If you were cast away on an island with just one Jewish text for company, which would you choose?
This week Simon Wolfe of Thanet and District Reform Synagogue selects: Genesis Chapters 42 to 45
Alone on a desert island, not knowing when – or indeed if – I might return home, I’d want to be reminded of the history of our people and of man’s humanity and, indeed, inhumanity.
The masterly account of Joseph’s character set out in these chapters of Genesis exceeds any other text I know of in its portrayal of Joseph as a human being of real greatness.
Here Joseph is seen in such a position of eminence (in fulfilment of his own dreams which he so tactlessly insisted on recounting to his half-brothers in Chapter 37) that none of his 10 brothers (11 when Benjamin arrives) even begins to recognise him. Joseph was in a position to exact any form of revenge he chose on his half-brothers whether by way of torture, imprisonment or even death – yet he chose mercy.
Nothing could be more remarkable than is as a lesson and inspiration to future generations.
Yet the story is not just simple and straightforward. It is indeed a romantic novel (albeit without any love interest) in miniature, full of twists and turns over only a few chapters, with real tension, pathos – and a happy ending to conclude the story .
There is even an element of humour (not often to be found in the Torah), when Joseph sends his brothers back to Canaan to fetch Jacob and their own wives and children and warns them: “See that you fall not out, by the way.”
So to me this would be the perfect text, above all others in the Torah, to have by my side to read alone on my island, with only the sun and stars for company.