Reading “I am George Floyd”, I took a deep dive into the dystopian and perilous lives of young black men in America. Among many examples, is the likelihood of arrest and incarceration. Black men are 7.5 times more likely to be falsely arrested or accused. The agony of a false accusation should bring tearful distress . . . to the police system. At least that is how I read Torah.

Joseph was the highest government official in Egypt after Pharaoh. Joseph looked Egyptian. Joseph’s brothers did not recognize him when they arrived from Canaan to purchase grain. For the return home, Joseph devised a plan to confound his brothers. He had his servants place a goblet in younger brother Benjamin’s sack of grain. Shortly after Benjamin and his ten brothers departed, Joseph sent men to catch them. They examined the sack for stolen goods, and finding the goblet, brought the brothers back to Egypt. Older brother Judah spoke to Joseph on behalf of the family. He pleaded with Joseph and relied upon God to explain the missing goblet. Finally, Joseph abandons the false accusation and begins to weep.

Joseph abused his power. At that time, Joseph was the government. He was the authority over the Egyptian nation. Subjects and citizens alike hope that their rights will be protected, and their safety ensured. Joseph’s brothers too anticipated fair treatment. Yet, Joseph toyed with them.

Of course, Joseph was emotionally wounded by his brothers who had dumped him in a pit and sold him into slavery. However, Joseph conducted a horrific test of his brothers’ character. Imagine the trauma of the eleven brothers. Nine of them plotted Joseph’s death. Decades later, was Joseph’s abuse of power their punishment? The mistreatment appears to be cruel, suffused with his vengeance.

How does the story of Joseph and his brothers resonate? For me, Joseph’s story is merely a cautionary tale. For men like George Floyd, the story of abusive authority was a real-life experience. That is why African American parents warn their sons to defer to authority and to be afraid of the police.

Just before his death, Floyd may or may not have passed a counterfeit twenty-dollar bill at a store. We will never know the truth. The Police lived down to Floyd’s expectations, smothering out life from his body.

Jewish prayers often begin with “Hiney Mah Tov,“ – how good it is for brothers and sisters to dwell together. George Floyd’s memory can serve as a reminder that living together harmoniously requires the proper use of power to protect and advance the rights of all people.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame