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    Joseph & Nelson Mandela – Mikketz

    It was not fair, of course; Joseph was not guilty of the crime. Yet he still ended up in prison.

    But which prison?

    The Torah calls it bet ha-sohar. This phrase appears nowhere else in the T’nach.

    The Brown, Driver and Briggs lexicon suggests that it means “the round house”, and it may refer to the shape of the prison.

    It may also be the name of the location and come from an Egyptian word; AS Yahuda says it was “the well-known fortress Saru on the borders of Palestine” which was “a prison for grievous offenders”. This fits in with the Biblical narrative which says Joseph was imprisoned in “the place where the king’s prisoners were confined” (Gen. 39:20).

    Clearly, then, Joseph was not regarded just as a petty thief or other ordinary offender; he was a political prisoner.

    We know all about political prisoners, of course, in our much later age in human history. The most famous is probably Nelson Mandela.

    And the question we ask is how Joseph was so lacking in vindictiveness when he was released, and assumed a position of high power in the Egyptian kingdom without being consumed with vengefulness against the individuals and the system that unjustly incarcerated him.

    Mandela’s situation was different, and his imprisonment was not on a par with Joseph’s; yet he spent many more years away from public life, and on his release he would have had every right to revenge.

    But he behaved with nobility, and the blood bath that so many predicted did not happen (not that South Africa is without serious problems, but they do not include a lack of dignity on Mandela’s part).

    There is a lesson here. Even under the most trying of circumstances, a person must make superhuman efforts to ensure they do not compromise their human dignity. Otherwise they are not only broken but ruined, and the cause diminishes in credibility.

    And whoever we are, however placed we are in life, we have to know how to behave without succumbing to the temptation to be other than a person of dignity.

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