Thinking in the Box

In April 1956 the president of the longshoremen’s association stood on the dock at Port Newark watching a ship depart for Houston.  It was the Ideal X—the world’s first container ship.

The powerful labor official famously commented, saying, “I’d like to sink that son of a b—-h.”  From his perspective, he was right.  From that day, the labor needed to load and unload ships dropped by nearly ninety percent.

That ship loaded with steel boxes was the brainchild of self-made transportation tycoon, Malcom McLean.  He watched the inefficient process of loading and unloading and realized that sealing cargo into containers reduced pilferage as well as labor requirements.  Ships bearing the name of his company, Sealand, can be seen on all the oceans of the world.

Malcom’s idea antagonized powerful people but he pushed ahead where others were intimidated and only dreamed.  It is easy for fear to destroy dreams and annihilate ambition.

Much of Joseph’s life is described in Genesis 37, ending with this final verse of the chapter:

The Midianites sold him to Egypt, to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s functionaries…

(Genesis 37:36)

Wouldn’t it make sense if the narrative continued in chapter 38 with this verse?

Joseph was taken down to Egypt and Potiphar, a functionary of Pharaoh…purchased him from the hand of the Ishmaelites who brought him down there.

(Genesis 39:1)

However, this verse only appears as the opening of chapter 39.  The story is rudely interrupted by chapter 38 containing a different story altogether.  Or is it?

Chapter 38 relates a slice of Judah’s life covering his marriage, his public embarrassment and the birth of Scripture’s second set of twins.

There are similarities between chapter 37 and 38 which cannot be missed and which teach an important lesson.

1) 37: Judah (with his brothers) used a goat to deceive his father Jacob. (v. 31)

2) 38: Judah offered a goat to his daughter-in-law who was deceiving him. (v. 17)

1)37: Judah (with his brothers) removed Joseph’s garment and gave it to Jacob. (v. 31)

2)38: Judah removed his own garment and gave it to Tamar. (v. 18) [Note: In Hebrew, PTiL is some form of garment, wrap or cover as we see in Numbers 19:15 and as explained in ancient Jewish wisdom]

1) 37 Jacob loses Joseph (Genesis 37:34). This leads to later losing son Simon (Genesis 42:36), and engaging in perilous conduct to try to save his 3rd son, Benjamin (Genesis 42:38)

2) 38: Judah loses two sons, Er, and Onan, and engages in perilous conduct to try save his 3rd son, Shelah.

Jacob and Judah and both made mistakes. Jacob was punished for his mistake in favoring Joseph over the other sons, who themselves were also wrong to sell Joseph. Yet, God arranged for it all to turn out well.

Judah’s behavior in Genesis 38, for which he was later punished, was inappropriate. Genesis 38 opens with the words “…Judah descended (morally) from where his brothers were at…”  Yet, though he sinned, God again arranged for it to turn out well.

Does this suggest that mistakes or sins don’t matter? Certainly not. None of us should deliberately seek out sin.  However, restricting our actions and repressing our drives to utter passivity because of a fear of failure, moral or otherwise, is not a correct way to behave either. Doing so deters our ambitions and suppresses our potential; that does not please God.

For there is no utterly righteous man on earth who achieves any good without sinning.

(Ecclesiastes 7:20)

We were driven from the comfort of the Garden and must strive and struggle to build and create. Sometimes in that pursuit, we stumble. Then we must atone, accept our punishment, and move on.

One of the reasons I enjoyed reading Noah Alper’s book, Business Mensch: Timeless Truths for Today’s Entrepreneurs is because he is strikingly honest about his failures as well as his successes. The book provides practical advice for starting and running a business, but it is also encouraging as a model for bouncing back from mistakes and obstacles. It is a fascinating read, on sale this week, and can help energize you to aim higher.


This week’s Susan’s Musings: A Parade of Emotions:

Did you find this Fourth of July as inspiring as usual? Or, coming on the heels of the Supreme Court Obamacare decision, was it disheartening? Celebrating the Fourth in a different part of the country than usual brought that question home to me. Many years, I have attended grand firework displays, synchronized with stirring music. However, there is another Fourth of July tradition that…READ MORE

Read the most recent Ask the Rabbi question and answer here.

Hello Rabbi,
I am an African American woman raising children in a rural part of America. My children have received some negative interactions / insults from their peers in regards to their skin color.
I am torn as to how appropriately respond to these attacks against my family. I am quite angered by these insults but I do not wish to cultivate hatred in my children. Do you have any biblical insights on how to deal with this infuriating issue? I cannot allow my children to endure harrasment without a swift and thoughtful response on my part.   READ MORE
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