Rabbi Label Lam
Is He Still my Father?
When I was a child I remember having heard a few hundred times a story book
about a little bird who fell from the nest and was asking every creature
large and small, "Are you my mother?" I think that was the title
too. Years later, I think I have a deeper insight into the childlike plot.
A grade school teacher in Israel asked his class a question from this
week's Torah portion and received and unusual answer from an unlikely
source. Why did Yosef ask his brothers after revealing his true identity,
"Is my father still alive?" Yehuda was pleading for mercy on Binyamin on
the basis that their father's health would be in grave jeopardy if anything
happened to the boy. Yosef could not have been told more directly about his
father's status. Why had he made that his question after years of personal
The class was silent. Nobody could conjure a reasonable explanation till
little Shimon in the back of the class raised his hand
confidently. Everybody was amazed. Shimon was usually quiet and
despondent. He never volunteered an answer or asked any questions. His
grandparents had deposited him there after they had gained custody of the
boy. His father had abandoned home and his mother was not in a position to
care for the child. No wonder little Shimon was usually mentally absent
while others were actively participating in the give and take of the classroom.
This time was different, as everyone else sat quietly and Shimon, to the
amazement of all, was waving his hand with enthusiasm. The Rebbe called on
him and he answered, "Maybe what Yosef meant to ask was not if Yaakov was
alive but rather is my father still alive? Does he still think about me? Is
he still my father?"
Yosef in Egypt was at the end of his personal exile. He understood with
great clarity that Yaakov was still alive but was he still "his father". At
the climax of the complete Egypt experience, two hundred and ten years
later, The A-lmighty thundered into the ears of the entire nation, "I Am
Hashem your G-d who took you out of the land of Egypt." As much as these
words carry the mandate of knowing that G-d is a reality, the greater
message, perhaps, is concretizing the idea of a personal G-d. Hashem is
your G-d. He took you out of Egypt. He cares about you.
The bigger pain to the Jew in the dark period of our history called the
Holocaust was felt after the German planted his boot in the Jew's stomach
and then asked him, "Where is your G-d Jew?"
There are many amongst our people who if asked point blank, "Do you believe
in G-d?" would likely say, "Yes!" Just as Yosef, at the end of his
torment, evidence abounded about the existence of "a father", but the
question of his heart, as little Shimon was able to explain from his unique
perspective was "Is he still my father? Does he care about me?"
Now I understand a little better that old book my mother read me hundreds
of times. The bird knows he must have a mother, he just doesn't know who it
is. He's out of his element on the jungle floor. He's dislocated from his
Shortly after Yosef gives articulation to the question that had troubled
his heart for twenty-two years, he was reunited with his father. The verse
describes how Yosef fell on his father's shoulder and cried. What was Yaakov
doing? The sages tell us he was saying Shema Yisrael, Listen Israel Hashem
is our G-d, Hashem is One!
Why was he doing that particular mitzvah at that time? Perhaps, as Yaakov
felt the overwhelming emotion of being finally reunited with his estranged
son Yosef, he could begin to approximate the feeling, so to speak, of the
A-lmighty when one of his lost children returns to Him. Leaning on the
cosmic shoulder as the bird, returning to his nest or as the child who has
found the caring parent is still a caring parent.
Text Copyright © 1998 Rabbi Dovid Green and
Project Genesis, Inc.