This week’s Torah portion brings us to the final chapter of the longest and perhaps most dramatic event in the entire book of Genesis. The conflict between Joseph and his brothers contains all the elements of a Hollywood film epic: Jealousy, envy, hatred, violence, the rise to power of the underdog, 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 Torah 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 now all of it comes into full view in one moment.
And with this brief sentence 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 of 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 his 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 first sin, Adam and Eve were thrust out of the Garden of Eden and exiled to a completely other life and lifestyle – one wholly foreign to the short utopia that they had in their first domicile.
And then 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 cannot survive.
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 we have come home after 2000 years of exile. Israel is not even afforded a tiny sliver of its ancestral homeland that it can call its own without fighting for every inch as it battles evil forces who wish to destroy our home. Enemies, right next door and all over the globe, do everything they can to deny the Jewish people a place to live, to grow and to flourish, as they seek to expel us from our small land between the river and the sea. What is normal for any other nation does not apply to Israel. For some reason, only Israel has to justify its right to exist – a simple given for any other nation on the planet.
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 persists.
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 securely live in peace there for ever more.
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