The story is sad, inspiring, happy and strange. Rachel waits seven years while Jacob slaves for her father to earn her hand in marriage, at the end of which the scheming Laban tricks him into marrying her older sister Leah instead. Jacob subsequently marries Rachel as well, but she remains childless for seven years, while her rival bears six sons and a daughter. Even the “handmaidens” are blessed with children, while the pining Rachel remains barren. She despairs of her very life; it reaches the point where harsh words are exchanged between Rachel and Jacob. Finally, G‑d answers her tearful prayers and opens her sealed womb. A boy, Joseph, is born.

The strange part of the story is the child’s name, which means “may he add.” The Torah (Genesis 30:24) explains that, upon Joseph’s birth, his mother proclaimed: “May G‑d add to me another son.” One would think that, after all she’d gone through in the last 14 years, there would be a moment of contentment. Of course, she’d be wanting more children; but couldn’t she wait a day, or at least five minutes, before beginning to pray for her next child?

In the Torah, a person’s name bespeaks his or her very essence. Isn’t it strange to name your firstborn child “I want another son”?

Our sages have said: “Who is rich? One who is satisfied with his lot” (Ethics of the Fathers 4:1). They likewise scoffed at the insatiability of material greed: “One who has a hundred zuz wants two hundred; one who has two hundred wants four hundred” (Ecclesiastes Rabbah 1).

According to the masters of Kabbalah, the physical and material realms mirror each other. Every physical event is a shadow of a spiritual event transpiring in the supernal worlds; every physical action vibrates a corresponding reaction through all the heavens. Every feature and characteristic of the material reality has its counterpart in the spiritual.

Material greed has its spiritual counterpart. In this case, however, it is a true mirror image—a negative reflecting a positive. Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi would say: “One who is satisfied with his lot” describes a great virtue in material matters, and a correspondingly tremendous failing in all that pertains to one’s spiritual attainments. “One who has a hundred desires two hundred” is a crippling disease when applied to material pursuits, and a correspondingly liberating sign of health in all things spiritual and in all endeavors undertaken towards a spiritual and G‑dly end.

You can look at the name “Joseph” and see it as a reference to something other than itself. Or, you can see it as an inherent quality—“I want more” as a state of mind and life. Perhaps you know such people, or are such a person yourself. For the archetype, see the Torah’s account of Joseph’s life.

“May G‑d add to me another son,” said Rachel, and named her child Joseph. The chassidic master Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch (1789–1866) saw a deeper meaning in the matriarch’s words. The Hebrew phrase yosef Hashem li ben acher literally translates, “May G‑d add to me an other son”—i.e., may G‑d add to me by transforming an “other” into a “son.”

There are two kinds of addition. One way is to have a certain resource increase and multiply: to have money make more money, have love breed deeper love, goodness blossom into greater goodness, attachment to G‑d develop into more meaningful attachment to G‑d.

The second way is the way of transformation: to make money out of garbage, to transform alienation and rejection into love, to extract goodness from evil, to discover closeness in distance. To make of an “other” a son.

This was the way of Joseph. His ancestors and brothers were shepherds, spiritual men who lived in tents and meditated in the bosom of nature. Joseph was a saintly business manager, a tzaddik and viceroy of Egypt. A transformer of the alienation and otherness of the material world into the familiarity and intimacy of G‑dliness.