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Moses as the Opposite of Joseph, Part 1

December 29, 2013

See this post by Slifkin. I would add:

* Genesis closes with Joseph foretelling the redemption; Exodus opens with Moses heralding the redemption.

* Joseph, identified as a Hebrew, is known throughout as Joseph, the name given to him by his Hebrew mother, and despite the fact that the Egyptians gave him a new name; Moses, identified as an Egyptian, is known throughout as Moses, the name given him by his adopted Egyptian mother, despite the fact that his Hebrew parents gave him a different name.

* Joseph went from being a “youth, Hebrew, slave” to being viceroy of Egypt; Moses went from being Pharaoh’s adopted son to the leader of the Hebrew slaves.

* Joseph never had chance to become an experienced shepherd like his fathers and brothers; Moses left the Egyptian upperclass and became a shepherd, just like the patriarchs.

* When Moses first received prophecy, his older brother was happy for him; when Joseph first started on the path to prophecy, his older brothers were enraged at him.

* Moses was reluctant to spread the message he first received, but Joseph was all too eager to tell others of his portentous dreams.

* Joseph enriched Egypt and acquired millions of slaves for Pharaoh; Moses crushed Egypt, taking away all of its wealth and slaves.

* Joseph was eventually forgotten by the Egyptians; Moses was ultimately held in high esteem by the Egyptians.

* Joseph urged his entire family to settle in Egypt; Moses sought to deliver the Israelites from Egypt.

* Joseph told his people to make haste to settle in Egypt, and even sent wagons to ferry them; Moses took the Israelites out of Egypt by foot, and purposely took the long way to Canaan.

* Joseph took his father’s remains for burial in Canaan accompanied by Egyptian chariots; Moses took Joseph’s bones for burial in Canaan and was pursued by the Egyptian chariots.

* Joseph foresaw a famine and prepared by saving food; Moses had the people live day to day in the desert.

* Joseph gathered “as much grain as there was sand at the sea,” and stored “the food of the surrounding fields in the cities,” and then moved the entire population of Egypt into the cities; Moses went out to see his brethren compelled to build similar cities for the Egyptians. (Compare Exodus 1:11 and 2:11.)

* Joseph married the daughter of “Kohen On,” had two sons before the onset of the famine that made him famous, and invoked how he had been helped by God to forget his homeland when he named his firstborn; Moses married the daughter of “Kohen Midian,” had two sons before he returned to Egypt and became famous, and invoked how he felt that he was a stranger in his new land when he named his firstborn.

* Joseph, the Hebrew, wanted to return home, and barring that, insisted that he be buried in Canaan; Moses, who wanted to enter the land only to observe the commandments, did not settle for or even ask to be buried in Canaan.

* Joseph’s experience would symbolize the long and dark exile of the Jewish people, with trial followed by tribulation, but all along, his faith in God sustained him, and at each step of the way, we are told that God was with him, such that ultimately Joseph could declare that “God meant it for good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.” Joseph’s ordeal was the paradigm of what our sages termed “a time of hester panim, divine concealment,” when God does not perform open miracles, nor does He communicate His will to a prophet, but Moses’s experience was replete with the the greatest display of direct and obvious divine intervention and awesome revelation in all of history. Moses was told from the outset that his mission would be accompanied by many miracles, and God spoke to him at every stage of the process. During the Exodus, the Israelites could see “the Lord’s Hand” and rightfully declare “this is my God!” The story of Moses would become the paradigm for the Redemption, when God makes His presence known to all by saving His people. 

The running theme of the rest of the Books of Moses is the lawgiver himself trying to teach the Israelites how not to be Egyptians. I believe that the only way the entire Torah is to be understood is as a repudiation of Egyptian culture by someone who spent his life trying to get away from his Egyptian roots. This fits with many of Maimonides’s claims in the first part of the Guide to the Perplexed.

As an FFB, it is hard for me to grasp the enthusiasm that a baal teshuva has for Judaism. Moses was the same way. As the first espouser of God’ s Torah, he had to be himself an overly enthusiastic adherent.

(Part 2 here)


From → original, parasha

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