This past Sunday night on the first night of Chanukah, I gave my parents an Amazon Echo Show. For those who are wondering what that is, it is a video version of Amazon’s Echo, also known as Alexa.  Although it can do all sorts of amazing things like share the weather forecast or turn the lights on in the house, it can also make a video call to someone who also has the same type of device. Since I have one as well in my home, I can call and SEE my parents anytime.  (Honestly, my parents love me, but are mostly thrilled that they can see their baby granddaughter with ease).  Technology has made it easier than ever to stay in touch with my parents, so now I wonder, what is my excuse when I don’t call them?  What could possibly prevent me from just walking into my kitchen and saying “Alexa, video call Miriam Ruberg” and speaking with my mother? The answer and its subsequent lessons can be found in this week’s Torah portion.

We continue reading this week the story of Joseph and learn how he became one of the most powerful people in the world, as it says in in Genesis 41:39-41:
וַיֹּ֤אמֶר פַּרְעֹה֙ אֶל־יוֹסֵ֔ף… אַתָּה֙ תִּהְיֶ֣ה עַל־בֵּיתִ֔י וְעַל־פִּ֖יךָ יִשַּׁ֣ק כָּל־עַמִּ֑י רַ֥ק הַכִּסֵּ֖א אֶגְדַּ֥ל מִמֶּֽךָּ: וַיֹּ֥אמֶר פַּרְעֹ֖ה אֶל־יוֹסֵ֑ף רְאֵה֙ נָתַ֣תִּי אֹֽתְךָ֔ עַ֖ל כָּל־אֶ֥רֶץ מִצְרָֽיִם׃

Pharaoh said to Joseph, “…You shall be in charge of my court, and by your command shall all my people be directed; only with respect to the throne shall I be superior to you.” Pharaoh further said to Joseph, “See, I put you in charge of all the land of Egypt.”

From these verses it is clear that as the second in command to Pharaoh, the most powerful man in the world, Joseph has access to all the resources of Egypt. He has at his disposal the ability to fulfill any and all desires he could possibly fathom.  And yet, despite this fact, Joseph it seems never sends a message to his father Jacob to let him know that he is still alive.  (A quick story refresher: Joseph is sold into slavery by his brothers, however they lie to their father Jacob and tell him that Joseph was killed). So why doesn’t Joseph call home?

Many medieval and modern Biblical commentators are troubled by Joseph’s inaction. Perhaps the most famous critique is made by Nachmanides (Ramban) who says:
איך לא שלח כתב אחד לאביו להודיעו ולנחמו?! כי מצרים קרוב לחברון כששה ימים ואילו היה מהלך שנה היה ראוי להודיעו לכבוד אביו…

How could he not send one letter to his father to inform him (that he was alive) and to comfort him?! Egypt is only about a six day trip to Hebron. Respect for his father would have justified a year’s journey…” (Ramban on Gen. 42:9).

In my humble opinions Joseph, does not have a good excuse for not calling even once.  Frankly, he should have called his father and informed him that he was alive. The Torah is not meant to be simply a history book, but a guide for living and here the Torah seems to come to teach us how we can learn from Joseph’s error. Staying in touch with people is hard. We all live busy lives and often don’t feel like talking at the end of a long day. However, I believe that we can learn from Joseph that if given the chance to call our family, we should do so.  No, I don’t think you have to call every day, but maybe once a week before Shabbat?  I am pretty sure that if Joseph had a video Alexa, he would have called home.  So, this Friday before Shabbat call the ones you love or better yet, video chat, see their faces and make it a personal experience, even from miles away.  I know I will be calling my mother.  Who will you be calling?

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Chanukah,

Rabbi Jeremy Ruberg