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December 13, 2014 / conservadox

Dvar Torah- Miketz

In last week’s Torah portion, Joseph interprets a dream by the king’s butler to mean that the butler will be freed from prison (as indeed he was).  A couple of years later, the same butler hears about a dream of the king, and tells the king about Joseph.  he refers to Joseph as “a young man, a Hebrew, servant to the captain of the guard” (Gen. 41:18).  Sounds pretty neutral, right?

But Rashi interprets this language quite negatively.  A “young man” to him means ignorant, a “Hebrew” means a foreigner who does not understand Egyptian, and a “servant” means a slave who can never amount to anything.  Rashi’s interpretation sounds like it is right out of the headlines of the past decade or two.  Language that seems perfectly fine to the majority sometimes seems insensitive to a racial minority group; for example, sports names such as the Washington Redskins are pretty controversial among Native Americans.  Rashi is showing us a medieval example of political correctness, taking language that might have seemed perfectly fine to Egyptians and making it sound derogatory.  Would Joseph have thought it was derogatory, or is Rashi being overly sensitive?  Beats me, but kind of interesting to think about.

Another part of the Torah portion is also right out of the headlines of the past few years.  Joseph says that Egypt has headed for a famine, and he tells the king to “take up the fifth part of the land of Egypt in the seven years of plenty.” (Gen. 41:34).  Rashbam says “that this was a proposal to double the usual corn tax.” In other words, Rashbam favors an early version of Keynesian economics, which tends to favor austerity in good times to reduce debt, and deficits in bad times in order to stimulate the economy.  Of course, American practice (except in 2009 when the recession began) has been the exact opposite- under the boom years of the early Bush Administration it was party time, and after the midterms of 2010 the political class focused on deficit reduction.

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