You Shall Pursue

December 10, 2013

Joseph’s Homecoming

Filed under: D'var Torah — Tags: , — marleyweiner @ 2:29 pm

This D’var Torah was delivered at my student pulpit last Saturday, December 7

When Joseph reunited with his brothers, he wept so loudly that you could hear it in pharaoh’s palace.

The last time Joseph saw his brothers, he was a slightly bratty seventeen year old boy, spouting off about dreams. Now, he is second only to pharaoh in the hierarchy of Egypt. Decades and countries have divided this family. The brothers have endured their own grief, built their own families, and, through pain and trial, grown into a mighty and prosperous family. And Joseph spent the time building a life for himself; a successful career, a beautiful wife, two sons. An idyllic existence.

And yet. When Joseph discovers his second chance, he runs to take it. When Joseph reveals himself to his brothers, it is as if no time has passed at all.

For most of us, our relationships don’t suffer from such abrupt severances. We see our relatives, we watch them grow, we grow with them, and it is easy to take them for granted. And then one day we realize that everything has changed. We may realize that our child has grown up and moved away, while we still see them as the five year old asleep in our laps. We may suddenly look at our parents and realize that they have grown old and sick, and that suddenly we need to parent them a little bit, or a lot. We may look at nieces, nephews, cousins, and find that suddenly they are sprouting up like weeds, becoming sullen teenagers while we still picture them as infants.

The comfort of seeing people every day often severs us from them, and leaves us unable to truly see them.

Reading the story of Joseph and his family makes me think about my relationship with my sister. We are very different people; I’m an academic, she’s an artist. I tend to be very measured and methodical in my decisions, she’s outspoken and goes by her gut. She is, in a lot of ways, braver than I am, but her willingness to always say exactly what she thinks has a tendency to get her in trouble. And for years, we fought like cats and dogs, the way that very different sisters do. I found her immature and rash, and I worried about her; she thought I was self-righteous and hypocritical.

And now, seven and a half years after moving out of the house, I find her suddenly a grown up. All of those differences, tempered by maturity, have her growing into the type of person I am glad to count among my family; sure in her goals and beliefs, moving forward with a vision of who she wants to be and how she wants to be in the world. I trust that she is going to be okay.

We are finally able to talk as equals, to see each other as human beings.

And so it is with Joseph and his brothers.

What is amazing about Joseph in this situation is that he could have chosen to focus on the past behavior of his brothers, but he did not. Certainly, he had reason enough to distrust them, to throw them out of his palace. But that is not what happened. Instead, he was able to focus on the present reunion, and welcome them with open arms.

But, neither did he reveal himself to his brothers automatically. He needed to see, after that long absence, whether or not he could trust them. And so he devised tests, seeing whether they would be willing to put the wellbeing of their family, of their father, and of their younger brother, over their own self-interests. Judah, in his monologue to the disguised Joseph about the state of his family, shows remarkable maturity and grace; the beloved younger son who was killed, the other beloved younger son whose loss would kill their father, he understands and accepts it all. The moment that Judah passes Joseph’s tests, and not before, is the moment that Joseph reveals himself, and he cries so loudly from the relief of homecoming that they can hear him all the way to pharaoh’s palace.

How many of us yearn for that relief of homecoming?

How many of us continue in roles with our loved ones that don’t quite fit us, because we are terrified of changing the dynamic for ill, and so we suffer on for years under the belief that we cannot be our true selves? How many of us continue to be “the failure” or “the successful one” or “the peacemaker” while resenting that role all the time?

And conversely, how many of us refuse to see the beautiful or not so beautiful changes in our loved ones, because nostalgia or pain or anger or fear makes us resistant to a change in the relationship? How many of us continue to see a particular sibling as “the immature one” or a particular parent as “the perfect one” even as they reveal their growth and maturity, or their many flaws?

In Jewish theology there is a concept of “the world to come,” Olam HaBa. Most people translate it as heaven. One of my professors, Rabbi Ira Stone, translates Olam HaBa as the ability to look towards the future, to look outside ourselves, and grow and change as circumstances demand.

In order to reach Olam HaBa, we cannot linger in the past, holding on to old hurts and resentments. Nor can we remain focused on the present, thinking only of what will serve us best in this moment. Rather, we must see what those around us need and strive to meet those needs. It is only by acting in the world that we are truly able to move forward. It is only by really seeing each other, and helping each other, that we are able to reach a place of serenity and joy, of paradise.

As we move forward into this week, let us each take a moment to open our eyes and really see each other. Our true flaws, our true strengths, our true needs. We are beautiful in our ability to change, and when we allow each other to do so, we can finally find the strength, and the healing, that comes through homecoming.

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