Yosef, but It Could Have Been Narcissus
We are all very used to thinking about Yosef's brothers as jealous, mean men who'd rather have their brother killed or, at least, disappeared, than work out their differences. We tend to see them as evil men—on top of everything they did, they lied to their father about Yosef's fate and hid such a big secret for more than 20 years. Evil men, indeed.
But maybe there is another side to the story, something we could try to explore in this article. Who was this Yosef that, instead of bringing about love and tenderness from his older brothers, brought all that hatred? What did he do? Who was he?
I'll try to answer that.
I think it is fair to assume that Yosef was a young kid when his mother Rachel passed away at the birth of his baby brother Binyamin—even though we don't know how old he was, it is acceptable to think so because for a very long time one is too young to lose his mother. Therefore, this is Yosef: his mother died, he is being raised by all those other mothers, lots of brothers (from those other mothers) and, last, but not least, his father.
Let's remember that Yosef was Yaakov's favorite son, also because he was the first of Rachel's. It was incredibly hard for her to conceive and Yosef was her motherhood trophy. She might have been very happy with this son—and Yaakov could see his beloved wife this happy for the very first time for some years… until she died in labor, leaving him with a newborn whom he would also love and cherish more than the he would his other children.
Is it much of speculation to believe that Yaakov, instead of being a father to Yosef… was more like a mother?
For instance, what's with that tunic? A tunic in the mode of authorities, that would further still more the difference in treatment that his father gave him regarding his hard-working brothers… Increasing their jealousy, stretching the gap between them. Yosef's reaction to the whole of his upbringing led him to dream his famous dreams, where his whole family, including his deceased mother, would bow to him and his grandeur. Now, that is a little strange! It was not enough for his father to give him special treatment; internally, Yosef wanted submission from everyone around him.
In our current parlance, this could be read as some kind of narcissistic behavior, which would take proper care from the part of a professional and proper understanding from the part of the whole family to deal with. That maybe could heal them—or, at least, heal those relationships. But in Yosef's days, other treatment made way. The brothers thought of killing him, changed their mind and threw him in a pit, then changed their mind once more and sold him as a slave to passing-by merchants, so that he was never to be heard of again amongst their kind. His colored tunic, once symbolizing his preferential family status and even the ascendancy he sought, was ripped off of him and used as a token of his faked death—the ultimate decay.
Yosef was 17 years-old.
Too much for a teenager to bear?
And this is not even half of his suffering. There is so much more: he got imprisoned, released, put in a high position, framed by the wife of his master, imprisoned again, forgotten, forsaken, a history of many, many years. He was already a full grown up man when something definitely changed… His fate? No, I wouldn't put it this way, his fate. Yosef was changed—and able to use his prophetic gift of reading dreams to beneficial ends. That in him was changed—and look how long it took him to make this internal shift! So many years, so much suffering, so much sadness! This is what it took to bring him from a spoiled narcissistic child to the grand-vizier of the most powerful nation of his time!
Now, what would have happened had his brothers not ended his dellusionary thoughts and actions? What would he have become? An awful person? A monster? A serial killer?
I am inclined to think that Yosef was saved from his psychological detour by his revengeful brothers. As bad as it is, it indeed worked as a salvation and a healing, which is also attested by the happy ending of the book of Bereshit, one of the few ones in the Bible. The violence of the whole episode is equivalent to the emotional distancing from others inside Yosef. And the years it took him to heal from it are also corresponding to it.
I don't mean by this analysis that every suffering has the same kind of reason and needs this type of treatment. I am really just analyzing Yosef as a character, here. But, yes, there are some valuable lessons to all of us.
Are we distancing from our kind in our words and attitudes? Do we consider ourselves superior because of some ability or feature we might have? Or, on the other hand, is there anything I can do to make people around me feel better, more welcomed, warmer?
Yosef is always a great teacher from whom we can learn and build stronger family and community environments.