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    Great as Jews – Vayyiggash

    Joseph, by Lawrence Alma-Tadema, 1874

    We are used to great Jews playing a seminal role in the development of the nations of the world. The tradition began with this week’s Torah portion.

    BS Jacobson points out in his Binah BaMikra, Joseph – Minister for Food Supply in Pharaonic Egypt – was “the first in the long series of Jewish men who have rendered outstanding service to foreign governments and peoples in the lands of the Diaspora.

    “From him down to our contemporaries, they have given of the best of their greatness loyally and unreservedly.”

    The people concerned would echo this judgment, except for some reservations about the term “foreign governments”. They would argue that their public-spirited service was not to a “foreign” government at all but to a nation with which they identified and embraced.

    Such countries were immensely enriched because of the talents, energies and devotion of leaders who were great Jews at the same time.

    At a fascinating period in Australian history when a whole sheaf of notable offices was held by Jews I took the liberty on a public occasion to point out that almost every one of the Jewish figures concerned were not only great Jews but identifying Jews.

    To Rav Kook, the dream was that “those who are great amongst the Jews will be great as Jews”, and in so many cases his words have proved prophetic.

    In my own experience, the parliamentary and other speeches given by great Jews often specifically acknowledged and cited Jewish sources; how I know is that so often it was I who was asked for an apt quotation from the Chumash, from Pir’kei Avot or from some other source.

    I am also aware that even in formulating their political and economic platforms, Jewish ideas, whether or not stated as such, played a role.

    All this is in the best tradition of Joseph. Long may it continue.

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