Miketz - The Hero and the Addict

Elohim ya’aneh et sh’lom Paroah.
God will give Pharaoh an answer of peace. Gen. 41:16

I don’t think it is just coincidence that my chosen Hebrew name, Shohama, from Shoham, onyx, is the stone of the tribe of Joseph. There is something in the heroic tale of our forefather that speaks to me of the life I lived during the three decades that I was married into a family plagued by multiple addictions and multiple addicts.

In the beginning, Joseph is riding high. He is a shining star, the favorite of his father. His early years prepare him to be a leader, and a man of stature. This plan is seemingly thwarted when his brothers, filled with jealousy, throw him into a pit, and then sell him into slavery.

He is bought by a man named Potiphar, who soon assesses Joseph’s great abilities and promotes him to be his overseer. Again he is riding high. But Potiphar’s wife has her eyes on Joseph, and when he refuses her temptations, she accuses him of attempted rape, and he is thrown into jail.

For the second time Joseph goes from riches to rags. But his winning personality charms the jail keeper and he becomes the head of the prisoners. When he correctly interprets the dreams of the baker and the butler, and then of Pharaoh, he is promoted to a position of power as Pharaoh's minister and right hand man. He is able to guide Pharaoh into storing grain during the years of plenty so there is enough food to feed all during the years of famine.

For the third cycle in his life, Joseph is riding high. It is in this phase that he gets to reunite with his brothers, and to forgive them for the wrong they had done to him.

Why was he put in such a dysfunctional family and made to endure such extremes of success and misery? Decades after his initial descent Joseph has clarity about the trajectory of his life, and says to his brothers (Genesis 45:4-7) "I am Joseph your brother, whom you sold into Egypt. And now be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that you sold me hither, for God did send me before you to preserve life. For these two years has the famine been in the land; and there are yet five years, in which there shall be neither plowing nor harvest. And God sent me before you to give you a remnant on the earth, and to save you alive for a great deliverance. "

Joseph has ultimate trust in God and God’s wisdom and plan. He sees that his suffering has allowed him to beused to save many others from suffering and famine.

With hindsight, I can see that my suffering forced me to reach out to God for help, and find solace and comfort in my Jewish heritage. More than that, it propelled me into learning how to help others in similar circumstances.

How did Joseph make it through all those tumultuous years? Torah gives us an insight when he says to Pharaoh (Genesis 41:16) Elohim ya’aneh et sh’lom Paroah. God will give Pharaoh an answer of peace.

How did I make it through all those painful years with a loving heart and a sense of shalom, inner peace? It was only with the help of my rabbis, teachers and friends, the strength and joy I found in the Jewish tradition, and my deep, loving relationship with God.

Joseph represents the suffering hero in all of us. With God’s help, we can make meaning of our trials, and find inspiration in our heritage. The addicts in our lives need not make us slaves to their addictions. Though their lives, like Joseph’s, may careen like a roller coaster ride of downs and ups, our Judaism can keep us balanced and hopeful.

Ken yehi ratzon. May this come to be.