This portion, which begins in Genesis 41, finds Joseph having risen to a position of power and influence. His economic policies have allowed Egypt to deal with an encroaching famine, a food shortage that drives his brothers from Canaan to Egypt to seek rations. A pivotal chapter in the Joseph cycle takes place in Genesis 42 as Joseph confronts his brothers. He does not yet reveal himself, as he is torn between revenge and a pull to family. That will come full cirlce in an up-coming portion. Joseph creates a ruse to “test” his brothers and maybe to allow his own soul some time to come to grips with this new reality. All of a sudden, he confronts his past. Joseph is powerful, has assimilated into Egyptian culture and society–when his past is presented to him. There is a famine in the land. But who is hungry and for what?
How powerful is this portion coming as it does in this time in our life. We are being surrounded by verbiage and information that seeks to divide people and raise fears. As I looked at this portion and thought about it, this concept of famine seemed to come to the front. Famine equates with hunger. WHat are we hungry for? Let me suggest that we Boomers may be hungry, not for material things or food; rather, for something deeper. In a series of conversations in recent weeks with people from various congregations and classes, many took some time to answer a few questions on what issues seem most important to them now. What emerged as the greatest “need”? The desire for a sense of meaning, a sense of purpose in life. What to make of this? Let me suggest that there is a spiritual hunger out there. It is a hunger for meaning, a desire for a sense that my life has made some difference, that I have meant something to people and, especially, to those whom I care for. This was translated for many in these conversations, to a sense of legacy: what shall I be remembered for?
I do not think this is casual or transitory. I think that, as our generation ages, we become more aware of that need to fill our soul with meaning. The famine? It is a feeling, described by some, as feeling spiritually empty or alone. Perhaps that is why many Boomers, are now seeking to re-establish meaningful connections and relationships with family and friends. The Joseph cycle and the give and take between him and his brothers can be seen as a symbol of many of us who see time passing and now must figure out how to re-establish those initmate and historic relationships. Like Joseph, we may be torn between emotions. Yet, there is this pull to find our “place” in the universe.
The famine? It is often residing in our own soul; a hunger for meaning and need for connection and community. Despite power, influence, riches and status; Joseph’s soul hungers for those basic connections; connections that will provide for him the foundation of his future and insure his legacy.
Shalom and Chag Sameach
Rabbi Richard F 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.