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Home » Miketz

Miketz: Who Are We?

Submitted by on December 25, 2005 – 2:41 amNo Comment | 2,002 views

The Lost Child

When I was younger my father often talked of the proverbial child who never got to school on time. If it wasn’t his pants, it was his hat. If it wasn’t his hat, it was his socks. If it wasn’t his clothing, it was his homework. There was always something missing and he was constantly scrambling to find it.

One day the boy penned a list. “Pants and shirt are on the chair, shoes and socks are beside the bed, my homework is in the school bag and my bag is at the door.” After a moment he added, “And I am in bed.”

The next morning he awoke to find everything exactly where the list indicated it would be, but he still came late to school. Try as he might, he could not find himself in bed.

This proverbial child is us. We are on the constant lookout for gadgets that remind us where we are. A friend recently told me of a new cellphone with a GPS chip. “Now,” he proudly told me, “I can never get lost. My phone will always guide me back home.”where am i - innersteram

A Timeless Question

I caught myself reflecting on the first chat that G-d had with man. Adam and Eve ate from the forbidden fruit and G-d descended to investigate. Hearing the celestial footsteps, Adam went into hiding. “Ayekah,” thundered G-d. “Adam, where are you?” (1)

G-d surely knew where Adam was, but he wanted Adam to know it too. Adam had sinned  and G-d called him on it. “You have only been alive for ten hours (2) and you have already defied my will? What’s with you, asked G-d? Where are you?” (3)

This kind of question cannot be answered with a GPS signal. No, not this one. Because this is not so much a question of “Where are you,” but of, “Who are you?”

The Identity Question

We live in an ambiguous age and we often find it difficult to identify our true selves. We must decide who and what we really are. At our very core, in our heart of hearts, at our point of quintessence, who are we?

Am I a professional or a family member, a husband or a friend, a patriot or a Jew? What is my main role? What is in the forefront? What describes the true me?

We, in the diaspora, live among host cultures that are larger and more dominant than our own. We often dress like them, act like them and talk like them. We often befriend them, join their social circles and identify with them.

The question, “Ayekah,” echoes through the corridors of time. It pierces the veil of history. Its unceasing demand prompts us to take a stand. We need to prioritize between the many hats that we wear and choose from the many values that we juggle.

What are my primary concerns? Are my secular studies more important than my Torah studies? Is acceptance in the right social circle more important than belonging to the Jewish nation? Is my commitment to my host nation greater than my commitment  to Torah?

What to Do?

Imagine that your child has auditioned for a theater troupe and landed a coveted role. She  rehearses and practices. She is a wonderful actress. One day you glance at the calendar and discover that the performance is scheduled for Saturday afternoon. What do you do?

Does she perform? She has worked so hard. Does she stay at home? She will be devastated, not to mention that she will never be offered a central role again. What to do? It is not so much a question of “what we should do” but of “who we should be?”

Are we Jews who perform in the theater or actors who practice Judaism? What is uppermost? What is primary? To be a good Jew or to fit in and succeed?

The Seder Night

A Jewish high school basketball team surprised the league and themselves one year and made it to the semi-finals. When they consulted the playoff schedule, they realized that one of the games was to be held on the first night of Passover.

The players didn’t even discuss the matter among themselves. It wasn’t a question. Not a single player made an appearance that night. They were all at home, celebrating Passover with their families.

That night, at the Seder table, they weren’t basketball players who were Jewish, they were Jews who played basketball. They forfeited the game and lost their playoff berth, but with that loss they confirmed their identity. That Seder night was not a loss. It was a victory.

Are we Like Joseph?

When Jacob’s sons sold their brother Joseph to the Egyptians, he was a young lad who looked and acted like a Jew. When they met him again twenty-two years later, they didn’t recognize him. He was a full grown adult and every bit the Egyptian prince. He dressed, behaved, talked and walked like a prodigy of Egyptian culture. (4)

This wasn’t the young Jewish lad they had last seen at home. He may have been the same man, but he was not the same person. This wasn’t Joseph.This was an Egyptian prince.

Little did they know that this was just a facade, that on the inside Joseph was a passionate, devout and utterly committed Jew. His dress belied his inner nature. His manner obscured his true identity. The brothers had no way of knowing this. To them he was an Egyptian.

Like Joseph, we too must ensure that our diaspora accouterments do not affect our Jewish identity. Our Jewish GPS signal must ring with clarity as we continually ask ourselves the timeless question, Ayeka? Are we keeping faith with the Jewish spark that we carry within?

Footnotes

 

  1. Genesis 3: 9.
  2. See Bab. Talmud, Sanhedrin p. 38b.
  3. This interpretation is attributed to the first Lubavitcher Rebbe (R. Schneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chassidus Chabad, 1745 – 1813). Rashi (R. Shlomo Yitzchaki, Troyes France, 1040-1105) offered a simpler explanation. G-d knew that Adam was tense and sought to calm him with a conversation opener. Beis Rebbe, R. Chaim Meyer Hillman (Kehot Publication Society, 1953) ch. 22.
  4. Genesis 42: 8. See Likutei Sichos, v. III, p. 832 (R. Menachem M Schneerson, Rebbe of Lubavitch, NY, 1902-1994).
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