Discerning the Soul’s Needs (Parashat Miketz)
Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu laasok b’divrei Torah.
Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of all, who hallows us with mitzvot, commanding us to engage with words of Torah.
In this week’s Torah portion, Joseph is spectacularly freed from prison and made into the royal vizier of Egypt after successfully providing Pharaoh with the interpretation of his dreams.
As the Rebbe explains in Likkutei Sichos, the Pharaoh turns to Joseph because he is unsatisfied with the interpretations of his dreams presented to him by the spiritual advisors of his own people. In that brief moment of the story, we see Pharaoh not solely as a foreign king but also as a spiritual seeker we may even be able to relate to in some fashion.
This passage reminds me of the sometimes decades-long and ongoing journeys many of us take into seeking better answers on our spiritual paths. And Pharaoh reminds me of the clients who come to coaching looking to just pay for answers and direction they feel is missing from their lives. Joseph, in turn, takes on the role of coach, offering a reconnection between Pharaoh and G-d through the correct interpretation of the king’s dreams–not just another answer he feels might be correct.
That’s rather something, isn’t it? Because here we have Pharaoh, who is not part of G-d’s chosen people, yet his spiritual acumen is such that he perceives the truth in Joseph’s interpretation. That’s what good coaches do. They connect you back to accessible truth, they don’t give you the subjective answers from their own minds.
G-d in this story and in our own lives is the ultimate source of direction and purpose. That hierarchy transcends our cultural and religious identities. And you don’t need rites and rituals, wizards and mediums, oracles, or other magical materials to get aware of that. You don’t need a rabbi or a coach or a therapist to filter out the bullshit and point you in the right direction.
Don’t get me wrong. To some degree, all of those people and things may be helpful. But they can just as easily be distracting and derail you from that core essence of yourself waiting to be recalled. That essence of you is that you are a magnificently insignificant piece in the garden of creation. You are both someone with the capacity to reach out and talk to G-d directly (hitbodedut), and someone who will just as easily die, perhaps even in some catastrophic famine like the Pharaoh’s dreams predicted.
G-d is speaking to you. Are you attuning your receiver back?
Pharaoh prior to this story has distracted himself with interpreters peddling their own narratives for his life–that he will head a vast dynasty and expand his kingdom far beyond its borders. In exchange for their position in his court, these interpreters feed the Pharaoh’s ego.
In a similar relationship today we may hear endlessly about our validity and worth and value. Joseph, the good coach, shakes this up by reminding Pharaoh that the blessings of life are made meaningful by their absence, that life is not infinite bliss but a rocky and perilous climb, and that the nature of this world is that we are tested, that G-d gives us opportunity to realize growth, to feel pain and suffering and distance alongside all the good we incur.
Life, Pharaoh is reminded, is not well-lived in a pit of ego-stroking, but in the choices we make to rise to the challenges before us. I believe our souls crave this kind of wisdom too. Like Pharaoh, we can detect the bullshit and we can feel the magnetic draw of something deeper even when it is foreign to the way we have been living.
The nature of the soul’s journey is that it exists apart from its Creator, in a material plane of fatal existence and free will. It cannot abide by the false assurances that everything is perfect, that no choice really matters, or that only endless blessings are showered on those in true alignment with the Divine. No, it craves the insight of duality, and of being un/worthy and im/pure, and it craves the challenge to distill itself even closer to G-d across the void.