Jacob and Joseph. Biblical heroes, father and son. Two generations in a single story of hurt and healing. A father who feels himself a failure. And places hope in his son. A son who cannot soothe his father. But learns how to heal himself.
Imagine yourself in Jacob’s story. You felt bullied by your older brother, Dad’s favourite child. So, in your heart you knew. You could never be good enough.
But you grew up and moved away for a fresh start. Then, your father-in-law tried to cheat you in business. You were consoled in a profound spiritual dream. But you woke with a permanent limp. Then, the love of your life died young.
And, worst nightmare of all. The hurt you ran from? It followed you. Your older sons bullied their younger brother, your most precious child, born of your late beloved. Until, one day, your older sons told you that young Joseph died. “We’re not sure how,” they said. “Maybe an animal ate him.”
But years later you learn: your son Joseph is alive. He has changed his name. He is rich and famous, a high-ranking politician in another land. So you say, “My son is alive. I will go and see him before I die.” But you also don’t want too many details. Because your heart can’t hold them. You have too many questions. Why didn’t he contact me? Was he afraid of his brothers? Did they kidnap him and lie to me? You know but you don’t want to.
You meet his boss, King of Egypt. Pharaoh thinks you’re a great Dad. Best in the world, since you raised such a talented politician. He tries to honour you. “How old are you?” he asks. You answer, “I’ve had a short, bitter life.” In fact, you yourself are locally famous, a wealthy master sheep breeder and a holy man. But inside you are only a broken failure of a father. Still, Pharaoh is sure you picked up some wisdom. “Bless me!” he says. So you pull together your inner resources and channel a blessing worthy of a king. Because you know the secrets of grief and fear that anyone, even a king, can carry.
Your own grief haunts you. On your deathbed, you speak your hurt. You curse the two bullying sons. The deep love of your long-lost precious one is not enough to soothe you. Thus you leave this world: a healer who is not healed himself.
But your precious son Joseph is different. Yes, he too, was bullied. And later, he too had professional success. But somehow he could hold it all. “If I had not been bullied,” he says, “then I would not have achieved what I did. God arranged it all.” Years later, he dies, surrounded by three loving generations.
What does he have, know, or do that you don’t?
My therapist has an idea. She is a depth psychologist, a student of Carl Jung. The psyche is deep, she says. It holds so much we cannot say or even see. Some things are present only as feelings. But they are powerful. To feel them is to feel alive. Hurt feelings can make a whole life feel hurtful. Like they did for Jacob. But sometimes, Jacob’s hurts overflowed his unconscious. Came right out where he could see them. In a dream of escape to another realm. A vision of a fight with a phantom. Then, a painfully dislocated hip. But did Jacob look? Did he sit with his sensations? Interpret his dreams?
Joseph, however, surely did. His unconscious feelings overflowed into dreams, too. But, for long months and years, his life moved slowly. In rhythm with a boring minimum-security prison routine. So, he sat with his feelings. Observed his dreams. Found a way to decode those symbols. Thus, he healed what most of us cannot even see.
When I grow up, I want to be like Joseph. Skilled at practicing depth psychology. At using it to heal my own hurts. Except, I’m already grown up. I’ve studied Joseph’s methods. But sometimes, my inner Jacob shows up anyway. And that hurts. But, as they say, this too is Torah.