The Bible Says What? ‘Joseph was an arrogant, vain crybaby’

The Bible Says What? ‘Joseph was an arrogant, vain crybaby’

Rabbi Charley Baginsky takes a controversial topic from the Torah and looks at a progressive Jewish response

Sephardi Torah scrolls
Sephardi Torah scrolls

Joseph is not only the longest unbroken narrative in the entire Torah – from Genesis 37 to chapter 50 – but also one of the most well known, thanks to the popular Andrew Lloyd Webber musical.

One thing that jumps out from his story is just how arrogant Joseph seems as a teenager.

Favoured by his father and hated by his 11 brothers, he flaunts his dreams – pointing out he believes he will rule over them one day.

One Midrash describes in much detail how long Joseph uses to spend fixing his hair and grooming – evidence that he was indeed spoilt and vain.

It is not until later that we begin to see the hero beneath the pompous exterior.

The amount Joseph has changed is evidenced by the fact that while he recognises his brothers, they do not recognise him.

But there is also a fascinating aspect to his personality that we don’t see on stage – Joseph is a crier. He is unique in the Torah in that he is depicted crying four times in the Bible and a fifth in the Midrash.

However, he does not cry in his moments of despair and crisis – but rather in his moments of revelation and reunion.

“Big boys don’t cry” might be well known song lyrics, but with Joseph the opposite is true.

When he was a young man we never saw his vulnerability, even at the bottom of the pit, but as an adult he lets the tears fall.

Joseph teaches us how to be an adult – that leaders need to be empathetic, feel the pain of others and be able to show it.

This is perhaps a lesson many of us need to heed and practice.

Rabbi Charley Baginsky is Liberal Judaism’s director of strategy and partnerships

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