Home and Family
This week’s Torah portion brings us to the final chapter of the longest and perhaps most dramatic event in the book of Genesis. The conflict between Joseph and his brothers contains all the elements of an Academy Award epic: Jealousy, envy, hatred, violence, the rise to power of the underdog, sexual temptation, a father’s pain, power struggles, opportunity for revenge and finally reconciliation, love and compassion.
Much has transpired between Joseph and his brothers in the last couple week’s readings, culminating now with the dramatic moment when Joseph reveals his true identity: “I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?” This simple revelation and the follow-up question about his father is the sudden and abrupt finale of so many fantastic events that took place over the course of decades.
And in it, one thing is certain in Joseph’s mind. When all is said and done, and after those many years of pain and anguish that he endured – so much so that he named both his sons after his agonizing trial – in the end only one thing animates his desire: His wish to be at one with his brothers and to fully know the welfare of his father who suffered too long at his absence.
When Joseph finally lets the cat out of the bag, there is no, “I told you so”, no lecturing, no recriminations and no revenge. Only his words of comfort to his brothers, his assurance that everything was from God and worked out for the best and the simple request of knowing how his dear father has fared and the fervent wish for them to be all together again.
Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Please come close to me… Now hurry back to my father and say to him: Thus says your son Joseph, ‘God has made me a leader over of all Egypt. Come down to me without delay. You will dwell in the region of Goshen, where you will be near to me. You and your children and your grandchildren, your flocks and herds, and all that is yours.’”
Family and home – nothing more is on the heart and mind of Joseph when he finally reveals himself to his brothers. This is all he yearns for, all he wants – just to be whole with his family once again like they were so many years ago back in Canaan.
A family, a home – so simple and yet oftentimes so elusive. From the beginning of human existence this is how it has been. From the outset, with the sin in Eden, Adam and Eve were thrust out of the Garden and exiled to a completely other life and lifestyle – one wholly foreign to the short utopia that they had in their first domicile.
And so too in the following generation where Cain is told that his punishment for killing his brother is that he will be נע ונד – a nomad and vagabond, drifting across the face of the earth to an endless stream of strange places. It is too much for him to bear and Cain begs for clemency, claiming that to be homeless is to be easy fodder to any dangers he may encounter. He intuitively understands and appreciates that without a home, he’s toast and has zero protection.
Exile is the punishment for manslaughter in Judaism where the perpetrator must live in a designated refuge city for his own safety, far away from any revengeful actions of the victim’s family. He is only to be freed once the Kohen Gadol/High Priest dies, as if to suggest that the most holy among us are somehow connected to the personal failings of every person within the community he leads. If but one Jew lives in exile, the leader cannot live in total comfort but must bear that man’s curse of being exiled from his home, knowing full well that only his own demise will ultimately set another free.
And finally Galut – Exile. The ultimate punishment for the Jewish people that took place thousands of years ago, and that still resonates today. Being driven, not just from the land of Israel, but from God’s presence as well, into a state of hester panim, of being hidden from the overt expressions of God’s care, love and concern for His people. This is the consequence that every prophet, from Moshe onward, warned the Jewish people should we choose something other than our closeness with Him. If we leave God, then measure for measure, He leaves us as we are banished from our home and our land.
Alas it is no accident that this curse continues even in our day-and-age when an Israel is not even afforded a tiny sliver of its ancestral homeland that it can call its own without fighting for every inch and for every house permit. What is normal for any other nation on the planet does not apply to Israel. As the WSJ recently wrote in their op-ed piece about the Atlanta clergyman, Raphael Warnock in his bid for US Senate:
Mr. Warnock seems to believe that saying Israel has a right to exist somehow counterbalances his defamations. He is fond of quoting Martin Luther King’s statement that “Israel’s right to exist as a state in security is incontestable.” That statement is true, but it underscores rather than obviates the problem. What country other than Israel needs its “right to exist” asserted?
Exactly – what nation other than Israel has to justify its existence? The nations of the world won’t even refer to our historical and most-holy site as the Temple Mount but deem that it is solely the Muslim site al-Haram al-Sharif, as 147 nations voted in a recent UN resolution with only ten nations objecting.
Even though today we are blessed to have our ancestral home of Israel back in our hands, the remnants of thousands of years of Galut/Exile still persist.
From the beginning of time, through the patriarchs and matriarchs and until this very day, the yearning to return home is ever-present. It is a dream that we all harbour – to be in a place infused with warmth, love, togetherness and care for one another. A place where duplicity, envy, selfish desires and schemes are foreign and non-existent.
This is all Joseph really wanted for so many years. And it is all we Jewish people want as well. Just to be finally left alone, to have a place we can call home – and to be at peace.
I wish I was
Home, where my thought’s escaping
Home, where my music’s playing
Home, where my love lies waiting
Silently for me
-Simon and Garfunkel