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Home » Israel, Life Is Beautiful, Vayeshev

Vayeshev: At Home

Submitted by on December 6, 2014 – 9:09 pmNo Comment | 3,929 views

Where We Feel At Home

The story is told of a Chassid who would travel on business to St Petersburg and return home to his Rebbe’s court. In St. Petersburg he would don modern attire and mingle with his business colleagues, at home he reverted to the Chassid’s garb.

Feeling uncomfortable with the constant switching, he decided to wear his modern attire at home. The Rebbe looked at him strangely and the Chassid explained that this was his business attire. The Rebbe assured him that he had already deduced as much. “But,” said the Rebbe, “I thought you were at home in the Chassid’s garb and the modern attire was your business costume. Now I see that the opposite is true. You are at home in your modern attire and the Chassid’s garb is your costume.”

Divine Providence chose a path for us that places us in the big world. Whether we are in medicine, law, academics or business, we dress up every day, leave home and foray into the big world. We don a personality that suits our environment and work hard to succeed. We return at the end of the day, wash up and revert to our real personality. We go back to being a father, a mother, a member of the family. We learn Torah with our children, celebrate Shabbat and holidays, chant the blessings over our food and pray morning and night.

The question is, where are we at home? Where do we feel that we fit in and belong? Are we better suited to our secular professional persona or are we most comfortable in our Jewish selves? Which is the real me and which is the dress-up me?

In Exile

When our ancestors were exiled to Babylon, they were unhappy in their distant home. They sat at the shores of the Euphrates and cried for Jerusalem. A mere seventy years later, when the exile ended, many Jews had grown so comfortable in exile that they had to be coerced to leave.[1]

When we were exiled to Europe, we felt like foreign transplants. The Europeans didn’t welcome us, they discriminated against us and persecuted us. We built ghettos and strove to create mini Jerusalems behind the ghetto walls. We didn’t assimilate into the European culture. We lived in Europe, but its culture was foreign to us. Europe was our home, but we were never at home there.

Then came emancipation and the entire culture shifted. We began to dream of liberty and equality. We began to speak the Gentile’s language and adopt Gentile values. We yearned for the gentile’s acceptance and aspired to full integration. We began to dream the gentile dream. But we never succeeded. The Jew was never embraced by Europe. They continued to hate us and discriminate against us. And when the Nazis came to slaughter us, our European friends conveniently “forgot” us.

Jacob and Joseph

This is reminiscent of what happened to our forefather Jacob. The Torah tells us that “Jacob settled, in the land of his father’s sojourns.” Jacob settled in and began to feel at home on his father’s land. Isaac was a sojourner on the land, he never felt at home there. He felt at home only in the synagogue and study hall. Jacob settled in on the land. He wasn’t a sojourner; he felt right at home.[2]

Jacob was of a deeper bend. He was able to settle into the tactile and earthly lifestyle of field work without compromising his wholesome spirituality.[3] Yet, Jacob was breaking new ground and all beginnings are fraught with risk. What came easily to Jacob had a corrupting influence on Joseph. The moment Jacob settled in and began to feel at home, he was beset by the tragedy of Joseph.

At first, Joseph had grandiose dreams of conquering the world with his Jewish ideals. He dreamed of the sun and moon prostrating before him. He had visions of sheaves in the field bowing to him. The workers and the nobles, the peasants and the rulers would all bow to Joseph’s teachings of Torah and Judaism.

When Jacob began to feel at home among the Canaanites, Joseph temporarily stopped dreaming Jewish dreams. He moved to Egypt and became self-absorbed. He stopped dreaming Jewish dreams and began to interpret Egyptian dreams. He associated with Egyptian royals, Egyptian dreams and Egyptian behaviors.[4]

We too must ask, where we stand? Are we Canadians or are we Jews? Are we ‘at home’ in the Synagogue and sojourners on the outside or are we ‘at home’ outside and sojourners in the Synagogue?vat home - innerstream.ca

You can spend most of your day at work without your workplace becoming home. You can also spend most of your life in the diaspora without making it your home. If we are Jewish, Israel is our home. We are in the diaspora for a purpose. To help make these lands a holier and more G-dly place. But that is our job. It’s not our home.

When the diaspora becomes our home. When we grow comfortable with the non-Jewish culture, music, holidays and values. When we measure time by the secular calendar and forget the Jewish date, we slowly, without realizing, lose touch with our Jewish selves. We begin to identify more with our neighbors than our people. We adopt their dreams, their ideals and their values.

What happens next? Well let’s look at what happened to Joseph. He placed his hope in the hands of the Royal Butler and was bitterly disappointed. As the Torah puts it, the butler forgot him.[5] Just as our European neighbors conveniently “forgot” us when the Nazis came to slaughter us.

How Do We Respond?

We do what Joseph did. He realized his error and returned to his abject faith in G-d. When he was summoned to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams he gave full credence to G-d and to the message that G-d had sent through the dream.[6] From this point onward Joseph became even more adept than his father at remaining true to his Judaism despite being integrated with Egyptian culture. Joseph succeeded in his work and transformed the whole of Egypt. Everyone bowed to him, but it wasn’t really to him. It was to his Divine message and Torah ethos.

Never again did Joseph think of Egypt as home. For him, Israel would forever be home. Indeed, before his passing he instructed that his remains be transported to Israel for burial.

And some two centuries later, Joseph was finally home.

We too must come home. To the Synagogue, to Israel, to Judaism and to Torah. On that day, we too will finally be home.


[1] Psalm 147. Ezra 8: 15-19.

[2] Genesis 37 1. See Rashi ibid. see Kli Yakar and Latorah V’lamoadim by Rabbi S. Y. Zevin ad loc.

[3] Toras Menachem 10: p. 204.

[4] Genesis 39: 6, and Rashi ibid. 39: 11 and Rashi ibid. 40: 8, 12 & 18. On the other hand, see Rashi to Genesis 40: 1.

[5] Genesis 40: 23 see Rashi ibid.

[6] Genesis 41: 16, 25 24 32. It bears noting that he did not mention G-d when interpreting the butler’s dream.

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