‘Find a man to lead you through the famine. With a flair for economic planning’
These lines from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s telling of the Joseph story, as Joseph tells Pharoah that his dreams predict a serious disruption in the supply chain, could easily also be speaking in our political moment. When Joseph interprets Pharoah’s dream, he proposes a plan forward that elevates him to lead advisor status, and lifts biblical Egypt up from sure disaster to the ability to navigate expected shortages effectively.
The Joseph story reminds us that the question of how to plan for and manage the supply, storage, and distribution of food has been a problem that has troubled leaders, and challenged government stability, for as long as humans have lived in organised societies. It draws our attention to solutions on a social level, and the need we all have for those who have oversight of our entire food system to use the knowledge they have for the wellbeing of all.
Debate may flow between politicians as to who is ultimately responsible for our current shortages, but the lesson that the situation we find ourselves in underscores is that these issues are not for individuals to solve by personal stockpiling or finding our own sources of goods. When it is left to individuals to figure out a way through these situations, those with more means are able to secure what they need, also creating market conditions that further disadvantage others who perhaps did not have the means or the knowledge to make similar plans.
Joseph’s solution is to look at society as a whole, to understand how the coming reality impacts what people need, and to make fair and reasonable asks (in their case to centralise resources, perhaps in our case not to stockpile or to eat more turnips) so that a sensitive food system is able to weather the storm.
The whole Jewish year is shaped by agricultural festivals, and by a religious awareness of the rhythms of the world around us and the cycles of our crops. Perhaps the constant availability of food regardless of the season has dulled our awareness of the rhythms of our natural world, and the cycle of the Jewish year might pull us back into consciousness, more sustainable consumption, and encourage us to advocate for better planning.
By Rabbi Deborah Blausten, Finchley Reform Synagogue.