Where do you belong? Where is home for you? Is home where your body resides or where your soul wants to be? As Jews, we are only at home in a holy land. Yet, most Jews live in the diaspora all over the world. So, for those of us who live in the diaspora, are we at home?
This week, we read about the reunion of Joseph and his family in Egypt. Joseph had lived in Egypt for twenty-two years. When his brothers arrived, they did not recognize him. When they last saw him, he was a child, now, he was an adult. But more importantly, when they last saw him, he looked like a Jew and now he looked like an Egyptian.
On the surface, he dressed, talked, and behaved like an Egyptian. A leading socialite, a powerful viceroy, a rich playboy, etc. But deep inside burned a passionate soul on fire with love for G-d. The brothers did not see the inside. They only saw the surface and thought they were dealing with an Egyptian. They did not recognize their brother.
Joseph finally revealed his identity and said, “I am Joseph,” but they were so startled that they couldn’t respond. It wasn’t the suddenness of their long-awaited reunion with their brother. It was the shock of discovering that this perfectly coiffed Egyptian powerhouse was none other than their long-lost brother.
Joseph then said, “Please, come closer.” What was the point of this invitation? Our sages tell us that he showed them that he was circumcised. This was their proof that he was really one of them. However, I invite you to delve deeper. He was not just showing them his Jewish badge. He was asking them to look past the panache, the polished veneer, and peer inside. Come closer. Come look at who I really am.
I am not an Egyptian. I don’t belong in this immoral land. I don’t want to be here. This is not my home. My home is in the holy land. My heart pulsates and beats with Judaism. I am suffused with holiness, and I am here on a mission. I belong in Israel and am only here for a purpose. My mission is to bring holiness to this land starved of holiness.
In practical terms, Jospeh’s mission was to pave the way for the Jewish people’s entry into Egypt and, more importantly, their eventual redemption. That was Joseph’s only reason for being in Egypt. Though he looked comfortable, he wasn’t. He was in Egypt, but his heart was in Israel.
Once the brothers saw this, they began to talk to Joseph. They got over their amazement and realized that their brother was not an Egyptian. He just looked like one.
You Are Spies
This explains why Joseph greeted his brothers with the allegation that they were spies. The simple understanding is that this was the opening gambit of an elaborate scheme to test his brothers. By accusing them of being spies, he was able to question them about their family. When they mentioned their younger brother, Joseph demanded that they bring this brother to Egypt and prove that they were telling the truth. Eventually, he framed his brother for theft to see if the other brothers would stand up for him. This would tell Josephe whether they had changed since they sold him twenty-two years earlier. The brothers passed this test and Joseph revealed his identity to them.
This is the literal reason for the allegation that they were spies. However, the Torah has many layers of meaning. The fact that Joseph greeted his brothers with the message that they were spies suggests that there was a deeper meaning to this. Especially since Joseph never retracted this allegation.
Joseph knew that his brothers had never set foot outside of Israel. They had never as much as visited an unholy land. He also knew that if his brothers would pass his test, he would invite them to live in Egypt. Not just any unholy land but a land that oppresses Jews and practices pure evil.
To prepare them for this shocking transition he informed them that they were spies. His initial greeting was not just an allegation; it was also a teaching. You are now experiencing culture shock. I know your feelings because I felt it when I first arrived. But I survived, and you will too if you follow my advice.
Never settle into this country and think that you belong here. Always know that you don’t belong here. Your home is not in Egypt. You belong in Israel. You are here because you must be here. You are on a mission. You are a spy.
Successful spies acclimate themselves to the country in which they reside. They must dress, talk, and behave as locals; otherwise, they will be caught. Long-term spies purchase homes, build careers, develop friendships, and establish social networks. They integrate themselves with the people and culture of the country, but they always know that this is not home. They go to great lengths to look like they belong, but they know they don’t.
You don’t advertise that you don’t belong. That only jeopardizes your mission. You keep it quiet and let everyone think you are a card-carrying member of this country. This was not just an allegation; this was survival advice. Do you want to survive your ordeal in Egypt? Don’t assimilate. Remember your identity. Remember where you belong and where you don’t belong.
The Jew in the World
This is true in general of the Jews in the world. On the surface, a Jew is just like everyone else. We pursue our careers, we build our homes, we build our relationships and friendships, and we integrate with our resident countries. On the surface, we are just like our neighbors. But we are not really the same. We are spies. We are only here for a mission.
Our mission is to make this place holier, gentler, and kinder by modeling our Jewish values. When we fill our homes with holiness, when we raise our family with the Torah, when we are a positive moral influence on our neighborhoods, we fulfill our mission. To be successful, we need to speak the language and look the part. On the surface, we are just like everyone, but deep down, we are different. We are spies.
Israel is Home
This is why every Jew feels at home when they visit Israel. Even Jews who are not observant feel at home in Israel. As comfortable as we might be in our diaspora communities, something clicks deep inside when we land in Israel. We all feel at home.
This is because the diaspora can never truly be home for the Jew. It is not our natural habitat. It is not where we belong. Israel is our home, and that is why we feel at home in Israel.
When we succeed in our mission, and the entire world is filled with holiness, there will no longer be a diaspora. The entire world will become home because the entire world will be holy, like Israel. Yes, we will make pilgrimage to Jerusalem, where the Temple will be rebuilt, but we will make our home where we live today. We will feel at home because it will be a holy land.
Then we will not be spies. Then we will belong. Then we will be at home because the whole world will be home.