July 15, 2024
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Vayeishev 5776: Walking and Talking

Jacob is the patriarch most associated with darkness and night. Past is prologue. Ma’aseh Avot siman l’banim.

Throughout Jewish history, across continents and throughout millennia, Jacob’s descendants would flee or fight. Perhaps none are more emblematic of this than Joseph.

In a scene not very different from the one that would inspire Herzl to found modern Zionism and cause Zola to write J’Accuse, Joseph is falsely charged with a crime.

If the Torah’s telling ended there, that’s all it would be: history on repeat. But how Joseph, now fallen from grace, is imprisoned bears our notice.

Joseph’s master, Potiphar, the one who would have been most wronged by him, escorts him to jail. There, he is placed in the warden’s personal charge. In prison parlance, Joseph found himself a rabbi. And it was his accuser who made sure he did.

Sometimes, it’s not what happens as much as how it happens. The subtle hints.

That’s all too true in politics and in statecraft. Words said publicly have meaning. But deeds, actions and even body language telegraph far more.

Potiphar may have let his wife’s accusation stand. But he chose himself to stand (and walk) with Joseph. That wasn’t missed by courtiers or staffers.

And it began Joseph’s redemption, setting him up to meet—and counsel—Pharaoh’s chief butler and baker.

In the words of Andrew Carnegie, “As I grow older, I pay less attention to what men say. I just watch what they do.”

Words to consider. Ideas to ponder. Politics and the parsha.

Howie Beigelman, formerly of Springfield, NJ, is executive director of Ohio Jewish Communities. He works at the intersection of Jewish communal service, strategic communications and nonprofit advocacy. Follow him on Twitter @howielb.

By Howie Beigelman

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