Vayeshev: Who or What Are You Seeking?

The Torah portion for this week contains the very famous story of Joseph and his many colored coat. Perhaps some of you saw the play! The text itself, however, contains a wealth of complex issues. Sibling rivalry and the father-son relationship are but just a few of the issues that emerge in the portion. One little scene, which is often overlooked, is one that I think may speak to Boomers. Jacob/Israel sends Joseph out to search for his brothers with the instruction to bring back word of where they are. Joseph sets off by way of Hebron and when he arrived at Shechem: ” a man came upon him wandering in the fields. The man asked, ‘what are you looking for?’ (Genesis [37:15]) The Hebrew of the question is “mah t’vakesh?” The Hebrew root of this implies the sense of “seeking”. This “man” appears only here. One small verse. His advice, however, changes history for he directs Joseph to his brothers and they fabricate a plot to do away with him which allows Joseph to emerge in Egypt. The actions of this one “man” changes everything. Of course, it should come as no surpirse that there is a strand in tradition that sees this “man” as an angel, implying that the direction given to Joseph was part of a master divine plan.
The question this person/angel asks, however, is the key. It is an important question for us as we grow older. What are we searching for? What do we seek? This perhaps speaks to the idea that, again, we have choices in life. Rabbi Abraham Twerski, in his commentary on this verse, cites the fact that having a goal in mind allows us to focus on what is important in life. Having a goal, a direction can keep us from drifting in a sort of limbo, rudderless life. “The angel’s advice to Joseph is one we should heed, to say to ourselves over and over again, “what is it that we seek?”. The proper answer to this repetitious question should determine not only the course of our lives, but also our reactions to various challenges to our spirituality.” (Twerski: “Living Each Week”. p. 74). We are asked to repeat this question as if to remind us that part of our challenge as we get older is to re-examine what we are seeking in life. When younger, it may have been status, position, family and material goods. As we learn to let go of some of those, we learn to seek greater meaning in relationships, giving back to society and strength in family.
Maybe that random encounter with this “man” was not so random after all? So too with us. As we grow and seek our own goals and directions, it is important to keep in front of us this important question: what are we seeking?
Rabbi Richard F Address, D.Min

About Rabbi Richard Address
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.

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