Fat Tuesday: Surrounded or Outnumbered?

My mother, commenting on her household of 3 rambunctious boys (not to mention an equally rambunctious husband), would often say,

“on a good day, I’m surrounded. On a bad day, I’m outnumbered.”

I thought of that as I pondered the Torah portion this week. Joseph, elevated from prison (literally a pit in the ground) to the highest echelon of Egyptian society, now had to find ways to cope with being an extremely visible stranger in a strange land. 

Adopting the Egyptian style of dress and speech, there were other aspects that were impossible for him to adapt to, including the food. The fact is that, no matter how well we are able to blend in, food is always a part of the calculus of Jewish life that sets us apart.

Reading through both the Torah text and midrash, it’s clear that Joseph made it work. It wasn’t an impossible sticking point, simply an aspect of daily life that required planning, discipline, and thoughtfulness.

That said, it’s equally clear from the text that temptations (in all its many forms) abounded in Egypt, food being just one. Part of Joseph’s planning had to include how he would deal with that temptation.

Certainly that planning included the strategies he could employ to avoid situations where food might be an issue. But it also meant mentally taking stock to understand which of those situations were actually tempting, and to develop the mental and emotional strength to remain true to his beliefs.

Which sounds a lot like a diet, no matter what era or country you are in.