REVERED OR REVILED
The blurb on Niall Ferguson’s biography of Henry Kissinger (Volume I: The Idealist, 1923-1968) reads: “No American statesman has been as revered or as reviled as Henry Kissinger. “Once hailed as ‘Super K – the indispensable man’ whose advice has been sought by every president from Kennedy to Obama – he has also been hounded by conspiracy theorists…”
Despite having arrived in the USA in 1938, Henry Kissinger, to this day, sounds like an outsider. His Jewish-German origins are unmistakeable, both to his credit and potential misfortune.
In the portions of the Torah we are currently reading, Pharaoh has chosen Joseph to manage his economy. Joseph, too, is an obvious outsider, a Hebrew, who was not even allowed to dine with native Egyptians.
Pharaoh had a major dilemma after hearing Joseph’s interpretations of his dreams. Joseph had predicted that there would be seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine. If he ignored the interpretation and the famine occurred, the Egyptians would blame him for not listening to Joseph. He would risk a potential rebellion of the masses against his leadership. If, on the other hand, he followed Joseph’s advice, and hoarded the food for seven years, and then no famine occurred, the people would be furious for having been forced to deprive themselves for all that time.
Pharaoh’s response was to appoint Joseph to the position of food collector, where, as an outsider, he could be revered or reviled. By giving Joseph the responsibility of implementing the plan, Pharaoh was able to distance himself from the policy. If the famine did not occur, the Egyptians would first blame Joseph who had formulated the policy and was directly involved in carrying it out. He would be reviled as the scapegoat who had made their lives uncomfortable. However, if the famine did materialize, then Pharaoh would take the credit for having appointed Joseph.
In this week’s portion, when the people come to Joseph for food after the famine has started, Joseph first sells them grain. When they run out of money Joseph acquires for Pharaoh’s treasury the people’s cattle and then their land, in exchange for grain.
It is highly unlikely that Joseph would have introduced such a radical policy without Pharaoh’s involvement. After all, they would be selling the people the very grain they had donated during the years of plenty!
Again we see Pharaoh’s shrewdness in setting-up Joseph. Since it is Joseph who has to implement the policy, any potential hostility on the part of the people will be directed at him and not at Pharaoh.