In this week’s Torah portion, there is the touching reunion of Yosef with his brothers. And then it is time for him to send his brothers back to Israel to fetch their father. Yosef gives very detailed instructions of what the brothers should do on the way home and how they should tell their father about his situation.
One of the things he tells them to relate to Yaakov is [Verse 9] that “Samunee Elokim L’Adon L’chol Mitzrayim.” The literal translation is “G-d placed me as master over all Egypt”. Much of what was said by our holy ancestors were double entendres. Here, too, there was the literal message and a very profound pun, too. The Rizhiner Rebbe said, we should read the second intention of Yosef this way: Sam Ani Elokin al Mitzrayim – I am using my power to place Hashem into all of Egypt. That is a Jew’s job in this world – to place G-d into people’s awareness. When talking to people, say, Thank G-d, G-d willing, etc. Yosef sent the message that he was doing exactly that.
Many moons ago, I worked for Neve Yerushalayim. When I arrived, as part of the introduction, the Dean was explaining to me that since people connect in different ways due to temperament, I would find that some of the students became close to teachers/lecturers, some would absorb lessons only from dorm counselors, “and,” he ended off, “some from the cook in the kitchen.” Now that was an eyebrow-raiser for all of two hours, until lunchtime when I met the cook in the kitchen. There were actually two cooks, a husband and wife team. The incomparable Vogels, originally from England, quintessential Jews, bringing G-d into the kitchen and dining room of Neve. Yup, I found I connected to the cook. He had a joke he used to tell us, and here I share it, not quite as well as he did with his English accent…
Baby Camel turned to his Momma Camel and said, “Momma, tell me, why do we have our hooves created flat this way?” And Momma responded, “Because we are desert animals and these feet allow us to glide over the sand instead of sink into it, my dear child.” “Oh,’ said Baby Camel, “but, Momma, why do we have this hump on our back?” “That, my child,” said Momma Camel, “is because we are desert animals and we travel many places that have no water, so we store in our hump all the water we need for the desert.” “Oh, “said Baby Camel, “I understand. But, Momma, why do we have such long lashes?” “That,” explained Momma, “is because we are desert animals and the long lashes keep the sand out of our eyes.” “Oh,” said Baby Camel, “But, Momma, if we are desert animals, what are we doing here in the Bronx Zoo?”
Mr. Vogel would chuckle when he finished the joke, and then, with a more serious mien on his face wonder, ‘and what are Jews doing everyplace they don’t belong? We’ve been given the searching soul, the years of history, the fortitude to be spiritual, what are we doing elsewhere?’
Yosef told his father that he was living up to his talents as a Jew, bringing G-d awareness to the world. Are we doing the same?