We are in the midst of the longest narrative in the book of Genesis, the story of Joseph.
Thanks in part to Andrew Lloyd Webber, the basic elements of the Joseph story became well-known to many who might have been unfamiliar with his rise to power within Pharaoh’s court. It remains rather remarkable that an Israelite youth who interpreted dreams of prisoners becomes in charge of Pharaoh’s court and of all the land of Egypt. Pharaoh does so not because of Joseph’s resume, which is rather thin, but because he recognizes that the spirit of God dwells in him. Joseph seems to have reached the pinnacle of success. It is an incredible story, considering how low he has been.
Not once, but twice, we find Joseph tossed into a pit, in Hebrew called a “bor.” The first is when his father has dispatched him to check up on his brothers who were shepherding the flocks in Shechem, and they tossed him into a “bor.” The second time is when he was imprisoned by Potiphar upon the accusation by his wife that Joseph tried to molest her. When Pharaoh cannot find someone to interpret his dreams, Pharaoh’s chief cupbearer recalls Joseph’s talents. Pharaoh sends for Joseph, and he is retrieved from the dungeon, also called a “bor.”
Despite these two low points in his young life, with faith in the Almighty, Joseph is able to rise well above the bor moments and achieve greatness. What a remarkable figure Joseph is that he has the skills to integrate into his being two traumatic episodes and rise above them. The Torah never mentions any negative impact that these two events have on him. Rather, it revels in his successes, first as the head of Potiphar’s household, and second as a powerful minister in the court of Pharaoh. Joseph possesses a remarkable well of strength that enables him to cope with these two low moments and rise above them.
Trauma can take many forms, as we have learned so well here in Pittsburgh. Indeed, trauma can surface many years after. You may recall that this past summer, two teenagers from Parkland and a parent from Newtown took their own lives. Their own trauma must have been unbearable. Mental health specialists have taught me that it is likely that the delayed effects of trauma will surface in our neighbors. An individual event, or series of events, can be a catalyst.
The answer to Cain’s question to G-d, “Am I my brother’s keeper,” must be a resoundingly vocal “yes.” A traumatized individual may not recognize the signs yet need help beyond their own skill sets. If we see something, better to say or do something and be in error than not act and regrettably learn afterwards that we were right in our assessment.
How fortunate we are to have the 10.27 Healing Partnership in our community, housed within the Squirrel Hill JCC, a safe space populated by professionals who are present for us when difficulties arise. Appointments are not needed. If you recognize someone you know who seems to be in their own personal bor, give them a hand or a ladder, and help them move upward toward a better future. It is our moral imperative. We are our sister’s keepers. Shabbat Shalom. pjc
Rabbi Jeffrey Myers is the rabbi of Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha Congregation. This column is a courtesy of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.