know that Jews have won a disproportionate number of Nobel Prizes.
But the mostWe striking disproportion is in the field of economics.
The first Nobel Prize in economics was awarded in 1969.
The most recent winner, in 2017, was Richard Thaler.
In total there have been 79 laureates, of whom 29 were Jews;
that is, over 36 per cent.
After reading the parasha of this week, parashat MIKETZ,
I believe that a reasonable case could be made that,
Joseph was the first economist.
It began with Joseph who, in this week’s parsha, became the world’s first economist.
Interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams,
he develops a theory of trade cycles,
seven fat years followed by seven
a cycle that still seems approximately to hold.
Joseph also intuited that when a head
of state dreams about cows and ears
of corn, he is probably unconsciously
thinking about macro-economics.
The disturbing nature of the dreams
suggested that G-d was sending an
advance warning of a “black swan,” a
rare phenomenon for which
conventional economics is
So, having diagnosed the problem,
he immediately proceeds to a solution:
use the good years to build up
resources for the lean times,
a sound instance of long-term
To my mind,
the most decisive single factor,
the great break of Judaism from the
ancient world of
magic, mystery and myth,
was the de-consecration of nature
that followed from the fact that
G-d created nature by an act of will,
and by making us in His image,
gave us too
the creative power of will.
That meant that for Jews,
holiness lies not in the way the world is but in the way it ought to be.
Poverty, disease, famine, injustice,
and the exploitation of the powerless
by the powerful,
are not the will of G-d.
They may be part of human nature,
but we have the power to rise above
G-d wants us not to accept but to
heal, to cure, to prevent.
So Jews have tended to become, out
of all proportion to their numbers,
• Lawyers fighting injustice,
• doctors fighting disease,
• teachers fighting ignorance,
• economists fighting poverty and
• agricultural technologists finding
new ways to grow food in environments where it has never grown before.
(especially in modern Israel)
All of this is brilliantly portrayed in this week’s parsha.
First Joseph diagnoses the problem.
There will be a famine lasting seven years.
It is what he does next that is world
He sees this not as a fate to be endured but as a problem to be solved.
Then, without fuss, he solves it, saving a whole region from death by starvation.
What can be changed need not be endured.
Human suffering is not a fate to be borne, but a challenge to be overcome.
This is Joseph’s life-changing idea.
What can be healed is not holy. G-d does not want us to accept poverty and pain but to cure them.