The Crucial Contrast Between Joseph and Moses

Moses acts, while Joseph sees himself as being acted upon.

From Joseph Interprets Pharaoh’s Dream, c. 1896-1902, by James Jacques Joseph Tissot. Via the Jewish Museum.

From Joseph Interprets Pharaoh’s Dream, c. 1896-1902, by James Jacques Joseph Tissot. Via the Jewish Museum.

Atar Hadari
Observation
Dec. 11 2015
About the author

Atar Hadari’s Songs from Bialik: Selected Poems of H. N. Bialik (Syracuse University Press) was a finalist for the American Literary Translators’ Association Award. His Lives of the Dead: Poems of Hanoch Levin earned a PEN Translates award and was released in 2019 by Arc Publications. He was ordained by Rabbi Daniel Landes and is completing a PhD on William Tyndale’s translation of Deuteronomy.


This week’s Torah reading (Genesis 41:1 – 44:17) starts with the word miketz, “at the end,” signifying the conclusion of Joseph’s early period of struggle and imprisonment in Egypt and the start of his rise to power under Pharaoh. Actually, the entire next phase of Israelite history is prefigured in this reading—a phase that will end in liberation and exodus. At both the beginning and the end, we find the Egyptian ruler in deep water: figuratively in the first case, literally in the second. But there is a great difference between the personality of Joseph, the Jew upon whom this week’s Pharaoh leans, and that of Moses, whom a later Pharaoh will chase to the water’s edge and beyond.

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More about: Hebrew Bible, Joseph, The Monthly Portion