthodox Zionist parents, arriving in Israel from Hungary and Poland, met in a kibbutz and settled in Jerusalem, comes from a family with a documented rabbinic lineage of 32 generations through her Saba, and a similar one through her Savta;

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