Finding Joseph in the Pit: Between Grief and Destiny Session II

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.

(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.

(יח) וַיִּרְא֥וּ אֹת֖וֹ מֵרָחֹ֑ק וּבְטֶ֙רֶם֙ יִקְרַ֣ב אֲלֵיהֶ֔ם וַיִּֽתְנַכְּל֥וּ אֹת֖וֹ לַהֲמִיתֽוֹ׃ (יט) וַיֹּאמְר֖וּ אִ֣ישׁ אֶל־אָחִ֑יו הִנֵּ֗ה בַּ֛עַל הַחֲלֹמ֥וֹת הַלָּזֶ֖ה בָּֽא׃ (כ) וְעַתָּ֣ה ׀ לְכ֣וּ וְנַֽהַרְגֵ֗הוּ וְנַשְׁלִכֵ֙הוּ֙ בְּאַחַ֣ד הַבֹּר֔וֹת וְאָמַ֕רְנוּ חַיָּ֥ה רָעָ֖ה אֲכָלָ֑תְהוּ וְנִרְאֶ֕ה מַה־יִּהְי֖וּ חֲלֹמֹתָֽיו׃

(18) They saw him from afar, and before he came close to them they conspired to kill him. (19) They said to one another, “Here comes that dreamer! (20) Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; and we can say, ‘A savage beast devoured him.’ We shall see what comes of his dreams!”
(כא) וַיִּשְׁמַ֣ע רְאוּבֵ֔ן וַיַּצִּלֵ֖הוּ מִיָּדָ֑ם וַיֹּ֕אמֶר לֹ֥א נַכֶּ֖נּוּ נָֽפֶשׁ׃ (כב) וַיֹּ֨אמֶר אֲלֵהֶ֣ם ׀ רְאוּבֵן֮ אַל־תִּשְׁפְּכוּ־דָם֒ הַשְׁלִ֣יכוּ אֹת֗וֹ אֶל־הַבּ֤וֹר הַזֶּה֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר בַּמִּדְבָּ֔ר וְיָ֖ד אַל־תִּשְׁלְחוּ־ב֑וֹ לְמַ֗עַן הַצִּ֤יל אֹתוֹ֙ מִיָּדָ֔ם לַהֲשִׁיב֖וֹ אֶל־אָבִֽיו׃
(21) But when Reuben heard it, he tried to save him from them. He said, “Let us not take his life.” (22) And Reuben went on, “Shed no blood! Cast him into that pit out in the wilderness, but do not touch him yourselves”—intending to save him from them and restore him to his father.
(כג) וַֽיְהִ֕י כַּֽאֲשֶׁר־בָּ֥א יוֹסֵ֖ף אֶל־אֶחָ֑יו וַיַּפְשִׁ֤יטוּ אֶת־יוֹסֵף֙ אֶת־כֻּתׇּנְתּ֔וֹ אֶת־כְּתֹ֥נֶת הַפַּסִּ֖ים אֲשֶׁ֥ר עָלָֽיו׃ (כד) וַיִּ֨קָּחֻ֔הוּ וַיַּשְׁלִ֥כוּ אֹת֖וֹ הַבֹּ֑רָה וְהַבּ֣וֹר רֵ֔ק אֵ֥ין בּ֖וֹ מָֽיִם׃ (כה) וַיֵּשְׁבוּ֮ לֶֽאֱכׇל־לֶ֒חֶם֒ וַיִּשְׂא֤וּ עֵֽינֵיהֶם֙ וַיִּרְא֔וּ וְהִנֵּה֙ אֹרְחַ֣ת יִשְׁמְעֵאלִ֔ים בָּאָ֖ה מִגִּלְעָ֑ד וּגְמַלֵּיהֶ֣ם נֹֽשְׂאִ֗ים נְכֹאת֙ וּצְרִ֣י וָלֹ֔ט הוֹלְכִ֖ים לְהוֹרִ֥יד מִצְרָֽיְמָה׃
(23) When Joseph came up to his brothers, they stripped Joseph of his tunic, the ornamented tunic that he was wearing, (24) and took him and cast him into the pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it. (25) Then they sat down to a meal. Looking up, they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, their camels bearing gum, balm, and ladanum to be taken to Egypt.
(א) והבור רק אין בו מים. מִמַּשְׁמַע שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר וְהַבּוֹר רֵק, אֵינִי יוֹדֵעַ שֶׁאֵין בּוֹ מַיִם, מַה תַּלְמוּד לוֹמַר אֵין בּוֹ מָיִם? מַיִם אֵין בּוֹ, אֲבָל נְחָשִׁים וְעַקְרַבִּים יֵשׁ בּוֹ (בראשית רבה, שבת כ"ב):
(1) והבור רק אין בו מים AND THE PIT WAS EMPTY, THERE WAS NO WATER IN IT — Since it states, “the pit was empty”, do I not know that “there was no water in it”? What then is the force of “there was no water in it”? Water, indeed it did not contain, but there were serpents and scorpions in it (Shabbat 22a).

The Light that Sustains us in the Pit

Tree of Souls Mythology of Judaism

Howard Schwartz

.....Jacob .....gave the stone to his beloved son, Joseph, when he gave him the coat of many colors. Jacob made Joseph promise to wear the stone all the time, but he did not reveal its power which he knew well. And because his brothers did not know the amulet was precious they did not take it from him when they stripped him of the coat of many colors and cast him naked into the dark pit.

Now snakes and scorpions lived at the bottom of the pit. And when Joseph heard them slithering and creeping in the dry leaves, he shivered in the darkness at the bottom of the pit. All at once a light began to glow and Joseph saw that it was coming from the amulet he wore around his neck. And as long as Joseph was in the pit, the amulet continued to glow and so that he was never afraid. At last Joseph heard Midianite traders call out to him from the top of that pit. They pulled him out of pit and brought him to Egypt where they sold him into slavery, and to the destiny that fate held for him, which was to become prince of Egypt.

When Joseph was imprisoned in the dungeon, he discovered that if he placed his tsohar in his cup and peered into it, he could read the future and interpret dreams. That is how he interpreted the dreams of the butler and the baker, and later the dreams of Pharaoh that prophesied the seven years of famine.


That cup, with the precious jewel in it, was placed inside Joseph's coffin at the time of his death, and remained there until Moses recovered Joseph's coffin and was told in a dream to take the jewel out and hang it in the Tabernacle, where it became known as the Ner Tamid, the Eternal Light. And that is why, even to this day, an Eternal Light burns above every ark of the Torah in every synagogue. (p.86)

(כא) וַיֹּאמְר֞וּ אִ֣ישׁ אֶל־אָחִ֗יו אֲבָל֮ אֲשֵׁמִ֣ים ׀ אֲנַ֘חְנוּ֮ עַל־אָחִ֒ינוּ֒ אֲשֶׁ֨ר רָאִ֜ינוּ צָרַ֥ת נַפְשׁ֛וֹ בְּהִתְחַֽנְנ֥וֹ אֵלֵ֖ינוּ וְלֹ֣א שָׁמָ֑עְנוּ עַל־כֵּן֙ בָּ֣אָה אֵלֵ֔ינוּ הַצָּרָ֖ה הַזֹּֽאת׃ (כב) וַיַּ֩עַן֩ רְאוּבֵ֨ן אֹתָ֜ם לֵאמֹ֗ר הֲלוֹא֩ אָמַ֨רְתִּי אֲלֵיכֶ֧ם ׀ לֵאמֹ֛ר אַל־תֶּחֶטְא֥וּ בַיֶּ֖לֶד וְלֹ֣א שְׁמַעְתֶּ֑ם וְגַם־דָּמ֖וֹ הִנֵּ֥ה נִדְרָֽשׁ׃
(21) They said to one another, “Alas, we are being punished on account of our brother, because we looked on at his anguish, yet paid no heed as he pleaded with us. That is why this distress has come upon us.” (22) Then Reuben spoke up and said to them, “Did I not tell you, ‘Do no wrong to the boy’? But you paid no heed. Now comes the reckoning for his blood.”


Read the passage below and consider

  • What is the plan and what actually unfolds?
  • How do you account for the discrepancy?
  • Compare Reuben's role to Judah's. How do you understand their respective roles?
(כו) וַיֹּ֥אמֶר יְהוּדָ֖ה אֶל־אֶחָ֑יו מַה־בֶּ֗צַע כִּ֤י נַהֲרֹג֙ אֶת־אָחִ֔ינוּ וְכִסִּ֖ינוּ אֶת־דָּמֽוֹ׃ (כז) לְכ֞וּ וְנִמְכְּרֶ֣נּוּ לַיִּשְׁמְעֵאלִ֗ים וְיָדֵ֙נוּ֙ אַל־תְּהִי־ב֔וֹ כִּֽי־אָחִ֥ינוּ בְשָׂרֵ֖נוּ ה֑וּא וַֽיִּשְׁמְע֖וּ אֶחָֽיו׃ (כח) וַיַּֽעַבְרוּ֩ אֲנָשִׁ֨ים מִדְיָנִ֜ים סֹֽחֲרִ֗ים וַֽיִּמְשְׁכוּ֙ וַיַּֽעֲל֤וּ אֶת־יוֹסֵף֙ מִן־הַבּ֔וֹר וַיִּמְכְּר֧וּ אֶת־יוֹסֵ֛ף לַיִּשְׁמְעֵאלִ֖ים בְּעֶשְׂרִ֣ים כָּ֑סֶף וַיָּבִ֥יאוּ אֶת־יוֹסֵ֖ף מִצְרָֽיְמָה׃ (כט) וַיָּ֤שׇׁב רְאוּבֵן֙ אֶל־הַבּ֔וֹר וְהִנֵּ֥ה אֵין־יוֹסֵ֖ף בַּבּ֑וֹר וַיִּקְרַ֖ע אֶת־בְּגָדָֽיו׃ (ל) וַיָּ֥שׇׁב אֶל־אֶחָ֖יו וַיֹּאמַ֑ר הַיֶּ֣לֶד אֵינֶ֔נּוּ וַאֲנִ֖י אָ֥נָה אֲנִי־בָֽא׃ (לא) וַיִּקְח֖וּ אֶת־כְּתֹ֣נֶת יוֹסֵ֑ף וַֽיִּשְׁחֲטוּ֙ שְׂעִ֣יר עִזִּ֔ים וַיִּטְבְּל֥וּ אֶת־הַכֻּתֹּ֖נֶת בַּדָּֽם׃
(26) Then Judah said to his brothers, “What do we gain by killing our brother and covering up his blood? (27) Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, but let us not do away with him ourselves. After all, he is our brother, our own flesh.” His brothers agreed. (28) When Midianite traders passed by, they pulled Joseph up out of the pit. They sold Joseph for twenty pieces of silver to the Ishmaelites, who brought Joseph to Egypt. (29) When Reuben returned to the pit and saw that Joseph was not in the pit, he rent his clothes. (30) Returning to his brothers, he said, “The boy is gone! Now, what am I to do?” (31) Then they took Joseph’s tunic, slaughtered a kid, and dipped the tunic in the blood.

(לב) וַֽיְשַׁלְּח֞וּ אֶת־כְּתֹ֣נֶת הַפַּסִּ֗ים וַיָּבִ֙יאוּ֙ אֶל־אֲבִיהֶ֔ם וַיֹּאמְר֖וּ זֹ֣את מָצָ֑אנוּ הַכֶּר־נָ֗א הַכְּתֹ֧נֶת בִּנְךָ֛ הִ֖וא אִם־לֹֽא׃ (לג) וַיַּכִּירָ֤הּ וַיֹּ֙אמֶר֙ כְּתֹ֣נֶת בְּנִ֔י חַיָּ֥ה רָעָ֖ה אֲכָלָ֑תְהוּ טָרֹ֥ף טֹרַ֖ף יוֹסֵֽף׃ (לד) וַיִּקְרַ֤ע יַעֲקֹב֙ שִׂמְלֹתָ֔יו וַיָּ֥שֶׂם שַׂ֖ק בְּמׇתְנָ֑יו וַיִּתְאַבֵּ֥ל עַל־בְּנ֖וֹ יָמִ֥ים רַבִּֽים׃ (לה) וַיָּקֻ֩מוּ֩ כׇל־בָּנָ֨יו וְכׇל־בְּנֹתָ֜יו לְנַחֲמ֗וֹ וַיְמָאֵן֙ לְהִתְנַחֵ֔ם וַיֹּ֕אמֶר כִּֽי־אֵרֵ֧ד אֶל־בְּנִ֛י אָבֵ֖ל שְׁאֹ֑לָה וַיֵּ֥בְךְּ אֹת֖וֹ אָבִֽיו׃ (לו) וְהַ֨מְּדָנִ֔ים מָכְר֥וּ אֹת֖וֹ אֶל־מִצְרָ֑יִם לְפֽוֹטִיפַר֙ סְרִ֣יס פַּרְעֹ֔ה שַׂ֖ר הַטַּבָּחִֽים׃ {פ}

(32) They had the ornamented tunic taken to their father, and they said, “We found this. Please examine it; is it your son’s tunic or not?” (33) He recognized it, and said, “My son’s tunic! A savage beast devoured him! Joseph was torn by a beast!” (34) Jacob rent his clothes, put sackcloth on his loins, and observed mourning for his son many days. (35) All his sons and daughters sought to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted, saying, “No, I will go down mourning to my son in Sheol.” Thus his father bewailed him. (36) The Midianites, meanwhile, sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, a courtier of Pharaoh and his prefect.

(כג) וְלֹ֣א הִכִּיר֔וֹ כִּֽי־הָי֣וּ יָדָ֗יו כִּידֵ֛י עֵשָׂ֥ו אָחִ֖יו שְׂעִרֹ֑ת וַֽיְבָרְכֵֽהוּ׃

(23) He did not recognize him, because his hands were hairy like those of his brother Esau; and so he blessed him.

(כה) הִ֣וא מוּצֵ֗את וְהִ֨יא שָׁלְחָ֤ה אֶל־חָמִ֙יהָ֙ לֵאמֹ֔ר לְאִישׁ֙ אֲשֶׁר־אֵ֣לֶּה לּ֔וֹ אָנֹכִ֖י הָרָ֑ה וַתֹּ֙אמֶר֙ הַכֶּר־נָ֔א לְמִ֞י הַחֹתֶ֧מֶת וְהַפְּתִילִ֛ים וְהַמַּטֶּ֖ה הָאֵֽלֶּה׃ (כו) וַיַּכֵּ֣ר יְהוּדָ֗ה וַיֹּ֙אמֶר֙ צָֽדְקָ֣ה מִמֶּ֔נִּי כִּֽי־עַל־כֵּ֥ן לֹא־נְתַתִּ֖יהָ לְשֵׁלָ֣ה בְנִ֑י וְלֹֽא־יָסַ֥ף ע֖וֹד לְדַעְתָּֽהּ׃

(25) As she was being brought out, she sent this message to her father-in-law, “It’s by the man to whom these belong that I’m pregnant.” And she added, “Examine these: whose seal and cord and staff are these?” (26) Judah recognized them, and said, “She is more in the right than I, inasmuch as I did not give her to my son Shelah.” And he was not intimate with her again.
(יא) כִּי֩ אָנֹכִ֨י יָדַ֜עְתִּי אֶת־הַמַּחֲשָׁבֹ֗ת אֲשֶׁ֧ר אָנֹכִ֛י חֹשֵׁ֥ב עֲלֵיכֶ֖ם נְאֻם־יקוק מַחְשְׁב֤וֹת שָׁלוֹם֙ וְלֹ֣א לְרָעָ֔ה לָתֵ֥ת לָכֶ֖ם אַחֲרִ֥ית וְתִקְוָֽה׃
(11) For I am mindful of the plans I have made concerning you—declares the LORD—plans for your welfare, not for disaster, to give you a hopeful future.

(א) ..... וַיְהִי בָּעֵת הַהִוא, רַבִּי שְׁמוּאֵל בַּר נַחְמָן פָּתַח (ירמיה כט, יא): כִּי אָנֹכִי יָדַעְתִּי אֶת הַמַּחֲשָׁבֹת, שְׁבָטִים הָיוּ עֲסוּקִין בִּמְכִירָתוֹ שֶׁל יוֹסֵף, וְיוֹסֵף הָיָה עָסוּק בְּשַׂקּוֹ וּבְתַעֲנִיתוֹ, רְאוּבֵן הָיָה עָסוּק בְּשַׂקּוֹ וְתַעֲנִיתוֹ, וְיַעֲקֹב הָיָה עָסוּק בְּשַׂקּוֹ וּבְתַעֲנִיתוֹ, וִיהוּדָה הָיָה עָסוּק לִקַּח לוֹ אִשָּׁה, וְהַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא הָיָה עוֹסֵק בּוֹרֵא אוֹרוֹ שֶׁל מֶלֶךְ הַמָּשִׁיחַ, וַיְהִי בָּעֵת הַהִיא וַיֵּרֶד יְהוּדָה.

And it was at that time.... Rabbi Shmuel the son of Nahman opened: (with a verse from Jeremiah 29:11) Because I know the thoughts/plans..... The tribes were busy with the sale of Joseph, Joseph was busy with sackcloth and fasting, Rueben was busy with sackcloth and fasting, Jacob was busy with sackcloth and fasting and Judah was busy with taking a wife, and the Holy Blessed One be [S]He was busy with creating the light of the King Messiah, And it was at that time that Judah went down..... (translated by RDCE)