Looking for a Leader

Our country tuned in to a televised address from the Oval Office on Wednesday evening looking for leadership. We were looking for encouragement. We were looking for direction. We were looking for a plan. We found none. I have often been critical of President Trump. I have been critical because of his rhetoric and I have been critical because I believed many of his policies were antithetical to my Jewish beliefs. Still, I tuned in, like most of the country, hoping that during a pandemic, he would lead.

We want a leader to respond in a time of crisis with strength and with humility. We want a leader to accept their mistakes and shortcomings, to take responsibility. But when someone in a position of power passes the buck, kicks the can down the road, or places the blame on someone else, that person has failed their community as a leader.

When Moses was atop Mount Sinai for too long, the Israelites were nervous. They lost faith in him and lost faith in God. So they turned to Aaron and asked him to build them an idol. He told them to bring him their gold. Our commentators try to defend him, suggesting that this was a stall tactic, that they actually wouldn’t bring him their gold. He figured that by the time they finally did, Moses would return. Others cite a midrash that involves the Israelites first approaching Hur and asking him to build an idol. The midrash claims that he refused and was killed by the mob of Israelites, so when they approached Aaron, he was simply trying to stay alive. Yet when Moses asked him about the idol, he said that they gave him the gold and he hurled it into the fire and a golden calf came out. Aaron was essentially saying “it wasn’t me!” He tried to place blame on others and refused to take responsibility.

No one is expecting our leaders to be perfect. They will all make mistakes along the way. We all do! But we are expecting our leaders to lead, and that can only happen is and when they put others first. Leaders lead when they put the needs of the community they serve before their own ego, image, self-interests, or bank account. Leaders lead when they admit their fears, concerns, and shortcomings.

I hope and pray for a leader that will lead us during these challenging times. I find inspiration from the response of officials on the state and local level, and community organizations who are leading by example and doing what they must to keep our communities safe, even when the leader of the free world refuses to do so. Being a leader is not about a title that one has. Being a leader is about how one acts. So let us all lead by example and act in a way that puts the health and safety of ourselves, our neighbors, and our communities first before anything else.

-Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky

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Creating Sacred Community During a Pandemic

Shammai taught that we should  Mekabel et Kol haadam b’sever panim yafo,, greet every person with a cheerful embrace (Avot 1:15). Some understand this to simply mean that we should greet everyone with a smile. I read it differently. To me, this means that we should truly embrace each other, to draw each other close to us.

I’m a hugger. Most know that about me. The first time I meet someone, I often give them a hug. And yet, as our community responds to a global pandemic, I – we – are forced to adjust. Instead of hugging and kissing, and instead of shaking hands, we are touching elbows, or we are bashing and bumping forearms. In China, they have actually recommended shaking feet, in which people kick their feet together, instead of shaking hands.

This will be an adjustment for us – for all of us. It will certainly be an adjustment for me. But we are asking for everyone’s help with this; we can only keep our community healthy and safe if everyone follows our recommended guidelines. That means washing your hands frequently using soap and water, and when that is not possible, using Alcohol-based hand sanitizer, which we have available all throughout our synagogue building. And of course staying home and contacting a health care professional if you have a fever, a constant cough, or shortness of breath.

We also know that it seems those who might have compromised immune systems, the elderly and young children, and those suffering from other illnesses and are on medications that cause them to be immuno-suppressed, are more at risk. So we can’t just protect ourselves. We need to act in this way to protect others as well.

As part of the Daf Yomi cycle, the daily study of a page of Talmud, we just studied from Berachot 62. On this page, we find a lengthy conversation about going to the bathroom, about when and where one should go to the bathroom. But included in this discussion, Bar Kappara teaches: “When you are hungry, you should eat without delay. When you are thirsty, you should drink without delay. When you have to go to the bathroom, you should go, without delay.” What he is emphasizing here is our need to take care of our bodies so that we can take care of our souls. We cannot have healthy souls without having healthy bodies. We cannot be without a vibrant spiritual community. But we cannot be a vibrant spiritual community if we do not take care of ourselves.

In the days, and weeks, and likely months ahead, that may mean that there are changes we need to make. That includes small adjustments like not hugging or shaking hands, or larger adjustments like finding ways to stream programs and services for those who are isolated, homebound, or quarantined. But we need to work together to make sure that we take care of ourselves, and others, to nourish our bodies, so that we as a community can continue to nourish our souls.

COVIDOn this past Shabbat, Shabbat Zachor, we read from chapter 25 of the book of Deuteronomy, about Amalek. We read about the Amalekites because rabbinic tradition teaches that Haman was a descendant of them. And we are simultaneously told to Timche, erase, the memory of Amalek, and Lo Tishkach, not forget, what Amalek did to us. When figuring out how it’s possible that we could have these two opposing commands, we conclude that we should be sensitive to our experiences with Amalek, but we shouldn’t let them define us. The Torah is telling us that our lives must be a balancing act. We cannot be defined by something, but we must be aware of it. The Israelites couldn’t forever have their lives shaped by what Amalek did to them, attacking them from behind in the wilderness. Their mindset couldn’t be shaped by those fears. And yet, they acknowledged that some of the decisions they made as a community, were very much in response to exactly that.

Similarly, we refuse to let the global COVID-19 pandemic define us and impact our ability to offer a sacred and spiritual home for our community. However, we cannot also ignore the spread of this virus, including within the New York-Metropolitan Jewish community and within Jewish institutions. We must Timche. We can’t have it in our minds all the time. But we also must Lo Tishkach, always be vigilant and aware, in order to keep members of our community healthy. Let us begin by tapping elbows instead of shaking hands, and by offering air hugs to embrace each other. At least for the time being. Let us make sure that we put each other’s health first, to take care of our bodies, so that together as a community, we can take care of our souls.

-Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky

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Seeing God in the Eyes of Each Other

All of Parashat Terumah is filled with rules an stipulations regarding how to build the Mishkan, the Tabernacle. Not only does it list the materials that should be brought, but it also mentions the exact dimensions and placement of these materials. This is the original blueprint of the Tabernacle. Among those instructions, we find the requirement to make an Aron, an ark of acacia wood, overlaid with gold on the inside and out with gold rings and poles to be inserted through those rings so that it can be carried from encampment to encampment as the Israelites brought their portable sanctuary with them through the wilderness. And after making a cover of gold, there should be two cherubs, two keruvim, two angelic figures made of gold at the end of the cover, resting atop the ark that housed the tablets of the covenant, facing each other.

Rashi explains that when the Torah says that they should be of hammered work, that means they should be on one piece of gold, not separate from the ark and then soldered unto the cover, but of the same piece of gold. The angels are just as much a part of the holiness of the ark of the covenant as the tablets that were to be held inside it.

The space that held what was believed to be the word of God was highlighted by these keruvim. They were angelic figures, intentionally with the faces of human beings, suggesting that humanity serves as God’s angels, and they were looking at each other, seeking to find the divine presence in one another.

In the latest xenophobic move of this administration’s anti-immigrant agenda, an agenda that is antithetical to the notion of loving the stranger and welcoming the stranger that we first find as biblical law in Parashat Mishpatim, the Justice Department announced on Wednesday that it had created an official section of its immigration office to strip citizenship rights from naturalized immigrants. Such a move is not only bigoted and discriminatory, but also suggests that we are not all equal under the law. This is the President’s and his administration’s latest attempt to remove immigrants from this country, including those who are here legally, including those who immigrated here and became US citizens and should be seen as equal under the law to someone who was born here. He still sees them as other and as different.

God declared that the Shechina, God’s Earthly Presence, would reside in between these two cherubim, suggesting that God is present in our interpersonal relationships and we find God, and see God, based on how we treat each other. But God also feels absent, based on how we treat each other. The Talmud suggests that the keruvim embracing each other, looking at each other, was a sign that we honored God. They saw God in one another. But when they did not follow God’s will, these angelic faces would actually turn away from one another.

When we refuse to see God in each other, we stop seeing God in this world. When we stop seeing each other as angels, as God’s messengers, as God’s partners, then we stop seeing God, and we stop doing God’s holy work.

The ark was to be covered in gold on the inside and the outside, even though no one ever saw the inside. Why place something as precious as gold on the inside when it was barely seen? Why waste gold on an area that we would not show off? I believe it is because ultimately, it’s the inside that is precious.

Further bigoted immigration decisions by the Justice Department perpetuates xenophobia, and encourages that we judge people based on ethnicity, where they come from, or the color of their skin, suggesting that how one looks is a determining factor in how “American” they are. But we should focus on the gold on the inside, not the gold on the outside. If we are focusing on the outside, if we are judging people and discriminating against them based on how they look or where they are from, then not only are we ignoring the biblical command to welcome and love the stranger, but we are also causing the cherubim, causing God’s angels, to turn away from each other. When we turn away from each other, we turn away from seeing each other as angels, and seeing each other as made in God’s image. If we do so, then we turn away from God as well.

Let us treat each other as cherubim, as angelic figures. Let us see the other, see each other, as precious as gold. And let us treat each other with as much respect as the Mishkan, the Tabernacle itself. Let us never forget that God dwells among us – not just some of us, but all of us. And let us remember that if we are all angels of God, then we come to appreciate that God dwells among us by seeing God in the eyes of all those who dwell among us.

– Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky

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Why We Must Be Reminded to Care for the Stranger

In the middle of Parashat Mishpatim, a Torah portion full of laws, we find arguably the most important law in the Torah. These laws, given immediately after revelation at Sinai, after the Ten Commandments, are meant to be a guide to how to build a society. These mitzvot, commandments, are bein adam l’chavero, are about interpersonal relationships. They are about how we treat our fellow.

And right in the middle of these laws we find “You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt” (Ex. 23:9). The commandment to love, welcome, support, and not oppress the stranger appears more times than any other commandment in the Torah – more than observance of the Sabbath, observance of dietary laws, or even belief in God. One can easily deduce how important it is based on how often the commandment is mentioned.

Yet, I am actually perplexed that it is mentioned here at all. The Israelites crossed a split sea, leaving behind 400 years of being a stranger in a strange land, only two Torah portions ago. How could they have already forgotten to not oppress the stranger? How could they have already forgotten that they themselves were once strangers?

I believe it is not that they forgot, but rather that they needed to be reminded, because human instinct teaches us the opposite. After experiencing oppression, human instinct is to oppress another, lest we become oppressed again. Many who are guilty of assault, violence, and bullying were themselves once victims of such acts and as long as one is the oppressor, they are not the oppressed. The Israelites needed to be reminded to not oppress the stranger out of concern that they would to ensure that they themselves didn’t become oppressed.

But if we only think about ourselves, then we fail – we fail at life and fail as God’s partners in creating this world. Our lives are intertwined. Just as we expect allies to stand with us in oppression, then we must stand with others. We must be reminded to do so. We must be reminded because we were once oppressed, we were once strangers – and how easily we could become strangers again.

Let us take inspiration from the repetition of this command, from the importance of this command. Let it define us as Jews and let it inspire us in how we act.

-Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky

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Trying to Make Our Way Up the Mountain

In preparation for revelation at Mount Sinai, the Torah tells us:

Moses led the people out of the camp toward God, and they took their places at the foot of the mountain (Ex. 19:17).

The Hebrew for “the foot of the mountain,” tachtit haHar, literally means underneath the mountain. Midrash suggests that the Israelites were actually underneath the mountain as God revealed the Torah, suggesting that God held Sinai up over the Israelites heads and essentially said, you are not obligated to enter this covenant, but this mountain that I’m holding is quite heavy and I may drop it at any time.

I appreciate though the concept that the Israelites were at the foot of the mountain, at the bottom. Jewish tradition teaches that all Jewish souls, of past, present, and future were at Sinai. Each and every time we remove the Torah from the ark, we are taught that we re-experiencing revelation. Our souls were all there, so we all remember what the experience was like. But even each time we re-experience it, we are again at the bottom of the mountain. Moses remains atop Sinai; we are constantly trying to make our way up the mountain.

My father, Rabbi Kerry Olitzky, tells a story of his first trip to Israel as a teenager. His group leader, Rabbi Lee Diamond, z”l, took the entire group for a hike up what was believed to be Mount Sinai, in the Sinai Peninsula, now a part of Egypt, but then, a part of Israel. 3/4 of the way up the mountain, the guide stopped. No one understood why they stopped. They had been hiking in the heat for hours. He simply said, “you are not yet ready to reach the top.” He turned around and began hiking down. The entire group followed him in silence.

We are constantly trying to make our way up the mountain, to be closer to God, to experience personal revelation. And yet, time and time again, we find ourselves at the foot of the mountain. But we keep trying to reach the top of Sinai. We keep trying to connect to God. We may not be ready to reach the mountain top just yet, but eventually, we will get there.

-Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky

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Hold Each Other Up

After the sea has been split, and the Israelites have crossed, and they have finally been freed from bondage, after they celebrate with song and dance, and with timbrel in hand, Parashat Beshallach concludes with Amalek fighting with the children of Israel. Moses tells Joshua, then still the military leader of the Israelites, to prepare for battle. As Joshua led the Israelites into battle, Moses, followed by his brother Aaron, and his brother-in-law Hur, went atop a hill to watch the battle play out. The Torah tells us that whenever Moses held his hands up to the Heavens, the Israelites prevailed, but whenever he let his hands down, Amalek prevailed. His hands grew heavy, so Aaron and Hur, one on each side, held his hands up (Ex. 17:12) and they remained up until sun set and the Israelites prevailed.

Without getting on a tangent about the role Moses’ hands played in military victories, I want to focus on the role that Aaron and Hur played. Bechor Shor suggests that the Israelites would see Moses’ hands fall, see that he got tired, so they became tired.

Yet, when Moses’ hands were heavy, those to the left and right of him, lifted him up. That is the power of community and that our responsibility as we take care of each other: to lift each other up.

We read in Berachot 32b a Baraita that teaches: “there are four areas that require strength – the study of Torah, doing good deeds, prayer, and having a good character.” The rabbis are talking about Torah study and prayer and its difficulty, yet it seems odd that they begin to introduce why helping others and doing the right thing, both maasim tovim, good deeds, and derech eretz, having a good character, requires strength. These should be easy tasks. Yet, the rabbis acknowledge that going out of our way to help others before we help ourselves also takes strength and courage. Our instinct is to care for our own well-being. It takes strength of mind and spirit to think of others. Later in Mishnah Avot (4:1), we learn: “Who is strong? One who conquers our own evil.” Our yetzer harah, our evil inclination, is when only look out for ourselves. But true strength, is helping another. True strength is lifting each other up, supporting each other. What the Talmud is also then telling us is that those who only look out for themselves and ignore the welfare of others are weak. Strength comes from understanding that we are all interconnected, and we are stronger when we support each other, and lift each other up. We are all beams that take on weight. If you remove anyone of us, the building crumbles. But the more of us that hold each other up, the stronger we all become.

Moses is only strong because Aaron and Hur are by his side. And that is our ultimate lesson. To stay by each other’s sides. If we go at it alone, then we fail. But if we go at it together, then we will prevail, and feel like we can do just about anything, even defeat Amalek in our midst.

-Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky

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Be the Author of Your Own Exodus Story

Every previous plague impacted the Egyptians, but not the Israelites. When the Nile was turned to blood, magically the Israelites’ water was still pure, like they had a Divine Brita filter. The pestilence didn’t impact any of the Israelites’ crops. Their cattle remained healthy while the Egyptians’ cattle were diseased. And the Torah notes that the darkness of the ninth plague was so extreme that the Egyptians were unable to see right in front of them. They had to stop in their tracks. But somehow, the Israelites had light.

Yet, things change with the tenth plague. Prior to the tenth plague, we are told that the Israelites must take the blood of the pascal sacrifice, dip hyssop leaves in that blood, and spread that blood on their lintel and their doorposts. Torah suggests this is so the Malach HaMavet, the angel of death, or more specifically and exactly, God’s very self, would know which home is an Israelite home and which home is an Egyptian home and be able to decipher between the two.

But that makes no sense. It makes no sense when we see God as an omnipotent and omniscient Divine being. God should know who is an Israelite and who is not and have the power to prevent harm towards those God wishes to protect. That is what God did for the first nine plagues. It should be no different with the tenth plague.

So why all of a sudden is there a need to put these markers on the doorposts? They weren’t for sign for God. They were a sign for the Israelites. This wasn’t about protecting them from the tenth plague as much as the blood on the doorpost was about preparing them for what comes next: the exodus. After being enslaved for four hundred years, giving up on calling out and crying out to God, and questioning Moses’ leadership, they needed to buy-in to the exodus that was about to take place. But even more so, they needed to learn that they must work towards their own justice. They couldn’t just sit around passively and wait for justice to be served. They needed to be active participants in their own fight for justice, in their own fight for freedom. When the Torah tells us “Justice, Justice, You Shall Pursue” ( Deut. 16:20), it does not say “sit around and wait for just to happen.” It demands that we are active participants. We need to be the authors of our own stories, instead of having our stories written for us. We must put the blood on our doorposts. We must take on our role and responsibility as God’s partners in this covenant.  We are the change we seek in this world. Be active and not passive. Only then, can we write our own exodus experience. Only then, can we leave Mitzrayim, the narrow places that enslave us.

-Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky

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Talking to God on a First-Name Basis

We find at the beginning of Exodus, chapter six:

“God spoke to Moses and said to him, “I am Adonai – YHVH, I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as El Shaddai, but I did not make Myself known to them by my name YHVH, but I did establish my covenant with them” (Ex. 6:2-4)

Previously, when Moses first encountered God at the burning bush, Moses asked God, “when I come to the Israelites and tell them God sent me, they will ask what is God’s name – what should I tell them?” There, God says, “Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh – I am that which I am, I will be what I will be.” Some biblical scholars suggest that this is a hint at the Tetragrammaton, at YHVH, God’s name that we no longer pronounce. They suggest that Tetragrammaton was taken from the root of ‘to be’ –  Hovah. Such a name and suggestion understands a God that was, is, and will be.

But such an idea that God Moses knows God – Yada – differently than Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is also important for us to appreciate. While we have a shared covenant as humanity with the Divine, we each have unique and individual intimate relationships with God. Your path is different than mine; mine is different than someone else’s. You do not need to fit in a box as you wrestle with God. You may not find God in that burning bush.

Tradition tells us that God has an infinite number of names. This is because we call God different things at different times. In fact, one of the suggestions as to why Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob knew God as El Shaddai was because Shaddai means ‘breast.’ God nursed the People of Israel, and monotheism in general, during its stages of infancy. But this also means that, as is the case with intimate relationships, to know God, we each must find a different name for God.

Don’t settle for what someone else tells you what to believe. Just because God was known by one name to your ancestors, you may wrestle, connect with, and come to understand God by a totally different name, and have a totally different relationship with God. Just be open to that. For just as God is what God is, we are who we are. And in each of us, we too find God.

-Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky

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Standing Up to Tyrants Doesn’t Always Mean Being Moses

OlitzkysAndGovMurphyMy wife and I had the privilege of spending time with Governor Phil Murphy and First Lady Tammy Murphy at the Governor’s Mansion, Drumthwacket, last week. Understanding how busy faith leaders are in December, the Governor and First Lady decided to invite faith leaders to join them in January, to kick off the new year in faith. Both of them referenced the antisemitic deadly attack in Jersey City, where a faith community – our faith community – was violently attacked. They both declared that an attack on one faith is an attack on all faiths. Such sentiment coming for the Governor would be meaningful in a room full of Jews. But it was especially meaningful in this space, with maybe a dozen Jewish clergy among Muslim, Sikh, Buddhist, AME, Baptist, Protestant, and Catholic clergy. Looking at the diversity of that room, diversity that proudly looks like our state looks, such a sentiment, that an attack on one faith community is an attack on all faith communities, holds greater weight and significance.

At the beginning of the book of Exodus, we learn:

The king of Egypt spoke to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was name Shifra and the other Puah, saying ‘When you deliver the Hebrew women, look at the birthstool. If it is a boy, kill him. If it is a girl, let her live.’ The Midwives, fearing God, did not do as the king of Egypt had told them; they let the boys live (Ex. 1:15-16).

This act of the midwives is not Moses being told by God to bang on the doors of Pharaoh’s palace and declare “let my people go.” This is something on a much smaller level, and yet, arguably, it is an act that had a greater impact. These are two women who answered to Pharaoh and yet, felt so uncomfortable by Pharaoh’s decree that they chose to ignore it and do the opposite of what he commanded.

Clearly this moment is supposed to be significant. In a text where women’s voices aren’t heard nearly enough, the simple fact that these two women are named lets us know how important this moment is. But we don’t hear from these two women again, so rabbinic tradition identifies them as someone else.

We learn in Sotah 11b:

Rav and Shmuel disagree as to the proper interpretation of this verse. One says that these midwives were a woman and her daughter, and one says that they were a daughter-in-law and her mother-in-law. According to the one who says that they were a woman and her daughter, the women were Yochebed, the mother of Moses and Aaron, and her daughter, Miriam. And according to the one who says that they were a daughter-in-law and her mother-in-law, the verse is referring to Yochebed and her daughter-in-law Elisheva, the wife of Aaron.

The Talmud understands the incredible impact these two women have on saving the Jewish people. They must be important, so they couldn’t just be two random women. So they must be Yocheved and Miriam, or even Yocheved and Elisheva. They understood that these women were important, so they made them important biblical figures.

But I’d much rather see it that Shifra and Puah weren’t Yocheved and Miriam. They were Shifra and Puah. They did not have to be famous to resist. Their acts of resistance in some ways carry more weight because they weren’t famous. This is an act of everyday resistance. Furthermore, there is a disagreement as to what it means that they are Hebrew midwives. Does this adjective refer to the women themselves, that they were Hebrew, or to the women that they worked with, meaning that they were midwives for the Hebrew women? The text seems to clarify that these were Egyptian women. When Pharaoh asked them why they let the babies live, they respond:

Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are like wild animals. Before the midwife could come to them, they have already given birth (Ex. 1:19).

Clearly, Hebrew women wouldn’t talk about themselves in such a manner. We therefore, can assume that these midwives were Egyptian, and that this decree to kill Hebrew children means nothing to them personally. Their own families are safe. The new Pharaoh’s view towards the Israelites doesn’t effect them directly. But they understand that of course it effects them. And they resist, they step up, because they understand that apathy and ambivalence concerning Pharaoh’s harsh decrees towards the Israelites only invites eventual harsh decrees towards them as well. I would expect the Hebrew midwives, those that are Hebrew, the Yocheveds and MIriams of the world to resist. But the impact is far greater and significant when we read that Shifra and Puah were Egyptian and they resisted.

Let this be a reminder to all of us. We do not need to be Moses banging down Pharaoh’s door. But each of us, in our own ways, have the power, opportunity, obligation and responsibility to resist tyranny whenever it comes rearing its ugly head. May we all have the courage of Shifra and Puah, to refuse to do something that we know is immoral and unethical, no matter who commands us to do so. May we learn from their examples.

-Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky

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What Will Your Legacy Be?

Canaan was a terrible place for Joseph. It was the last place he’d ever want to go to. That was where he was bullied by his brothers. That was where he was thrown into a pit. That was where he was sold into slavery. Yet, that is exactly what Joseph wants. At the very end of Parashat Vayehi, during the concluding verses of the book of Genesis, Joseph asks his brothers:

So Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying, ‘when God has taken notice of you, you shall carry up my bones from here’ (Gen. 50:25).

Joseph lived his best life in Egypt. It was there that he was viceroy. It was there that his wife and children knew as home. It was there that he saved civilization from famine, so much so that he should be celebrated. A federal holiday in Egypt should be named for him. Students should be off from school. Office buildings should be closed. Egypt is where Joseph was successful. And yet, he still asks his family to take him out of Egypt one day.

Bereishet Rabbah teaches that Joseph stipulated specifically that Joseph’s brothers should bring Joseph bones back to Shechem because that was the place where he was sold into slavery. Midrash tells an allegory:

When an individual went into his basement, his wine cellar and saw two men down there who broke open a barrel and drank of its contents, the owner did not scold them. He simply said, “I ask only one thing of you: when you finish, put the barrel back where it belongs.”

The image is one that suggests no matter how much Joseph felt he fit in in Egypt, that was not where he belonged. That was not where the wine barrel was meant to be stored.

But I think Joseph’s message is a greater one: he does not want to be forgotten. He saved the region from famine, and yet,  at the beginning of the book of Exodus, there is already a new Pharaoh that rises up that does not know Joseph.

Joseph realizes that his legacy is not in Egypt. But his legacy isn’t in Canaan either. He does not wish to return there because of his relationship with the Promised Land. Rather, he wishes to return there because that is where his family will eventually be going.  His legacy is with his family. And he is asking them to take him with them, to remember him..

We think our legacies are in the work that we do, in the money we make, the job titles we hold, or the impact we have in our professional lives. But ultimately, we will not be remembered not for our professional work. We will be remembered in the lives of those we are closest to, those that we touch the most – our family, friends, and community. We turn to our loved ones and ask them to carry our bones with them, to carry us with them, so that long after we leave this world, our legacy lives on within them.

It is no where we are, but who we are with that matters most. Let us remember that, and let us always surround ourselves with our loved ones who will take us with them, no matter where they go, even long after we’ve left this world.

-Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky

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