Metaphors in the Torah: The Story of Joseph


Illustration: Joseph in Pharaoh's Court

By: Peter von Cornelius
Public Domain

Just to begin, it is my personal opinion that Joseph should be associated with the number “7” since he is the 1st son of the second wife of Jacob. Hence, Leah’s six sons should be associated with the numbers 1 – 6 , depending on their order of birth, and Joseph as the first son of Rachel is to be considered the 7th son of Jacob (naturally, this means that Benjamin should be considered the 8th son).

If this is correct, then Joseph should also be associated with the Sabbath since the Sabbath is the 7th day. I believe this interpretation is justified because in his final blessings Jacob says that Joseph is set apart from his brothers and this same phrasing is used to describe the Sabbath as a day set apart.

Another important point to think about in relation to Joseph is that the name Rachel means: “a female lamb” (i.e. an ewe) and Leah is always associated with a cow.

We see in the story of Samson that a cow is associated with plowing a field and solving problems, so Samson is made to say: “if you had not been plowing with my heifer, you would not now know the answer to my riddle”.

Therefore, it is my opinion that the six days of the week should be associated with studying the Torah, but on the seventh day we should stop studying and allow God to speak to us. Hence, Joseph is ALWAYS associated with interpreting the meaning of God’s messages.

Another very important aspect concerning Joseph is that his name means: “to add”. At his birth, Rachel asks that God “add” another son. Since we mentioned that Benjamin is the 8th son and is the response to Rachel’s request; hence Benjamin should be associated with: “additional teachings”.

 In many previous articles we have discussed the associated between the word of God and first born sons in relation to the Holy day of Shavout. It should also be mentioned that the day Shavout is celebrated is 7 times 7 weeks after Passover and this period of time is referred to as “counting the omer” (an: “omer” is a head of wheat). This is significant because, later in Egypt, when Joseph becomes Prime Minister, more or less, his only job is to supervise wheat production.

Hence, even till this day, the rabbis claim that “the Torah is the bread of life”. In addition, it was generally accepted in ancient times that the messiah (i.e. the enlightened one) would come from Bethlehem which, in Hebrew, means: “the house of bread”. 


Although water is not a major element in the story of Joseph, it is worth noting that his brothers threw him into a dry well and that Moses was forbidden from entering the Promised Land because he provided the Israelites with water. The rabbis like to teach that there were two separate events at Massah and Meribah and that it was only the second time that Moses was punished and for the crime of hitting the stone instead of speaking to it.

This is nonsense….

The Israelites were only at this location once and God specifically told Moses to strike the rock with his walking stick. The “crime” of Moses was giving in to the demands of the Israelites and requesting that God allow him to provide them with water. 

God is spirit and God floats over the waters. Noah never touches the water and neither does Moses. When Joshua will walk across the Jordan River, the waters split as soon as those carrying the Ark of the Covenant make contact with the water and the name “Jordan” means “to go down”.

Thus, as the symbol of God’s word or as a source of God’s word, Joseph also does not come into contact with water. “Water” represent’s “explanations of the word of God”, thus Moses says his words were like a heavy rainfall. Nevertheless, it must be recalled that it was God’s original intention that the Israelites march thru Sinai without water. They were only provided with water after their constant complaining forced Moses to request water from God. 

In fact: the English translations to this story are incorrect. Moses does not shout at the people: “You rebels”. What he actually says is: “You fallen ones” (i.e. By accepting the explanations represented by water, they had fallen to a lower level of understanding).


That being said, the most important metaphors in the story of Joseph have to do with food. So, first off: Joseph is sent to look for his father’s sheep and his brothers, but, when his brother’s decide to fake his death, they use the blood of a goat. This is because the goat should always be associated with deception and the words of man, while sheep are always considered to be symbols of the word of God (BUT !!! It is very important to identify to whom the sheep belong; hence, Amalikite sheep represent the words of their god).

We see goats also appearing in the story of Jacob, Rebecca and Esau. Rebecca is described as a cook who mixes goat’s meat with spices to deceive her “blind” husband Isaac into thinking he is eating food hunted down in the field.

Thus, we have a comparison drawn between Jacob: a simple man who sits at the entrance to the tent and Esau, a red haired man, who is a hunter. For more details on the meaning of these symbols please see the article on Samuel:

In Hebrew the word for “meat” and for: “religious preachings” is the same and this Hebrew word also is used for the word “gospels”. Therefore, the “Gospel of Mark”, in Hebrew, can actually be read as: “the meat of Mark” and later, Paul of Tarsus will compare meat to a difficult to understand religious concept, while milk is compared to easy to understand spiritual ideas.

All foods, in both the Old and New Testaments, are metaphors for knowledge and each food, represents a different type of knowledge. So for example: the Hebrew word for “bee” also means “a word”. Accordingly, “honey” represents some type of teaching formed by words. Since bees fly and the Hebrew word for “sky” is the same as for “heaven” then bees are symbols for intermediaries between heaven and earth (hence, the wife of Moses was named: “Zipporah” which means: “a female bird” and she was the daughter of a priest).

Even today, we still say: “The earth is a school” and, in Hebrew, the word for earth and land is the same. Therefore: “the land of milk and honey”, based on the explanations given previously, means: “a school of easy to understand spiritual ideas and teachings”.

So, if “meat” represents: “a type of religious teaching”, then “a person who cooks with spices” represents ‘someone who manipulates religious ideas into a form more acceptable (i.e. more appetizing) to the people. Hence, it should be no surprise when we learn that Joseph arrives in Egypt with a spice caravan and is immediately bought by Pontiphar who, in Hebrew, is described as a cook (i.e. the English translation: “captain of the guards” is wrong).

In Hebrew, the word for “sex” is actually “to know”, therefore when Pontiphar’s wife accuses Joseph of trying to rape her, what she is really saying is that he tried to convert her to his religion. Regardless, Joseph is thrown into prison and there he meets Pharaoh’s baker and wine steward. We have already touched upon “the Torah being the bread of life”, hence “a baker” is some type of religious adviser. Wine is always associated with religious spirituality and, even today, alcohol is referred to as “spirits”. Just to emphasize this, however, can one really believe that the King of Persia would send: “Nehimiah: the wine steward” to help rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem?

Later, Joseph interprets Pharaoh’s dreams which consist of “rivers, cows and wheat”, since we have already discussed: water, meat and bread there is no need to go over this material again.

Finally, Joseph is made Prime Minister of Egypt and is placed in charge of wheat production in Egypt. Since we have noted that land is a metaphor for a school and bread is a metaphor for religious teachings, then what we can see here is that Joseph set up a network of religious schools in Egypt. The story of the Egyptians selling everything they have and finally becoming “the slaves” of Pharaoh is a metaphor for the people giving up all their previous religious ideas and accepting these new religious ideas of Joseph’s. Hence. “a slave” in the Bible is: “one who is forced to accept the ideas of another” and “to work in a field” means “to study in a school”.