Joseph and Herzl seek­ing their brethren

Two strangers, one who en­coun­tered Joseph and an­other who en­coun­tered Herzl, lead them to their brethren and change Ju­daism

The Jerusalem Post - The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - JUDAISM - • GOL KALEV

Two mystery men, one who en­coun­tered Joseph and an­other who en­coun­tered Herzl, lead them to their brethren and altered the course Jewish evo­lu­tion. The first finds Joseph while lost in the fields around Shechem (to­day’s Nablus): “And the man asked him, say­ing: ‘What seek­est thou?’” Joseph tells the man that he seeks his brethren, and the man di­rects him to them. This brief con­ver­sa­tion trig­gered a se­quence of events that changed the faith of a na­tion: Joseph finds his broth­ers, they in­car­cer­ate him in a ditch, he is fetched by trav­el­ing mer­chants, sold to Egypt as a slave, rises up the ranks to deputy king and then in­vites his fam­ily to de­scend to Egypt to sur­vive the famine. That fam­ily-turned-na­tion stays in Egypt un­til Moses eman­ci­pates them, and in do­ing so, in­still­ing the To­rah and set­ting the core prin­ci­ples of Ju­daism.

The other mystery man ap­pears in the Jewish ethos about 3,500 years later in some­what sim­i­lar cir­cum­stances. Theodor Herzl, in the sum­mer of 1895, is lost in his thoughts. In­fat­u­ated with the Zion­ist idea that was be­stowed upon him, Herzl de­parts Paris and heads to the Aus­trian lakes for sum­mer va­ca­tion with his fam­ily and fel­low Jews. This ru­ral area has been trans­formed around that time into a prime sum­mer va­ca­tion desti­na­tion for up­scale Jews and other in­tel­lec­tu­als from Vi­enna as well as from other Euro­pean me­trop­o­lises (akin to to­day’s Hamp­tons).

Herzl no­tices how Jews ex­pand their lake­side prop­er­ties, pur­chase more and more land from the lo­cals and build ho­tels to wel­come more Jews in. The Jews were com­pla­cent. The hyp­no­tiz­ing view of the lake made the idea of the Pales­tine wilder­ness ut­terly ridicu­lous.

The oc­ca­sional an­ti­semitic slur, such as the one heard by the lake in the week Herzl ar­rived from Paris, gen­er­ates some good chat­ting over beer in Schunei­der­wirt Gasthaus, but not much more than that. In con­ver­sa­tion af­ter con­ver­sa­tion, in beer af­ter beer, Herzl’s de­spairs in­crease: A Vi­en­nese lawyer tells Herzl that the frus­tra­tion is not against the Jews but merely against the lib­er­als, and that the govern­ment will pro­tect the Jews from an­ti­semitism.

Two doc­tors from Budapest ex­plain to Herzl that the Hun­gar­i­ans ac­tu­ally look fa­vor­ably at the mas­sive land pur­chase by Jews. A doc­tor from Ber­lin shares with Herzl that he is cer­tain that bap­tiz­ing him­self will save his chil­dren, not re­al­iz­ing that all it would do, as Herzl notes, is change the slur that was heard by the lake a few days prior from “Jewish pig” to “bap­tized pig.”

Herzl sees how deeply those lib­eral cos­mopoli­tan Jews are enslaved to their own delu­sion. The Jews refuse to be saved, and are due to ut­terly re­ject his grandiose idea. Herzl rec­og­nizes he is alone. Wan­der­ing in the field of his de­spair, he seems to be on the verge of giv­ing up. And it is right there, like Joseph be­fore him, that Herzl en­coun­ters a mystery man on the banks of the lake – a fish­er­man who tells Herzl: “The most re­mark­able thing is a man who never gives up.”

Those sim­ple words of en­cour­age­ment seem to have pro­vided Herzl with the boost he needed. Within six months, he pub­lishes The Jewish State – a book that would change both Herzl and Ju­daism. Herzl noted that the one man who ap­peared in his mind on the day of pub­li­ca­tion while he was star­ing at those 500 fresh copies of The Jewish State was, in­deed, that fish­er­man from the lake.

LIKE JOSEPH’S an­gel, Herzl’s fish­er­man trig­gered a se­quence of events that even­tu­ally led to the es­tab­lish­ment of the Jewish state. Right there at those two in­ter­sec­tions of Jewish his­tory, an an­gel arose who helped nav­i­gate the path to­ward Ju­daism 1.0 (Moses’s Ju­daism), and to Ju­daism 3.0 (Herzl’s Zion­ism).

Joseph epit­o­mizes the fish­er­man’s ax­ion that the most re­mark­able thing is when a man does not give up. Joseph per­sis­tently sought his brethren. Yet, they never ac­cepted him – not when he was ex­press­ing his dreamy vi­sion as a teenager, nor decades later while in Egypt. This is in spite of ev­ery­thing that Joseph did for his brethren: sav­ing them from famine; giv­ing them prime Egyp­tian real es­tate; ex­empt­ing them from the state-wide re-domi­cil­ing edict; pro­vid­ing them govern­ment jobs (as in­di­cated by Pharaoh’s of­fer); and ar­rang­ing for a grandiose state fu­neral for Ja­cob, even in­clud­ing em­balm­ing.

As Parashat Vaye­shev and the Book of Ge­n­e­sis con­clude, we learn that in spite of all this, the broth­ers con­tin­ued their re­jec­tion of Joseph’s court­ing. “And when Joseph’s brethren saw that their fa­ther was dead, they said: ‘It may be that Joseph will hate us, and will fully re­quite us all the evil which we did unto him.’”

Of­fer­ing them­selves as slaves to Joseph to save their lives from the threat that did not ex­ist, Joseph could only do one thing: “And Joseph wept when they spoke unto him.”

Joseph’s weep­ing would con­tinue long past his death, as his broth­ers’ de­scen­dants con­tin­ued to re­ject his. This would lead to civil war, and even­tu­ally re­sult in the dis­ap­pear­ance of Joseph’s tribes. Joseph was an out­sider, and trag­i­cally stayed on the out­side in per­pe­tu­ity.

Like Joseph, Herzl, too, was an out­sider. He as well had only fil­tered ex­po­sure to his brethren grow­ing up, and he, too, en­gaged in dreamy vi­sions for them that they ut­terly re­jected. He, too, was crit­i­cal of his brethren, and even shared his dreamy in­dict­ment of them through his play The New Ghetto. They re­jected him, but Herzl, like Joseph, lis­tened to the ad­vice of his an­gel and did some­thing re­mark­able; he never gave up and he con­tin­ued to seek his brethren.

Herzl, just like Joseph, was 37 when he be­gan the process to re­vive the spirit of Is­rael. Herzl was wel­comed with cheers in the First Zion­ist Congress in Basel, where he de­clared: “We are one na­tion.” And yet, just like with Joseph, this did not trans­late into broad un­con­di­tional ac­cep­tance. Sadly, by the time of his death in 1904, less than 1% of the Jews joined Herzl’s Zion­ist move­ment. Many re­mained staunch anti-Zion­ists.

Yet, un­like Joseph, Herzl’s ac­cep­tance spread to the vast ma­jor­ity of the Jewish na­tion shortly af­ter his death, so much so that his vi­sion, Zion­ism, has turned into a pri­mary ve­hi­cle by which Jews con­nect to Ju­daism and the prism by which the out­side world re­lates to the Jews. In Zion­ism, Herzl im­planted a bedrock ide­ol­ogy in which the Jewish state is rooted. Herzl him­self re­mains a sym­bol of unity – the na­tional In­de­pen­dence Day cer­e­mony of the state he dreamed takes place by his grave in Jerusalem.

Yet, there are still Jewish brethren who fail to re­spond to Herzl’s cry. The an­gel near Shechem and the fish­er­man at Al­taussee – those good peo­ple in the mid­dle of the Jewish road – re­mind us of a core Jewish prin­ci­ple: Never give up in the search for our brethren. ■

Herzl sees how deeply those lib­eral cos­mopoli­tan Jews are enslaved to their own delu­sion

The writer re­searches Herzl and an­a­lyzes trends in Zion­ism, Europe and global af­fairs. He is a board mem­ber of the Amer­ica-Is­rael Friend­ship League and chair­man of the AIFL think tank. For more of his anal­y­sis visit: Euro­pe­and­jerusalem.com. For more parasha and Herzl ar­ti­cles visit: Parashaand­herzl.com.

(Gol Kalev)

ALTAUSEE. FOR up­scale Vi­en­nese Jews, the hyp­no­tiz­ing view of the lake made the idea of the Pales­tine wilder­ness ut­terly ridicu­lous.

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