Plant-Based Torah – Parashat Miketz: The Quiet Heroics of Pharaoh

December 26th, 2019

ALEX WEISZ

In this week’s parsha, Joseph’s talent of dream interpretation launches him from imprisoned slave to second-in-command to Pharaoh himself. This meteoric rise stems from Joseph’s correct prediction that Egypt will experience 7 years of bountiful harvests followed by 7 years of famine. Joseph advises Pharaoh to store the surplus crop to prepare for the coming famine. Incredibly, Pharaoh, among the most powerful individuals on the planet, does exactly what is recommended by the lowly prisoner! Though it may seem like this is a moderate, pragmatic approach suggested by Joseph, in truth it is quite radical to suggest a long-term approach in the face of Egypt’s short-term wealth. Pharaoh does right by his people, and it is sadly due to his successor in the book of Exodus that this Pharaoh is not appropriately celebrated as one of the most commendable characters in all of the Torah.

Why should he be applauded simply for doing the right thing? Simple – just look around! We live in a cushy period of disproportionate material abundance. Nevertheless, despite the unanimous dire warnings of the scientific community, we choose to do little or nothing in the face of the coming environmental calamity. With no hesitation, Pharaoh effectively hands Joseph his kingdom! Why? For the safety and security of his subjects. It is quite likely that there were individual Egyptians who were unhappy by this approach, who may have doubted Joseph’s prediction, and that would certainly be understandable – interpretation of royal dreams lack the precision of robust scientific evidence. We should be inspired by Pharaoh’s utter lack of hesitation to ensure a secure future for his people!

The great question at hand is why so many folks today do not share Pharaoh’s foresite? Why do we lack the concern for the wellbeing of our children and grandchildren? For that matter, what about our own wellbeing? The wellbeing of our families, loved ones, neighbors, fellow congregants? Why do so many of us choose to shut our eyes to the view of a world on the brink of disaster, instead of changing our behavior to limit the damage?

I do not accept the notion that people don’t care or refuse to accept the overwhelming evidence. In truth, I think people are scared – and rightfully so! However, pretending that a looming threat doesn’t exist does not make it go away; rather, it strengthens the calamity to come. Just as Pharaoh was so disturbed by his dream that he sought expert opinions, so should we! And just as Pharaoh was humble enough to accept the information, rather than cower behind plausible deniability, we too must consider the overwhelming, unanimous feedback from our experts in the scientific community. And finally, just as Pharaoh took the immediate, comprehensive steps suggested to him by his advisor, we too must take the immediate, comprehensive solutions that have been advised by our current experts. Not in a few months, not in a few years, not in a few decades – immediate action must be taken. Though we could lament the lost time to have implemented solutions decades ago, had it not been for massive disinformation campaigns by the fossil fuel lobby – that is not productive to the problems at hand, though I take comfort that there will be justice served to those individuals in this world and the next. For the time being, we must act with the swiftness of Pharaoh!

Certainly, a democracy cannot move as quickly as an absolute monarchy – which means that given the sense of urgency at hand, we must mobilize as quickly as we can to do as much as we can control ourselves and collectively. Just as Joseph’s advice saved his and his family from succumbing to the effects of environmental disaster, we stand in the very same dilemma. Will we act to save ourselves, our loved ones, and the future of our world – or will we bury our heads in the sand for the sake of beef, petroleum, and marginal short-term profits?

I pray that we will all be graced with the immediate, solutions-oriented wisdom of our heroes, Joseph and Pharaoh. Shabbat Shalom.

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