Joseph, one of the great stories of tradition. We meet him in this portion as a strident, somewhat arrogant, very self assured young man. He is a dreamer who foretells a future that sees his brothers bowing to him. This is the portion that, in many ways, is a pivotal one in Torah history. The narrative of Joseph’s journey is interrupted only by a unique and, in many ways strange and disturbing tale of the rape of Tamar (38). But it is Joseph who emerges as the central figure and his centrality will continue for much of the rest of Genesis.
The key to this portion is found in 37, when Jacob asks Joseph to find his brothers who are off in the fields tending flocks. Joseph gathers his special coat and sets off and in verse 15 meets a man. This ish appears here for just a brief moment but the moment is critical. He asks a fantastic question mah ti’vakesh? what are you seeking? He does not ask who, but “what”? This little encounter is pivotal, for as a result, Jospeh finds his brothers, they plot against him and he winds up in Egypt. The rest, as they say , is history–at least Biblical history! But what can this question have to do with us? It is a question that many Boomers now ask ourselves: what do we seek? What, as our life unfolds, do we wish for our self. We have accumuated a wealth of life experience, many of us have transitioned from full time work. Many have grown children, many have no family at all. We become aware that time is precious, so, what do we seek?
I think more of us are asking this question now, as we continue to be faced with the challenges of isolation and life in the pandemic. What do we wish for in the future? Can we ever return to the way it was or is our life changed, our relationships altered, our institutions different? Have our priorities become different now after these Covid influenced months? Are we looking at life through different lenses? What do we seek? And one last little nagging issue. was Joseph’s meeting with this ish an accident, or, in some way, was it no coincidence at all? Think about those moments in our life when we encountered someone who became an important influence. Was it an accident? Or, in some strange pre-ordained way, was it “meant to be”?
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.