"…No one stood with him when Joseph revealed himself to his brothers." —Genesis 45:1
The plain sense of these words is that Joseph had no Egyptian attendants with him when he let his brothers know who he really was. We also could say, figuratively, that no one else stood on so high a spiritual level as Joseph when he lowered himself from his throne to forgive the brothers who sold him into slavery.
"No one stood with him when Joseph knew himself…" There are moments in all of our lives when we really, deeply know ourselves in relationship to the world and we stand alone. It is not that we are placed on a higher rung than other people in such moments. Rather, when we most truly find the thing about ourselves that is distinctive and true to the root of our being, we discover that we are unique, as all human beings are unique. We find that, in the place where we most directly connect ourselves to God, we do so in a way that nobody else can. Each person in the world is necessary, because each person is a unique fulfillment of a place to connect with God.
That is what Joseph discovered in the moment when he understood his role in bringing his family down to Egypt to escape the famine and to set the stage for the exodus. Finally, he knew himself and he knew the place where only he could stand to bring about the future required by God for the children of Israel.
Today was my family's first full day in Israel. On our first day in Tel Aviv, we did not go to Independence Hall, the place where Israel's Declaration of Independence was signed on May 14, 1948. We did not go to the Diaspora Museum, which displays the history and culture of the Jewish people in exile. We did not go to the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, with its paintings by Van Gogh, Picasso and Degas.
Instead, since it was Friday, we went to Shuk HaCarmel, the Carmel Market, to join thousands of Israelis shop for vegetables, fish, fruits, cheeses, pastries, flowers and spices. Rather than go to a typical tourist destination to begin our journey, my wife and I wanted our two children to see something real and distinctive about the Israeli people and what it is like to live in Israel. We wanted them to discover themselves as members of this big, busy, bustling people as they get ready for Shabbat. We wanted them to see how they fit in, uniquely, as part of a unique people.
Shuk HaCarmel did not disappoint. The kids loved taking in the colors, the excitement, the energy, the flavors and the fragrances. I saw them processing a new understanding that, in this place, they are not a member of a small, misunderstood minority. Here they are part of a national culture that is truly their own. In each of their eyes, I saw a small awakening. Being surrounded by such a dazzling place—yet one as ordinary as an outdoor marketplace—helped them, I think, understand what it might mean for them to stand in a place where they connect uniquely with the Land of Israel, with the Jewish people, and with God.
And, in looking in their faces at such a moment, I felt that I, too, was learning how to be alone knowing myself in relationship to the world.
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Adult B'nei Mitzvah