Don’t Tell the Boss

A common dilemma in business is when your immediate boss responds to growth by appointing a supervisor above you.  In addition to a layer of management now insulating you from your boss, it becomes especially unpleasant if the new manager is an outsider.  Whatever the difficulties, one thing any experienced business professional knows is that going over your new supervisor’s head directly to your old boss can be a career-killer.

This makes a sequence of events late in Genesis especially surprising.  Like many of our Thought Tools, this one will definitely repay you if you read it with an open Bible .  Pharaoh appoints Joseph viceroy over Egypt saying, “Only the throne shall be higher than you.”  He repeatedly admonishes Egypt that Joseph’s word will rule in all matters.  (Genesis 41:40-45) 

It must have been a tad awkward for those senior administrators who formerly enjoyed direct access to Pharaoh himself.  Nonetheless, Joseph gets to work diligently making the most of the seven years of agricultural and economic abundance.  (Genesis 41:48-49)

So it is astonishing when the Egyptians approach Pharaoh directly.

The entire land of Egypt was starving and the people cried out to Pharaoh for bread.
(Genesis 41:55)

Not surprisingly, Pharaoh does what most competent bosses would do—he reminds them of Joseph’s authority and sends them right back to Joseph.

What could possibly account for the Egyptians acting in a manner that seems so irrational?  Pharaoh had emphasized Joseph’s absolute power so clearly that it is unthinkable that they simply forgot.  What made them go over Joseph’s head and submit their appeal directly to Boss Pharaoh?

Ancient Jewish wisdom comes to our rescue.  The clue is the precise wording in Pharaoh’s response to them.  Pharaoh said to all the Egyptians,

…Go to Joseph, that which he says to you, you must do.
(Genesis 41:55)

Ordinarily, in conventional Biblical style, we’d have expected Pharaoh to have said, “That which he commands you, you must do.”  The word ‘says’ ( Hebrew root AMaR) is especially incongruous here since it usually means casual conversation.

Happily, another usage of that word helps us decode its secondary meaning.  In Psalms 119:162 King David says, “I rejoice at Your saying…”  using that same word. This use of AMaR alerts us to hidden meaning. 

The full story is that David uttered these words while in the shower!  That’s right, standing nude with water sluicing over him, David was suddenly overwhelmed by a depressing thought:  Stripped of clothing, I resemble just another animal.  Is that really all I am; just an animal trying to look better than other creatures by donning fancy clothing? 

Glancing down in the midst of these dispiriting musings, he realized that his male member was circumcised.  He was instantly filled with exultation realizing that no animal deliberately marked its body in accordance with God’s directives.  “I rejoice at your instruction to circumcise” said David.  He was after all, not an animal but a human touched by God. 

It is from this account that we understand that the Hebrew root AMaR has a secondary association.  Not only does it mean oral communication but it also means circumcision.  Returning to Joseph in Egypt, we now understand that what Pharaoh really said to his people was, “Go to Joseph, he told you to circumcise, go and do it.”  (Genesis 41:55) No wonder the Egyptians weren’t quick to listen.

It turns out that when the seven years of famine began people began starving immediately.  (Genesis 41:54-55)  I have noticed that many English translations wrongly insert the word “When” at the beginning of verse 55 which mistakenly conceals the suddenness of the transition from having bread to starving.

Ancient Jewish wisdom tells us that the Egyptians did first go to Joseph.  He asked them why they were not eating from food that they surely stockpiled. They responded that their stored food went rotten overnight. “Oh well, in that case,” said Joseph, “you must circumcise.” 

The Egyptians were so outraged at this insane-sounding instruction that they went over Joseph’s head to Pharaoh.  Predictably he told them to obey Joseph.  But why would Joseph tell the Egyptians to circumcise themselves? 

God imbued people with appetites for both sex and food.  Harm inevitably follows immoderate self-indulgence in both.  Furthermore, loss of all constraint in sex usually impacts the food area too.  Which is to say that people who live out their sexual obsessions may lack “enough to eat” meaning that their lack of self-discipline can diminish their ability to accumulate wealth.  Food is of course the most basic use for money. 

Circumcision is a symbol of God’s rules over even the urgency of sex.  We mark that most demanding of organs with a symbol of restraint and self-discipline.  Not surprisingly, those with restraint in the sexual area generally possess it in the financial area too.

The intricate details of these fifteen verses in Genesis 41 help us understand a very subtle but very real relationship that God built into the world.  In Biblical nomenclature, Egypt is associated with licentiousness. 

Our drive for food (money) is inextricably linked to our drive for sex.  If we yield entirely to our lower selves in the sexual arena, we’re liable to suffer in the money area.  It’s interesting to note that America’s economy seemed like an unstoppable juggernaut until the aftermath of the so-called sexual revolution of the 60s and 70s.

The deterioration in America’s economic power in the world that began in about 1979 was at least partially due to increasing numbers of people wanting more and more in exchange for less and less.  This is exactly the economic consequences one might expect to see coming to a population ever more of which desires more sex and less commitment. 

Commitment means marriage and nobody is surprised by government statistics showing that among families headed by two married parents just 7.5% live in poverty while in families headed by a single parent the poverty level jumps to 33.9%.

Thus, we discover two mistakes that can hurt the ability to earn money.  One is that there is no good way to go over your boss’s head to his boss. The second is that life’s different areas are sometimes unexpectedly linked.

10 thoughts on “Don’t Tell the Boss”

  1. 2 year Christian, just saw you on youtube, Financial Success. There is so much I don’t know, even my Bishop has a Rabbi he consults. Money is spiritual, is true. I wrote a book(unpublished) that I was led to write(know you’ve heard that before), but it’s true. To sit and listen to you tell of how people are the common denominator to wealth, is basically what I wrote about. We bless each other with the gifts we have, thank for confirming what God had me write. God is about relationships.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Debra:—
      I’m under no illusions about how hard it is to get a book ready for publishing so I hope you’ll push ahead.
      Take a look at the description of our financial books here:
      You’re right about relationships. God’s first concern was that He said it’s not good for man to be alone. Any man. Not just Adam.

  2. Greetings Rabbi;
    My JSP Jewish Study Bible starts v. 55 “And when all the land of Egypt felt the hunger…”
    There are other “translation differences” throughout the JSP.
    Can you recommend a better “English” Torah for those of us without the ability to read Hebrew?
    Many Thanks

  3. Rabbi
    I am reading this great piece and the dots are being connected between the physical and the spiritual. Thank you for shedding light on how relevant the Bible is to “regular”life.
    Thank you.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Good to hear from you Francis,
      Everyone used to know how relevant the Bible was to daily life, back a while ago. Today we all need reminders.

  4. Honestly Rabbi, you never fail to keep me interested.

    I always assumed the Egyptians would not speak to Joseph according to the bible Genesis 43:32 “ . . . . because Egyptians could not eat with Hebrews, for that is detestable to Egyptians.”

    Joseph must have known quite a bit about the Egyptian culture, and the population in general, to be in such power, yet he fiercely remained a Jew.

    Did Joseph speak Egyptian or any other related languages at the time? Was he easily allowed to worship Adonai despite being around all the false idols at that time?

    And also, how did Joseph become so gifted in being an excellent administrative assistant?

  5. Good day Rabbi,

    I saw your thought tool on not going over your boss to his boss and i agree.

    However i have a question which may or may not be related.

    Is it ok to add on Linkedin the commercial operations officer (CCO) ?

    I am a first level manager and the CCO is 3 levels higher. He was recently promoted into the position and is now responsible for the whole commercial team including myself.

    My aim was to begin the process building a connection with him given his new position . Our jobs are very busy and waiting for ideal times for an introduction could be difficult.

    Is this wise?

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Marc,
      If your CCO 3 levels above you is in any way an arrogant man, he will view your reach out via Linked-In as inappropriate and an insult and he will ignore your invitation to connect. If he is a good manager, then he will see no harm in accepting your invitation to connect on LinkedIn. Should this happen, please avoid becoming a ‘noodge’. This means avoid sending him numerous messages. LinkedIn has become a normally accepted way to connect and since it involves sending an invite (which can easily be ignored) with most people it is fine. As I said earlier, however, if he has any touch of arrogance, you’d be better off staying clear.

  6. Rabbi, can you clarify. Does the word “AMaR” translate to both -say- and -circumcise-? Like a physical circumcision, or was it to mean a cutting back of their use of provisions?

    This is such an amazing read.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Thank you Mark–
      AMaR means chiefly to say and secondarily, it is an allusion to circumcision…the connection being that the mouth which both speaks and eats….And now that speaking or saying connects to sexual self discipline via the message of ‘milah’ or circumcision we get the entire message; unrestrained sexual concupiscence leads to a lack of food. With Egyptian licentiousness going hand in hand with their food not enduring but rotting.

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