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Friday, December 23, 2011

Parshat Miketz (and Hanukkah): Joseph and the Journey of the Ego

In this week's parashah/portion, Miketz (Genesis/Bereshit 41:1 - 44:17), the saga of Joseph and his brothers continues. We read in the narrative of Joseph interpreting Pharaoh's dreams, being made vizier of Egypt and then of his brothers coming to seek food during the famine. We also read of Joseph hiding his true identity from his brothers and "torturing" them – and indirectly his father Jacob – by sending them back to Canaan to bring back his youngest brother Benjamin while keeping Simeon captive. Then, when the brothers return with Benjamin, much against Jacob's wishes, Joseph has his silver goblet hidden in Benjamin's sack and accuses him of stealing, sentencing him to remain as Joseph's slave.

One can view the entire Joseph saga as an allegory for  the journey of the ego.
When Joseph is filled with pride and hubris, he is the personification of the ego. It is the job of the ego to obfuscate one's view of reality and replace the sense of union with the One of the Universe with the sense that the individual is the only ONE that matters. Joseph's time spent in the pit and in jail represents the repression or negation of the ego. It is in these places of lowliness that Joseph sees his connection to others and the universe. The is the disappearance of the ego and the emergence of the the soul, which is not really a `self' at all, but a recognition of the Godliness that is within all of us.

Once Joseph is released from the jail and interprets Pharaoh's
  dreams he is again elevated. This reminds each of us that even when the ego seems to have been obliterated, it is still there waiting in the wings to take center stage. Yes, in his position as vizier Joseph helps the land of Egypt and is seen part of God's plan, but in this allegory this stage represents the reemergence of the ego.

His brothers, the forces within and around that challenge us on each
  step on our journey, bring about Joseph's sense of superiority, as well as hatred and revenge, which are all rooted firmly in the ego. The virtues compassion, mercy and love, rooted in the soul, are nowhere to be found. Joseph, the ego, plays games with the world and the people around him, seeking to find satisfaction in revenge and in retaining the
place of prominence.

The other forces working within and upon him, his brothers, seek
  compassion and reunion with the source. But, though at first he does provide for their physical sustenance through food, no spiritual sustenance is to be found. For the ego cannot sustain anything but itself. It needs to use all of its energy to keep the fa├žade in tact and to protect it from the soul which is always there awaiting the opportunity to emerge in all its ersatz glory.

As we end this week's parashah, the ego is in control and
subjugating all the forces around it. There is no chance of a reunion of the soul with its source, for the ego has separated all the parts from the whole and sent Benjamin, the youngest, representing innocence and joy, into exile. Benjamin, the only other child of Joseph's father and mother, is the conduit by which the soul can find reunion with the source is sent
to jail. He is cast into the pit.

If our story were to end here, the allegory would certainly not leave
  one feeling very optimistic. However, we know that the story does not end here. But, for now, we are where we are. Such is the way of life; in any moment we know that the ego or the soul can be the dominant force in our lives. However, no situation is ever permanent. And so we must wait and see what the next step of the journey holds in store for us.

As we begin Shabbat with the light of four Hanukkah candles, let us
  remember that there are four more that remain. And each night the light gets brighter until the hanukkiah (menorah) is complete ablaze with light. 

Each night when we light the candles let us look at where our balance of ego and soul is. Let us acknowledge the reality of where it is ...where we are ... and continue on our journey towards making the soul and not the ego the center of our

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Hanukkah.


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