Sharing The Extraordinary

Dec 2nd, 2010 by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg in Holidays, Portion of the Week, Relationships
It happened again: My wife did not like a food I love. It happens often that Debbie does not like something I love; a book, a painting, music, or an idea. At times she doesn’t like a class I’ve taught or an essay I’ve written. Chutzpah!

In the past, I was discombobulated whenever we didn’t connect in such moments. I didn’t know how to deal with not being able to share something with the most important person in my life. How could we not have this experience in common?

That is, until I remembered an offhand comment of my father zt”l: We were at a Get, the religious divorce of a couple. The woman asked to say something to the man before he handed her the Get; “You will never find someone who has so much in common with you.” My father whispered in my ear, “She’s right! Their relationship was “Common,” not as extraordinary as a relationship can be.”

When I recalled that remark, I realized that I am not interested in a “common” relationship, but something extraordinary. My wife and I do not need to have everything in common, other than the commitment to the extraordinary. I can enjoy music she does not. She can enjoy a food I dislike. I can love a painting she hates, and she can love a book for which I have no patience. She can even dislike something I write or teach without detracting from all the extraordinary things we share.

Joseph did not have much in common with his brothers. He liked colorful clothing. They were more practical in their clothing choices; they sold him for simple shoes. They disagreed over many Halachot. They differed over the role of the maidservant’s sons. The portion tells the tale of Joseph attempting to share connections with his brothers until he realized that they shared something more fundamental: The extraordinary, and it was only in the extraordinary position as Pharaoh’s viceroy that he could convey that connection.

He began, “He herded them into a guarded place for a three-day period.” (Genesis 42:17) The Brothers could have fought their way to freedom, as Judah threatens in next week’s portion, but something held them back: “So I will know that you are not spies, but truthful people.” (Verse 34) They were not truthful people! They had lied to Jacob about Joseph’s “death,” and continued to mislead him. The Midrash wonders how Egyptians could manhandle the Brothers of legendary power, and explains that, obviously, Joseph’s sons were of equal strength. Tzafnat Pa’anei’ach and his sons shared extraordinary strength with the Brothers.

“Peace with you, fear not. Your Lord and the Lord of your father has put a hidden treasure in your sacks. Your payment has reached me.” (43:23) The Brothers did not have much in common with Joseph, but they had shared a sense of God’s constant involvement in their lives with Joseph’s right-hand man.

“They were seated before him, the firstborn according to his seniority and the youngest according to his youth. The men looked at one another in astonishment.” (Verse 33) This Egyptian had extraordinary powers.

“Is this not the one (goblet) from which my master drinks, and with which he regularly divines?” (44:5) My master has extraordinary powers, acknowledged by the Brothers; “It would be sacrilegious for your servants to do such a thing!” (Verse 7)

Tzafnat Pa’anei’ach also worries about the sacrilegious; “It would be sacrilegious for me to do this.” (Verse 17)

“Anyone among your servants with whom it is found shall die, and we also will become slaves to my master.” (Verse 9)

“The man in whose possession the goblet was found, only he shall be my slave, and as for you – go up in peace to your father.” It is at this point when the Brothers realize that as much as they share with this extraordinary man, they do not share the extraordinary; they cannot fathom how the man who has heard their story and who was so interested in their father’s well-being, could imagine them returning “in peace” to their father with another brother missing from the family. They cannot deprive their father of a son, as they did when they sold Joseph, with whom they shared more than with this man; something even more extraordinary. They shared a father with Joseph, a Patriarch, a role in a family destined for greatness.

They were prepared to fight back.

Joseph was no prepared to reveal himself.

The Brothers and Joseph would still share little after his revelation, but they would always share the extraordinary.

I find it interesting that the only language other than Hebrew in which we can write a Torah, is (Ancient) Greek: We learned the lesson of sharing the extraordinary from the Chanukah story. By the time they gathered for the Chanukah, to rededicate the Beit Hamikdash, the people realized that they shared a powerful quality with their hated enemy: The extraordinary. The Greeks were definitely so, and the people who faced them in battle and who received the miracle of the Menorah appreciated that they too were extraordinary.

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