Rabbis’ Message Winter 2017
The book of Genesis ends with the death of Joseph:
“Joseph and his father’s household remained in Egypt…Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die. God will surely take notice of you and bring you up from this land to the land that God promised on oath to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.”
And Exodus begins by telling us that the family of Jacob remained in Egypt,
“they were fertile and prolific; they multiplied and increased very greatly, so that the land was filled with them.”
Why do the descendants of the first family of Judaism remain in Egypt rather than go back to Canaan? Wouldn’t it make more sense that after being saved from the famine by Joseph that the brothers would return to their home and build a Jewish nation in the land God promised them?
Perhaps the reason is in order for them to learn the defining lesson of the Jewish people, repeated over and over in the Torah:
“You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt.”
Perhaps the intention is to develop in the Jewish people an ethic of compassion, sensitivity and empathy for those who are foreign, oppressed, vulnerable or “other” in some way. The Torah teaches us to reach deep within our hearts to a moment when we might have felt like the stranger. And if not us personally, then our ancestors not only in Egypt but in Poland, Russia, Hungary, Germany or elsewhere.
We need to be reminded that all of our families came to this great country as refugees at one time. As individuals and as a people, we have traveled from oppression and vulnerability to freedom and prosperity.
Just as God repeatedly beseeched the Israelites to remember the feelings of the stranger, it bears repeating for us today. Like the Israelites, it is up to us to create a society based on the pursuit of freedom and justice for all among us, especially the stranger, the oppressed and the vulnerable.
Rabbis Altarescu and Levy