Friday, January 16, 2009

Interpreting the Dream Today: Joseph in Egypt and Obama in the White House

The leader of a great and powerful nation looks ahead and sees economic disaster looming. He searches for an adviser who can help him create sweeping change and provide hope to the land. The qualifications of the person he elects are 1) that he has shown good judgment before in interpreting visions of life and death, and 2) that he comes from a group that was previously denigrated and despised in his country--to the point that the majority would not even sit down and eat with them at the same table.

This is the story of Joseph in Egypt, too.

In Parshat Miketz, which we read in synagogue a few weeks ago, the Pharaoh (or king) has a dream that seven fat cows are feeding by the great river of Egypt--and seven lean, emaciated cows come and swallow them up. He has the same dream again, only with ears of corn instead of cattle. The only one who can make sense of his dreams is Joseph, the enslaved Hebrew being held prisoner in Pharaoh's dungeon. Pharaoh's butler had met Joseph in prison, when he had been sent there in political disgrace, and Joseph had correctly predicted his return to a position of influence.

On the butler's recommendation, Pharaoh listened to Joseph's dream interpretation: that seven years of prosperity would be swallowed up by seven years of famine, and that it was time to begin preparing now. Pharaoh makes Joseph his famine czar: "Thou shalt be over my house, and according unto thy word shall all my people be ruled; only in the throne will I be greater than thou."

Barack Hussein Obama is the Joseph who has become the Pharaoh. After the eight relatively fat years of the Clinton administration, we have seen eight lean years, all of which were recession years for the poor of this country (and disasters for our rights and liberties). Obama famously showed good judgment in denouncing the Iraq war. Since his father was from Kenya and his wife's family includes the descendants of slaves, he is also associated with African Americans, who have not had such influence in Washington since the days of Reconstruction. Joseph (for good and for ill) centralized control at the national level. Obama promises to move in that direction too.

As an American Pharaoh who has been treated as a god by many of his followers to date, will Obama choose his own advisers as well as the Egyptian Pharaoh did? His appointments do not look promising. On foreign policy, many of them are the same people who helped George W. Bush get us into Iraq in the first place. On economic policy, they are the same people who helped Bill Clinton fritter away America's "social contract with its citizens," leading us to the awful state we're in.

The best we can hope for is that Obama will challenge his inner butler. He must remember where he came from--a community organizer who spent time with average people in the prison of poverty--and listen to the voices that tell him, "Make mention of me unto Pharaoh, and bring me out of this house."

The best we can do is to organize, pressure him, and make it so. Pharaoh cannot be Moses, and Obama cannot be a movement leader from the White House. We need to lead from here.

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