This week’s Torah portion, Miketz, is part two of the Joseph saga. Our hero Joseph is in an Egyptian jail. He was there because he was wrongly accused of having an affair with his master’s wife. Having dreamed dreams all his life, Joseph has the uncanny ability to interpret others’ dreams. He occupies himself with dream interpretation while languishing in jail. Scene two: Pharaoh is plagued with frightening dreams. No one is able to interpret their meaning. The chief cupbearer (what kind of a job is that!) who remembers Joseph from the days when they shared a jail cell tells Pharaoh of Joseph’s remarkable abilities.
Joseph is summoned, interprets Pharaoh’s dreams and thereby accurately foretells seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine. Joseph wisely prepares Egypt for the years of want by storing up food during the preceding years of abundance. Meanwhile back in Canaan Joseph’s family has run out of food and is forced to travel to Egypt to seek relief. Given Joseph’s newly acquired station his brothers come to him asking for food. He recognizes them, but they do not recognize him. He now acts and dresses like an Egyptian.
Joseph creates an elaborate trap to see if the brothers have indeed changed. He frames Benjamin to test whether or not the other brothers will defend him or throw him into the pit as well. Act two concludes. I will share more about this trap and test next week when the story nears conclusion. This week I would like to focus on one verse. In the course of his discussions with the brothers Joseph asks, “How is your aged father of whom you spoke? Is he still in good health?” (Genesis 43:27-28)
Most of the time when we ask others, “How are you?” or as our children now say, “How ya doin?” we don’t expect them to tell us the details of their health and welfare. We expect them to say, “Ok.” The deep and probing question, “How are you?” has become a formula. It no longer seeks to uncover how a friend or neighbor or even family member is really doing. How many of us greeted long since seen family members on Thanksgiving vacation with the words, “How are you?” and listened with all our hearts for a truthful response? And how many of us answered with more than the formulaic, “Ok”?
Joseph’s brothers respond, “It is well with your servant our father; he is still in good health.” According to the rabbis visiting the sick and caring for others is not a matter left to professionals or a private affair. It is instead a public concern and the responsibility of all. It is incumbent upon the entire community.
A Hasidic story. Once the Gerer Rebbe decided to question one of his disciples. He asked, “How is Moshe Yaakov doing?” The disciple didn’t know. “What!” shouted the Rebbe, “You don’t know? You pray under the same roof, you study the same texts, you serve the same God, you sing the same songs—and yet you dare tell me that you don’t know whether Moshe Yaakov is in good health, whether he needs help, advice or comforting?”
We sit next to each other so that we might support each other and truly know how our friends are doing. So let us reach out to others and truly listen to their needs. That would be the best celebration of Hanukkah and a fitting testament to the true meaning of community.