The Torah is full of stories of conflict that echo many of the political issues that we are grappling with today. The more parallels I see while reading through the parsha, the more I realize that every political choice we make is also a moral and ethical choice.
If we read this week’s Torah portion carefully, we can see the applications for our modern national landscape. The Torah presents the following political dilemma in Parshat Miketz, in a meeting between Pharaoh and Joseph:
Joseph is called from prison to interpret a dream for the ruler of Egypt. (Until now, no one else has been able to provide a satisfactory interpretation.) Pharaoh has dreamed of seven fat cows and seven sickly cows that devoured the healthy cows. Then he dreamed of seven healthy ears of corn followed by seven gaunt ears of corn, which in turn devoured the healthy corn.
Joseph’s interpretation of the dream was that seven years of bountiful harvests would be followed by seven years of famine. He suggests to Pharaoh the following solution:
Now let Pharaoh look for a discerning and wise man and put him in charge of the land of Egypt. Let Pharaoh appoint commissioners over the land to take a fifth of the harvest of Egypt during the seven years of abundance . . . This food should be held in reserve for the country, to be used during the seven years of famine that will come upon Egypt, so that the country may not be ruined by the famine. (Genesis 41:33-36)
Pharaoh understands the implications of Joseph’s dream: without a plan and without a “wise” leader to execute this plan, Pharaoh risks his country falling to ruin. With this in mind, he appoints Joseph himself to put a plan into action that will save Egypt from an environmental disaster.
Where do we see this very dilemma unfolding today? Recent climate change reports predict the disruption of food production. To me, this doesn’t seem very different from Pharaoh’s foreboding dream, except that here we have more of a scientific foundation to stand on.
From devastating fires to mass flooding, from rising sea levels to lethal hurricanes, it doesn’t take an expert to see that without a plan to address our environmental issues we are at risk to falling into ruin, just like ancient Egypt.
We can’t ignore the signs. To pretend that God’s creation is not at risk, that human lives are not imperiled, is a passivity that should be viewed with moral outrage. We must take responsibility for our environment, with proper planning and wise leadership.
Judaism is not a religion of passivity. When we see something that is not right, we should seek ways to take responsibility and enact a practical plan for success. Pharaoh made the right decision in recognizing the signs and appointing Joseph as a capable leader to save the land before it was too late.
Rabbi Evan J. Krame