Blog: December 2006

Most of these posts were originally posted somewhere else and link to the originals. While this blog is not set up for comments, the original locations generally are, and I welcome comments there. Sorry for the inconvenience.


In a lot of ways I was a rebellious child. As the older child of over-protective parents, I was always pushing up against boundaries. I wanted more freedom, more independance, and more respect.

One of the areas where we clashed was religion. My parents are Christians, and I grew up going to church and religious school every Sunday morning, which I hated. I was pushed through the usual set of lifecycle events. Before confirmation I told my parents I didn't believe in this, but that didn't seem to faze them. It certainly didn't get me out of religious school or confirmation.

When I went to college my parents "helpfully" found the nearest suitable church for me and made sure I knew where it was. On my first visit home from college they asked me how long a walk it was from my dorm to the church and I said "I have no idea". That pretty much ended that line of questioning, as we all understood that I was some sort of athiest or agnostic or something. (Apatheist, really, but I didn't know the term then.) It was liberating, really -- once out of the parental house I was free of invasive meddling. I didn't have to do what they said any more.


Yosef had problems with his brothers. Imagine what it must have been like: an arrogant kid who thinks he knows what's best, a father who favors him over the others, and brothers who are probably all too eager to set matters right. This culminates when they nearly kill Yosef and then settle for selling him into slavery.

Being sold into slavery was certainly no picnic for Yosef, but before long he found himself in a good situation. Potiphar noticed that everything Yosef touched seemed to go well, and so he made Yosef his personal servant and gave him special privileges. The midrash suggests that Yosef ate almost as well as Potiphar himself. It seems unlikely that anyone was out to get Yosef the way his brothers had been.

According to the midrash, one day a self-satisfied Yosef said "I eat good food and drink good wine and live well. I've 'made it'. Blessed is the one who enabled me to forget my father's house." At this God said "You spoiled brat! How can you say such things while your father mourns in sackcloth"? It was then, according to the midrash, that God caused Potiphar's wife to take such an interest in Yosef, ending his comfortable days in Potiphar's house.

In jail Yosef undergoes an important change. When asked to interpret dreams he says dreams are God's business -- he doesn't take the credit himself. This is even more pronounced when he is called before Paro. The torah tells us that God was with Yosef from the time he was sold into slavery, but it seems to have taken Yosef a while to notice, to develop the humility and maturity to see that there is something bigger than himself out there. It still takes him a while to show concern for his father; Yosef ruled Mitzrayim for years without sending word home. But we can see the beginnings of his transformation during his time in jail.


When I left for college I was in outright rebellion as far as religion was concerned. I wanted nothing to do with my father's church, and in my teenaged arrogance I took a broad view: I wanted nothing to do with God. Paradoxically, I almost cerainly said something along the lines of "thank God I'm free of that now". I'm sure glad I didn't get smacked down as strongly as Yosef did.

Over time I grew and was eventually able to notice God's presence in my life. That got me curious enough to investigate, which is how I ended up here. Only later did I realize I could have taken a lesson from Yosef.

I don't agree with my parents about religion, but I've learned to be respectful. I was pleasantly surprised that they reacted to my conversion positively, not negatively. We get along fine. I can respect their choices without agreeing, and they can do the same for me.

We can respect each others' choices without agreeing, without feeling compelled. As a convert I have a version of the "December problem" that's a little different from others'. My family and I have found ways to keep our own holidays without sacrificing family togetherness, I can remember where I came from and be mindful of my parents without either rejecting everything or participating in their religion.

Yosef in Potiphar's house conflated the bad experiences he wanted to forget with the people, the family, he ought to have tried to remember, and God had to get his attention. As we all find our own paths, sometimes in conflict with those we should be close to, may we find the ability to maintain those relationships, in harmony with each other and with God.