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Essay

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, since 2008 an annual average of 21.5 million people have been displaced by disasters relating to the climate crisis, including conflict, droughts, and famine.

“And all the lands came to Egypt, to Joseph, to get provisions, for the famine was strong in all the lands.”

—————————————-——Genesis 41:57

 

א. Vision Statement

——a. On the riverbank, cows grazed, each strapping as a full moon.Seven more rose from the water, gaunt as new moons, and devoured the healthier herd. Yet even after that cannibals’ feast, their flanks hung slack as empty grain sacks.

——b. In a gleaming field of wheat, from a single stalk waved seven shibboleths of golden grain, humming in the sunlight. Behind them rose seven more, wind-beaten and scorched, clattering like the tails of rattlesnakes, and they unbraided their withered grains and swallowed the others down whole.

——c. Pharaoh woke with a gasp, spirit clanging like a five-alarm fire.

——d. And even as his limbs were scrubbed and perfumed by the Chief of Scented Oils for Rubbing His Majesty’s Body, the dreams insisted:

————i. cows eating cows, wheat eating wheat;

——————(a) something was coming.

 

ב. Research Methodology

——a. Because no soothsayer nor lobbyist nor priest could explain,

——b. the chief butler stepped forward. Freshly restored from a prison stint due to Pharaoh’s disfavor, he spoke of a foreigner who’d shared his cell and had a knack for interpreting dreams.

——c. Like a secret gold-bearing vein,

————i. Joseph was extracted from the darkness of the prison pit.

 

ג. Data Analysis

——a. Guards held the foreign youth between them while Pharaoh recounted his dreams.

——b. And though he was struggling to see after all that enforced darkness, blinking against the sudden sun, Joseph spoke from sight divinely inspired: For years to come, food will be so plentiful that the poor shall eat mutton at every meal and hogs will be slopped with spiced stews and tiger-nut cakes.

————i. Yet soon enough, he continued, with knowledge beyond his knowing, famine will unhinge its jaw, and no evidence of abundance will remain.

 

ד. In Times of Plenty (Theirs)

——a. With Joseph’s mouth designated God’s divining cup,

——b. he became Egypt’s right-hand man.

——c. Traveling the country, he gathered rations like the shore gathers sand, in quantities beyond counting.

————i. In each silo, along with the grain, he placed a pinch of the soil from which it had grown—

——————(a) a bit of ancient agrarian magic to keep it all from rotting.

 

ה. In Times of Scarcity (Ours)

——a. Whether from flood or drought or war

————i. the predicted famine arrives.

——b. Desperation gives nations legs.

——c. Toward the lands of accumulated abundance

————i. come those desperate enough to risk

——————(a) crossing deserts laden with containers, their only water what they shoulder

————————(i) (parents the only source of shade for their children),

——————(b) crossing oceans in patchwork boats

————————(i) (a child, facedown, washed up on the shore),

——————(c) crossing mountain passes in sandals and makeshift shoes, what they own reduced to what they can carry

————————(i) (children lashed like packs to their backs),

——————————c.i. leaving the creatures and trees they know by leaf and pelt and song,

——————————c.ii. leaving the land that felt familiar as family, hoping for the mercy of unknown places.

————————————(1) Any loss better than the certainty of burying your children.

 

ו. Operating Costs

——a. In the relentless wind, even the faces of the young are worn to bark,

————i. fissured and disfigured by sandstorms rising from an earth who shares their thirst.

——b. Like Joseph’s mother Rachel, too many are lost on the journey.

————i. Fever eats those with too little to eat, devouring the last of their water and weight

——————(a) until most who die die in the night,

————————(i) the cold more than their bodies can bear.

——c. Roads lined with bodies of the dead or nearly so—

————i. those walking past too weary to stop and stoop and see.

——————(a) Spirits left to wander that bardo of on-the-way. Origins decimated, destinations unwelcoming.

——d. Without a preserving pinch of soil to place in their new homes,

————i. even those who survive hunger for the place that grew them

——————(a) and feel the erosion begun by that longing.

——e. And so many of those who make it are made to leave their identities behind.

————i. Even the skilled, the educated, forced

——————(a) to drive cabs,

——————(b) clean toilets,

——————(c) build pyramids.

 

ז. Conclusions (Then & Now & Too Many Times Between)

——a. Yet many adapt

————i. so skillfully that the children of their children’s children forget

——————(a) their family ever called another place home.

——b. They forget that those now arriving follow routes forged by the feet of Joseph’s brothers:

————i. Who, starving, left everything they knew behind.

————ii. Who arrived in a new land

————iii. where they found provisions and the promise of plenty,

————iv. so reached back across the border

————v. to bring their families to join them.

——————(a) Over their caravan, a banner emblazoned with the words of their father:

————————(i) That we may live and not die.

——c. They forget, as they barricade the borders their families once crossed,

————i. that the book they claim is central to their lives has at its center:

——————(a) “You shall not oppress a stranger,

——————(b) for you know the soul of the stranger,

——————(c) for you were once strangers in the land of Egypt.”

——d. For as soon as Joseph’s family began to thrive in their new land,

————i. as soon as they believed themselves indistinguishable from their neighbors,

——————(a) they were turned against by those who’d once welcomed them.

 

ח. Recommendations

——a. Remember

————i. these stories are old ones.

——————(a) And they repeat.

 

 


Jessica Jacobs is the author of two award-winning books of poetry and the founder of Yetzirah, a new literary organization for Jewish poets. In 2024, Four Way Books will publish unalone, her collection of poems in conversation with the book of Genesis.

 

 

 

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