The Joseph Story Beginnings in Small Consciousness Session I

"When will you understand that a beautiful answer is nothing? Nothing more than illusion! Man defines himself by what disturbs him and not by what reassures him.

When will you understand that you are living and searching in error, because God means movement and not explanation."

[The Wandering Jew. Elie Wiesel. Legends of Our Time pg.126]

“Joseph behaves with the narcissism of youth, with a dangerous unawareness of the inner worlds of others” (Zornberg, Genesis: The Beginning of Desire [Philadelphia: JPS,1995], p. 253)

(א) וַיֵּ֣שֶׁב יַעֲקֹ֔ב בְּאֶ֖רֶץ מְגוּרֵ֣י אָבִ֑יו בְּאֶ֖רֶץ כְּנָֽעַן׃ (ב) אֵ֣לֶּה ׀ תֹּלְד֣וֹת יַעֲקֹ֗ב יוֹסֵ֞ף בֶּן־שְׁבַֽע־עֶשְׂרֵ֤ה שָׁנָה֙ הָיָ֨ה רֹעֶ֤ה אֶת־אֶחָיו֙ בַּצֹּ֔אן וְה֣וּא נַ֗עַר אֶת־בְּנֵ֥י בִלְהָ֛ה וְאֶת־בְּנֵ֥י זִלְפָּ֖ה נְשֵׁ֣י אָבִ֑יו וַיָּבֵ֥א יוֹסֵ֛ף אֶת־דִּבָּתָ֥ם רָעָ֖ה אֶל־אֲבִיהֶֽם׃ (ג) וְיִשְׂרָאֵ֗ל אָהַ֤ב אֶת־יוֹסֵף֙ מִכׇּל־בָּנָ֔יו כִּֽי־בֶן־זְקֻנִ֥ים ה֖וּא ל֑וֹ וְעָ֥שָׂה ל֖וֹ כְּתֹ֥נֶת פַּסִּֽים׃ (ד) וַיִּרְא֣וּ אֶחָ֗יו כִּֽי־אֹת֞וֹ אָהַ֤ב אֲבִיהֶם֙ מִכׇּל־אֶחָ֔יו וַֽיִּשְׂנְא֖וּ אֹת֑וֹ וְלֹ֥א יָכְל֖וּ דַּבְּר֥וֹ לְשָׁלֹֽם׃

(1) Now Jacob was settled in the land where his father had sojourned, the land of Canaan. (2) This, then, is the line of Jacob: At seventeen years of age, Joseph tended the flocks with his brothers, as a helper to the sons of his father’s wives Bilhah and Zilpah. And Joseph brought bad reports of them to their father. (3) Now Israel loved Joseph best of all his sons—he was his “child of old age”; and he had made him an ornamented tunic. (4) And when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of his brothers, they hated him so that they could not speak a friendly word to him.

(א) אלה תולדות יעקב. וְאֵלֶּה שֶׁל תּוֹלְדוֹת יַעֲקֹב, אֵלּוּ יִשּׁוּבֵיהֶם וְגִלְגּוּלֵיהֶם עַד שֶׁבָּאוּ לִכְלַל יִשּׁוּב, סִבָּה רִאשׁוֹנָה יוֹסֵף בֶּן י"ז וְגוֹמֵר, עַל יְדֵי זֶה נִתְגַּלְגְּלוּ וְיָרְדוּ לְמִצְרַיִם, זֶהוּ אַחַר יִשּׁוּב פְּשׁוּטוֹ שֶׁל מִקְרָא לִהְיוֹת דָּבָר דָּבוּר עַל אָפְנָיו. וּמִ"אַ דּוֹרֵשׁ תָּלָה הַכָּתוּב תּוֹלְדוֹת יַעֲקֹב בְּיוֹסֵף מִפְּנֵי כַמָּה דְבָרִים, אַחַת, שֶׁכָּל עַצְמוֹ שֶׁל יַעֲקֹב לֹא עָבַד אֵצֶל לָבָן אֶלָּא בְרָחֵל, וְשֶׁהָיָה זִיו אִיקוֹנִין שֶׁל יוֹסֵף דּוֹמֶה לוֹ, וְכָל מַה שֶּׁאֵרַע לְיַעֲקֹב אֵרַע לְיוֹסֵף: זֶה נִשְׂטַם וְזֶה נִשְׂטַם, זֶה אָחִיו מְבַקֵּשׁ לְהָרְגוֹ וְזֶה אֶחָיו מְבַקְּשִׁים לְהָרְגוֹ, וְכֵן הַרְבֵּה בִּבְ"רַ. וְעוֹד נִדְרָשׁ בּוֹ וישב, בִּקֵּשׁ יַעֲקֹב לֵישֵׁב בְּשַׁלְוָה, קָפַץ עָלָיו רָגְזוֹ שֶׁל יוֹסֵף – צַדִּיקִים מְבַקְּשִׁים לֵישֵׁב בְּשַׁלְוָה, אָמַר הַקָּבָּ"ה לֹא דַיָּן לַצַּדִּיקִים מַה שֶּׁמְּתֻקָּן לָהֶם לָעוֹלָם הַבָּא, אֶלָּא שֶׁמְּבַקְּשִׁים לֵישֵׁב בְּשַׁלְוָה בָּעוֹלָם הַזֶּה:
(1) אלה תלדות יעקב THESE ARE THE PROGENY OF JACOB — And these are an account of the generations of Jacob: these are their settlements and the events that happened to them until they formed a permanent settlement. The first cause is found in the narrative, “Joseph being seventeen years old, etc. etc.” — it was through this incident that it came about that they went down to Egypt. This is the real explanation of the text and in it each statement finds its proper setting. The Midrash, however, explains that by the words, “These are the progeny of Jacob — Joseph”, Scripture regards all Jacob’s sons as secondary to Joseph for several reasons: first, the whole purpose of Jacob in working for Laban was only for Rachel, Joseph’s mother, (and all his children were born only in consequence of this); then, again, Joseph’s facial features bore a striking resemblance to those of Jacob. Further, whatever happened to Jacob happened to Joseph: the one was hated, the other was hated; in the case of the one his brother wished to kill him so, too, in the case of the other, his brethren wished to kill him. Many such similarities are pointed out in (Genesis Rabbah 84:5-6; Genesis Rabbah 84:8). Another comment on this verse is: וישב AND HE ABODE — Jacob wished to live at ease, but this trouble in connection with Joseph suddenly came upon him. When the righteous wish to live at ease, the Holy one, blessed be He), says to them: “Are not the righteous satisfied with what is stored up for them in the world to come that they wish to live at ease in this world too! (Genesis Rabbah 84:3)

(ג) אָמַר רַב אַחָא בְּשָׁעָה שֶׁהַצַּדִּיקִים יוֹשְׁבִים בְּשַׁלְוָה וּמְבַקְּשִׁים לֵישֵׁב בְּשַׁלְוָה בָּעוֹלָם הַזֶּה הַשָֹּׂטָן בָּא וּמְקַטְרֵג, אָמַר, לֹא דַיָין שֶׁהוּא מְתֻקָּן לָהֶם לָעוֹלָם הַבָּא אֶלָּא שֶׁהֵם מְבַקְּשִׁים לֵישֵׁב בְּשַׁלְוָה בָּעוֹלָם הַזֶּה. תֵּדַע לָךְ שֶׁהוּא כֵּן, יַעֲקֹב אָבִינוּ עַל יְדֵי שֶׁבִּקֵּשׁ לֵישֵׁב בְּשַׁלְוָה בָּעוֹלָם הַזֶּה נִזְדַּוֵּוג לוֹ שִׂטְנוֹ שֶׁל יוֹסֵף. וַיֵּשֶׁב יַעֲקֹב (איוב ג, כו): לֹא שָׁלַוְתִּי וְלֹא שָׁקַטְתִּי, לֹא שָׁלַוְתִּי מֵעֵשָׂו, וְלֹא שָׁקַטְתִּי מִלָּבָן, וְלֹא נָחְתִּי מִדִּינָה, וַיָּבֹא רֹגֶז, בָּא עָלַי רָגְזוֹ שֶׁל יוֹסֵף.

Rav Acha said: When the righteous sit in tranquillity and desire to sit in tranquillity in this world, the Satan acts as accuser[3]. He exclaims “Is that which is set for (the righteous) in the World to Come not enough that they seek serenity in this world?” This is certainly the case – Yaakov Avinu sought to dwell in serenity in this world and the “Satan” of Yoseph attached himself to Yaakov – “And Yaakov dwelt … etc.”(Gen 37:1)

“I had no repose, no quiet, no rest, and trouble came.” (Job 3:26)

I had no repose – from Esav,

No quiet – from Lavan,

No rest - from Dinah,

And trouble (lit. anger) came – the trouble of Joseph.

“ Lech Lecha - Go forth : Man is defined by his walking, and indeed man must always move up, level by level. One must always aim to extract oneself from habit, from the state of the normal. Even if one has reached a certain standard of Avodat Hashem (religious intensity and practise), that too becomes second nature after a time and becomes the norm. Therefore at all times one must renew one’s soul and one’s religious direction."

From the Sefat Emet

Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter

Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter (the Sefat Emet) was a Polish rabbi, Chassidic master, and rebbe of the Gerer Chassidim. His father died while he was still a boy and he was raised by his grandfather, the Chiddushei HaRim. He also served as head of the town's beit din.

Rav Joseph Soleveitchek

Religion is not, at the outset, a refuge of grace and mercy for the despondent and desperate, an enchanted stream for crushed spirits, but a raging, clamorous torrent of man’s consciousness with all its crises, pangs and torments. Yes, it is true that during the third Sabbath meal at dusk, as the day of rest declines and man’s soul yearns for its Creator and is afraid to depart the realm of holiness whose name is Sabbath into the dark and frightening, secular workaday week, we sing the psalm ‘The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; He leadeth me beside still waters.’(Ps. 23) etc., etc., and we believe with our entire hearts in the words of the psalmist. However, this psalm only describes the ultimate destination of the homo religiousus, not the path leading to that destination. For the path that eventually will lead to the “green pastures” is not the royal road, but a narrow, twisting footway that threads its course along the steep mountain slope, as the terrible abyss yawns at the traveller’s feet.” (Halakhic Man. JPS. Translation-Lawrence Kaplan. Footnote no.4)


Read and analyze the text below. Unpack the family dynamics and consider the following:

1. What does Joseph's dreams mean?

2. Why does he tell his dreams to his brothers?

3. Why does his father get mad?

4. At what point do his brothers become jealous? Why do you think?

5. What is the significance of the fact that Jacob "kept the matter in mind"?

6. What do you think Jacob's concerns are at this point?

(ה) וַיַּחֲלֹ֤ם יוֹסֵף֙ חֲל֔וֹם וַיַּגֵּ֖ד לְאֶחָ֑יו וַיּוֹסִ֥פוּ ע֖וֹד שְׂנֹ֥א אֹתֽוֹ׃ (ו) וַיֹּ֖אמֶר אֲלֵיהֶ֑ם שִׁמְעוּ־נָ֕א הַחֲל֥וֹם הַזֶּ֖ה אֲשֶׁ֥ר חָלָֽמְתִּי׃ (ז) וְ֠הִנֵּ֠ה אֲנַ֜חְנוּ מְאַלְּמִ֤ים אֲלֻמִּים֙ בְּת֣וֹךְ הַשָּׂדֶ֔ה וְהִנֵּ֛ה קָ֥מָה אֲלֻמָּתִ֖י וְגַם־נִצָּ֑בָה וְהִנֵּ֤ה תְסֻבֶּ֙ינָה֙ אֲלֻמֹּ֣תֵיכֶ֔ם וַתִּֽשְׁתַּחֲוֶ֖יןָ לַאֲלֻמָּתִֽי׃ (ח) וַיֹּ֤אמְרוּ לוֹ֙ אֶחָ֔יו הֲמָלֹ֤ךְ תִּמְלֹךְ֙ עָלֵ֔ינוּ אִם־מָשׁ֥וֹל תִּמְשֹׁ֖ל בָּ֑נוּ וַיּוֹסִ֤פוּ עוֹד֙ שְׂנֹ֣א אֹת֔וֹ עַל־חֲלֹמֹתָ֖יו וְעַל־דְּבָרָֽיו׃ (ט) וַיַּחֲלֹ֥ם עוֹד֙ חֲל֣וֹם אַחֵ֔ר וַיְסַפֵּ֥ר אֹת֖וֹ לְאֶחָ֑יו וַיֹּ֗אמֶר הִנֵּ֨ה חָלַ֤מְתִּֽי חֲלוֹם֙ ע֔וֹד וְהִנֵּ֧ה הַשֶּׁ֣מֶשׁ וְהַיָּרֵ֗חַ וְאַחַ֤ד עָשָׂר֙ כּֽוֹכָבִ֔ים מִֽשְׁתַּחֲוִ֖ים לִֽי׃ (י) וַיְסַפֵּ֣ר אֶל־אָבִיו֮ וְאֶל־אֶחָיו֒ וַיִּגְעַר־בּ֣וֹ אָבִ֔יו וַיֹּ֣אמֶר ל֔וֹ מָ֛ה הַחֲל֥וֹם הַזֶּ֖ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר חָלָ֑מְתָּ הֲב֣וֹא נָב֗וֹא אֲנִי֙ וְאִמְּךָ֣ וְאַחֶ֔יךָ לְהִשְׁתַּחֲוֺ֥ת לְךָ֖ אָֽרְצָה׃ (יא) וַיְקַנְאוּ־ב֖וֹ אֶחָ֑יו וְאָבִ֖יו שָׁמַ֥ר אֶת־הַדָּבָֽר׃

(5) Once Joseph had a dream which he told to his brothers; and they hated him even more. (6) He said to them, “Hear this dream which I have dreamed: (7) There we were binding sheaves in the field, when suddenly my sheaf stood up and remained upright; then your sheaves gathered around and bowed low to my sheaf.” (8) His brothers answered, “Do you mean to reign over us? Do you mean to rule over us?” And they hated him even more for his talk about his dreams. (9) He dreamed another dream and told it to his brothers, saying, “Look, I have had another dream: And this time, the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” (10) And when he told it to his father and brothers, his father berated him. “What,” he said to him, “is this dream you have dreamed? Are we to come, I and your mother and your brothers, and bow low to you to the ground?” (11) So his brothers were wrought up at him, and his father kept the matter in mind.
(יב) וַיֵּלְכ֖וּ אֶחָ֑יו לִרְע֛וֹת אֶׄתׄ־צֹ֥אן אֲבִיהֶ֖ם בִּשְׁכֶֽם׃ (יג) וַיֹּ֨אמֶר יִשְׂרָאֵ֜ל אֶל־יוֹסֵ֗ף הֲל֤וֹא אַחֶ֙יךָ֙ רֹעִ֣ים בִּשְׁכֶ֔ם לְכָ֖ה וְאֶשְׁלָחֲךָ֣ אֲלֵיהֶ֑ם וַיֹּ֥אמֶר ל֖וֹ הִנֵּֽנִי׃ (יד) וַיֹּ֣אמֶר ל֗וֹ לֶךְ־נָ֨א רְאֵ֜ה אֶת־שְׁל֤וֹם אַחֶ֙יךָ֙ וְאֶת־שְׁל֣וֹם הַצֹּ֔אן וַהֲשִׁבֵ֖נִי דָּבָ֑ר וַיִּשְׁלָחֵ֙הוּ֙ מֵעֵ֣מֶק חֶבְר֔וֹן וַיָּבֹ֖א שְׁכֶֽמָה׃
(12) One time, when his brothers had gone to pasture their father’s flock at Shechem, (13) Israel said to Joseph, “Your brothers are pasturing at Shechem. Come, I will send you to them.” He answered, “I am ready.” (14) And he said to him, “Go and see how your brothers are and how the flocks are faring, and bring me back word.” So he sent him from the valley of Hebron. When he reached Shechem,
(טו) וַיִּמְצָאֵ֣הוּ אִ֔ישׁ וְהִנֵּ֥ה תֹעֶ֖ה בַּשָּׂדֶ֑ה וַיִּשְׁאָלֵ֧הוּ הָאִ֛ישׁ לֵאמֹ֖ר מַה־תְּבַקֵּֽשׁ׃ (טז) וַיֹּ֕אמֶר אֶת־אַחַ֖י אָנֹכִ֣י מְבַקֵּ֑שׁ הַגִּֽידָה־נָּ֣א לִ֔י אֵיפֹ֖ה הֵ֥ם רֹעִֽים׃ (יז) וַיֹּ֤אמֶר הָאִישׁ֙ נָסְע֣וּ מִזֶּ֔ה כִּ֤י שָׁמַ֙עְתִּי֙ אֹֽמְרִ֔ים נֵלְכָ֖ה דֹּתָ֑יְנָה וַיֵּ֤לֶךְ יוֹסֵף֙ אַחַ֣ר אֶחָ֔יו וַיִּמְצָאֵ֖ם בְּדֹתָֽן׃
(15) a man came upon him wandering in the fields. The man asked him, “What are you looking for?” (16) He answered, “I am looking for my brothers. Could you tell me where they are pasturing?” (17) The man said, “They have gone from here, for I heard them say: Let us go to Dothan.” So Joseph followed his brothers and found them at Dothan.

From Rabbi David Cooper: Big Mind Practice

The relative viewpoint is the way we humans perceive the universe. The absolute viewpoint is the way God perceives creation, so to speak. Let us investigate more closely what this means.

Every individual has a unique point of view depending upon a multitude of variables: language, culture, age, gender, family experience, education, socio-economic status, etc. There are hundreds of variables that eventually affect one’s level of consciousness. Therefore, there are billions of unique relative viewpoints. This vast spectrum of human consciousness falls into a single category known in Jewish mysticism as mochin de katnut, literally defined as “small mind.”

This definition of small mind is not intended to be interpreted as a demeaning notion for it is an all-inclusive representation of the way people see things, without regard to the fact that it includes all genius and all ignorance of human perception. So, Einstein’s equations fall into the category of small mind just as much as small mind includes someone who is considered mentally challenged because of extremely low intelligence. The essential point is that when the human mind is clinging to a particular thought-subject, it is in the realm of mochin de katnut. Obviously, most of us live our lives in this realm most of the time.

In opposition to mochin de katnut, there is a realm of consciousness described in Kabbalah as mochin de gadlut, literally “big mind.” The awareness of big mind is not limited in any way by any of the variables described above. Big mind has no limit at all—it is aware of everything, everywhere, at all times. Indeed, it is primordial awareness itself.

Small mind continuously sees imperfections, it judges and criticizes how life is unfolding, it wants to fix things and make things better. Small mind also experiences strong emotions and is often dissatisfied and frustrated. But small mind is sometimes happy and even joyous. In the end, however, one of the most common conditions of small mind is its sense of confusion—it wonders often about how life works and if there is any purpose to one’s existence.

One of our predicaments in this life is our continuous propensity to be overwhelmed by the appearance of things and our complete immersion in the belief of our separate self. These two aspects of our lives are reinforced time and again, day after day, moment after moment. As long as we believe there is a central “me,” and that this “I” engages unlimited worldly objects, we are forever surrounded and immersed in the realm of small mind.

Yet, consider this idea of mochin de gadlut, big mind. It has the following qualities. It recognizes each moment as perfect, just the way it is. Big mind is equanimous about matters (but not apathetic), it is sharply aware of the conditioning that lies under all of our activities. Big mind is never dissatisfied with the way things happen, it is a calm, expansive, spacious state. It sees clearly the mystery of life and rests comfortably in the state of “not knowing” what is going to happen from moment to moment. Small mind has an urge to be in some kind of control; big mind recognizes that the intrinsic nature of creation is that it is unknowable and uncontrollable.