December 28, 2000
Joseph in the White House
Parashat Miketz (Genesis 41:1 - 44:17)
No, I am not demanding a recount, nor am I calling on the Supreme Court to hear the case one more time. The election is over and hopefully behind us. George W. Bush will be our next president, and the vice-president's name is not Joseph. There will be no minyan in the White House, nor will the cooks have to kasher the White House kitchen.
"Liebermanmania" has quickly died down in the Jewish world, but as I read through Parashat Miketz and its story of another Jew named Joseph who actually did ascend to second-in-command in a foreign land, I am tempted to bridge these two "Joseph stories" one more time, just for the fun of it.
Scenario One: The Inauguration. After being sworn in over a Bible, Al Gore gets up and says: "Having invented the Internet, I know that Jews do not swear over Bibles." Mr. Gore turns and faces Joseph and "removing his [Harvard] signet ring from his hand, places it on Joseph's hand" (Genesis 41:42). Having done this, Mr. Gore declares to Joseph: "You shall be in charge of [reinventing] my government...only by the [Oval Office] throne will I outrank you." (Genesis 41:40). As the inaugural procession begins on Pennsylvania Avenue, "Joseph rides in the chariot of the second-in-command" (Genesis 41:43).
Scenario Two: First Address to the Congress. The country is on an economic downslide, headed towards a recession. There is even talk of a depression, and scenes of the business failures and breadlines of the 1930s start popping up in people's minds. All of the economic experts are scrambling for a plan to save America, but nobody comes up with anything viable. An emergency cabinet meeting is convened in the Oval Office, but Joseph is not there. Like a good Jewish boy, he is in his office studying Torah. The meeting seems to be headed nowhere. Enter Joseph, Bible in hand.
"Mr. President, may I address Congress today? I think I have a plan."
Gore sighs, shrugs his shoulders, shakes his head, but finally agrees. In the shortest speech in government history, Joseph unveils a dream of a plan, simply quoting his biblical namesake's economic recipe for success from Genesis 41:33-36. The speech receives a standing ovation, and Al Gore gets up and says, "Could we find another [vice president] like him, a man in whom is the spirit of God?" (Genesis 41:38). I could go on with the analogies, but in the spirit of Joseph, this is all just a dream.
Daniel Bouskila is rabbi of Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel.