Interpreting From The Outside

Joseph's status as an outsider, and the outsider status of the Jewish people, allow for critical insight into the deeper truths of the surrounding people and nations.

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Perhaps it was his status as a relative outsider--despised by his brothers, singled out by his father's love for him, relating, as the Bible tells us, to the children of his father's concubines, rather than to the children of Leah, his father's wife--that made it possible for him to see beyond the family's surface reality to the deeper truth of who he really was--a truth which his brothers so violently tried to repress.

It has often been said that the Jewish people, whose role as monotheists in a pagan world, and subsequent 2000 years of exile has made them the ultimate outsiders, have developed a Joseph-like ability to see beyond the surface realities of the world around them, and come to a deeper, more critical assessment of the societies in which they live.

The Chanukah story, in which the Jewish people, alone in the ancient world, saw through the seductiveness of Hellenistic culture to the deeper, more problematic truth beyond, and fought for their vision of the way the world should be, is an example of this ability to stand outside a broader culture and critique it.

I would like to hope that we need not suffer the negative experiences of exile or oppression in order to be able, like Joseph, to see what others are afraid of seeing, and reveal, to ourselves and the world, the deeper truths that others are afraid to articulate.

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Rabbi Shimon Felix

Rabbi Shimon Felix is the Israel Director of the Bronfman Youth Fellowships in Israel. He lives with his family in Jerusalem, and has taught in a wide variety of educational frameworks in Israel and abroad.