My Home, My Capital
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 tenderness.
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 disclosure and follow-up question about his dad is the sudden and abrupt finale of so many fantastic events that took place over the course of decades.
One thing is certain in Joseph’s mind. When all is said and done, and after these many years of pain and anguish that he endured – so much so that his children are both named 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 dear father who suffered too long at his absence. When Joseph 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 and the simple request of knowing how his dear father really is.
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 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 time 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 experienced 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 in 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 that 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 High Priest dies, as if to suggest that the most holy among us are somehow connected to the personal failings of every individual. If one Jew lives in exile, the leader cannot live in comfort but must live with that man’s curse, knowing full well that only his own demise will ultimately set another free.
And finally Galut – Exile, the ultimate punishment for the Jewish people 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 forces us to leave Him as we are kicked out of our home and 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. Every nation has the right to a land and the simple freedom and right to designate its own capital. But when our greatest ally states the obvious and confirms this truth, it is ostracized the world over. Something so basic as choosing a capital city somehow does not apply to Israel.
Over half a million dead Syrians along with half of its country in exile; or 18.8 million people – 69% of Yemen’s population – need some kind of humanitarian or protection assistance as a result of the civil war there; or hundreds of thousands of people leaving Venezuela while infants literally starve to death since there is no formula to be found. But the top of the hit parade at the UN is a vote about the United States’ recognition of Jerusalem. The disruptive notion of a homeland for the Jews supersedes all.
But perhaps this is indeed our Tikkun – what we need to fix. We need to show the Almighty how much we so want to be home, how much we are willing to sacrifice to go back and to get it back.
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 true tenderness 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