Joseph’s Response to Hunger

To prevent world hunger, we must dream big dreams and take wise action.

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Provided by American Jewish World Service, pursuing global justice through grassroots change.

Joseph is a visionary; a man with a powerful capacity for imagining a future entirely unlike the reality before him. In Parashat Miketz, he skillfully interprets Pharaoh’s dreams: in cows and sheaves, he sees seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine.

american jewish world serviceWise Planning

However, this ability to imagine the impossible was necessary, but ultimately insufficient to avert agricultural and humanitarian disaster not only for Egypt, but the world (Genesis 41:57). It was the plan that Joseph presented, after all, that “pleased Pharaoh and all his courtiers” (Genesis 41:37).

What was so compelling about Joseph’s plan? Joseph’s proposal earned him the honorific “discerning and wise” because he went beyond promises to alleviate hunger and famine; he managed to prevent it through careful planning, storing, and withholding from the Egyptians portions of their harvests during years of plenty (Genesis 41:39).

Nahmanides parses the phrase “discerning and wise,” saying that Joseph was discerning because he possessed the administrative talent of distributing food to Egyptian families based on their individual size and needs during the seven years of bounty; he was wise because he had the technology to store food for long periods of time without it rotting or being eaten by moths or rodents.

Unequal Distribution

Like all of us, Joseph faced a world that had the potential to feed all of its inhabitants, yet uneven food availability challenged its ability to do so. Seven years of plenty followed by seven years of scarcity sounds a lot like our world, where in some countries less than 2.5% of the population suffers from malnutrition and in others over one-third of the population is malnourished.

As during the period of Joseph’s administrative rule in Egypt, the world today has enough food to feed itself, but unlike Egypt under Joseph’s aegis, people starve from lack of thoughtful distribution.

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Adina Gerver, a freelance writer and editor, is studying at the Advanced Scholars Program of the Pardes Institute in Jerusalem. She has served as assistant director of the Skirball Center for Adult Jewish Learning and program officer at the Covenant Foundation.

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