From God’s mysterious last words to Yaakov in chapter 46 about Yosef placing his hands on Yaakov’s eyes, we don’t hear the idea of the “eye of Yaakov” repeated until Moshe’s last words in the Torah. Moshe describes an idyllic vision with the words “And Yisrael dwells in security, the eye of Jacob in solitude.” (Devarim 33:28)
This is an ultimate vision, Rav Soloveitchik explains in the end of his essay Kol Dodi Dofek, of a solitude “that is to be identified with a person’s spirituality and individuality; it is a solitude that makes manifest man’s dignity and freedom.”
This idea is at the very heart of the Jewish people’s message to the world. It is what Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks calls “the dignity of difference,” a synthesis which celebrates individuality without worshipping individualism, and which affirms Divine Truth without demanding fundamentalism and uniformity. It is a message which calls us to fully see the Other, not as a threat, not in our own image, but in the Divine image.
How can a people internalize this lesson and make it part of their identity? At the dawn of the Jewish peoplehood, God tells Avraham that before becoming a sovereign people in our land, before we can enjoy the privileges of power, we need to experience what it is to be a ger, to be an ‘Other’. The Torah demands countless times that we not only remember that experience, but that we transform that memory into policy.
More than anything, it is Yosef’s actions in chapter 47 which guarantee Jewish otherness in Egypt. The Gemara goes so far as to suggest that he was trying to create this experience not only for his own family, but for the entire Egyptian people, by dislocating everyone from their homes. God’s promise that we will be ‘gerim’ is realized through Yosef’s actions. Egypt’s response to otherness is fear, enslavement and oppression. The Jewish mission is to teach the world the alternative.
My own little daily 929 insight, in 300 words or so. What’s 929? A near-impossible challenge of consistency. A song of Jewish unity. A beautiful project worth checking out. Learn more at 929.org.il