In this week’s sedrah Judah approaches Joseph to plead for the release of Benjamin, offering himself as a slave in Benjamin’s stead. Upon witnessing his brothers’ loyalty to one another, Joseph reveals his identity - ‘I am Joseph,’ he declares, ‘is my father still alive?’.
The brothers are overcome by shame and remorse, but Joseph comforts them. ‘It was not you who sent me here,’ he says to them, ‘but G‑d. It has all been ordained from the Above to save us, and the entire region, from famine.’
The brothers rush back to Canaan with the news. Jacob comes to Egypt with his extended family and is reunited, after 22 years, with his long-lost son.
Pharaoh gives Jacob’s family the fertile county of Goshen to settle, and the Children of Israel prosper in their Egyptian exile. Question - If Joseph were around today, would he have been on the political left or right? Verses 20 to 24 state that ‘Joseph purchased all the farmland of Egypt for Pharaoh; for the Egyptians sold every man his field, because the famine had become too much for them; and the land became Pharaoh’s property…. and Joseph said to the people, behold I have purchased you and your land; here, have seed, sow the land with it and when it comes to produce, give one fifth to Pharaoh and the remainder shall be food for you’.
So, during the years of plenty Joseph buys the agricultural surplus at rock bottom prices and when the famine arrives, he ‘sells’ it back at a profit. Farmers are forced to give up their savings (independence), their livestock (working equipment) and finally,their land (means of production), just to survive. Joseph then, to great acclaim, returns a proportion of the seed, taxing it at a rate of twenty percent. We’re told the people express their gratitude - verse 25, ‘you have kept us alive.. we will gladly become slaves to Pharaoh’.
So did Joseph follow a Marxist ideology encouraging wholesale state ownership and wealth redistribution on the basis of ‘each according to their needs’, or was he capitalist speculator who enforced mass privatisation and a centralised dictatorship?
Did he ‘save the people’ creating a fair and just society, or take advantage of ‘insider information’ to enable an already rich and powerful elite to control and enslave the masses? I can’t help but wonder what Joseph's experience teaches us about the choice of political leadership we have today? Richard Segalov