Meeting our Brother in a Foreign Land

Walking out into the NY winter morning, all wrapped in my coat, scarf, gloves, hat, still feeling quite warm from the indoor heating system, my first thought is: Yeh, fresh air! Then: 20 some degrees (not Celsius!), eh, not so bad, not bad at all! Another minute; I can do this! I am doing this! Five minutes later: My face! Where is my face? I had a face! and now… ?

This past week, I celebrated 30 years of parenthood. Yes, my oldest is finally older than me (ha ha mom, very funny…). In conjunction with this momentous day, I am asking what advice do you give / wish you gave / receive / wish you received from your parents? You don’t have to be a parent to answer  You can comment here (public) or respond to me privately. If I ever put the responses together somewhere, it will be completely anonymous, and any identifying details will be changed.

Judah & Joseph’s Meeting
Judah and Joseph standing in front of each other must be one of the most moving and dramatic moments in the whole Torah: The Second to Pharaoh in his foreign name, family, attire and surroundings, facing the shepherd, who left the Holy Land reluctantly, only to find food, each powerful in his own way, each doing everything he can for his family and future, in his own way, the only way he sees and knows how.
As we’re told, Joseph recognizes the brothers but the brothers don’t recognize him. 22 years have passed by (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Brachot 55:2 offers a careful, precise calculation). Joseph is no longer the young 17 year old dreamer he was way back when. Clearly, he’s changed a lot. And yet, that simplistic storyline bothers me, and I think should bother any of us, especially those of us older than 39, especially in this internet age, when it’s possible to reconnect with childhood friends one hasn’t seen “forever”, and yet, are immediately familiar and easy to recognize. And if that does not make it obvious, how about this: You went to the same school for 12 years with only 12 students. One is missing. The last time you saw him was on his way to Egypt and now you’re here… You know he was super talented, beautiful, smart, resourceful, tenacious if slightly obnoxious… Wouldn’t you be at least a little suspicious that he’s somewhere nearby? Top that with the fact that everybody knows Joseph is a Hebrew, and that the brothers are Hebrews, and then think, how many Hebrews were there back then??
As mentioned elsewhere here, Judah’s speech is full of inconsistencies and hidden messages which would be clear only to Joseph, just in case the mysterious ruler was him. This begins already in the first sentence when Judah asks the Second to Pharaoh not to be angry with him. Imagine being invited to Joe Biden’s office and first thing, asking him not to be upset. Why should I do this if we’ve never met and I haven’t done anything to him?! Unless Judah does remember full well the last time they might have met?). Then Judah adds –“for you are like Pharaoh” (Genesis 44:18), possibly hinting that we know you’re “like” but not really another Pharaoh, though on the outside you might have fooled us, and by the way: posing as one person on the outside while being someone else, is not a new thing in this family, with Joseph being “Jacob’s progeny” (Genesis 37:2). Did they all not know the story of their own father, dressing up as someone else, and their grandfather having to figure out if the person in front of him was the outward presence or the inward voice?
One of my dearest friends (who miraculously showed up in my life after even more than 22 years 🙂 helped me zero in and simplify the answer to this: no doubt Judah and Joseph know each other but they do not want to ac-know-ledge each other. In Hebrew, the two are also linguistically linked, short of one construct: lehakir et – להכיר את (know) as opposed to lehakir b… להכיר ב (acknowledge).
We read the story with such suspense every year maybe because it is still just as fresh, relevant and painful as it was then. We too are facing each other, refusing to recognize our brother standing right in front of us, each defensive, pained, enclosed in his own hurt and plight, each unable to make a move forward. How do we dislodge this situation? Maybe we need to incorporate some of Joseph’s faithfulness, patience and forgiveness, preparing and setting the stage for our meeting and joint future as we await our long lost brothers – yes, the same brothers who harmed us-; maybe we need a little Judah in us, daring to get out of our comfort zone, reaching a hand for reconciliation even if there’s no guarantee it will be accepted. Then we can cut some of the talking and cry with each other so we can reunite, begin to heal and continue on our journey together.

Shabbat Shalom.

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2 Responses to Meeting our Brother in a Foreign Land

  1. Marilyn Benson says:

    So love your insight.

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