The story is told of a chassid who would travel on business to St. Petersburg and return home to his rebbe’s court. In St. Petersburg he would don modern attire and mingle with his business colleagues; at home he reverted to the chassid’s garb.

Feeling uncomfortable with the constant switching, he decided to wear his modern attire at home. The rebbe looked at him strangely, and the chassid explained that this was his business attire. The rebbe assured him that he had already deduced as much. “But,” said the rebbe, “I thought you were at home in the chassid’s garb, and the modern attire was your business costume. Now I see that the opposite is true. You are at home in your modern attire, and the chassid’s garb is your costume.”

Whether we are in medicine, law, academics or business, we dress up every day, leave home and head into the world. We don a personality that suits our environment, and work hard to succeed. We return at the end of the day, wash up, and revert to our real personality. We go back to being a father, a mother, a member of the family. We learn Torah with our children, celebrate Shabbat and holidays, chant the blessings over our food, and pray morning and night.

The question is, where are we at home? Where do we feel that we fit in and belong? Are we better suited to our secular, professional persona, or are we most comfortable in our Jewish selves? Which is the real me, and which is the dress-up me?

In Exile

When our ancestors were exiled to Babylon, they were unhappy in their distant home. They sat at the shores of the Euphrates and cried for Jerusalem. A mere 70 years later, when the exile ended, many Jews had grown so comfortable in exile that they had to be coerced to leave.1

When we were exiled to Europe, we felt like foreign transplants. The Europeans didn’t welcome us; they discriminated against us and persecuted us. We built ghettos and strove to create mini-Jerusalems behind the ghetto walls. We didn’t assimilate into the European culture. We lived in Europe, but its culture was foreign to us. Europe was our home, but we were never at home there.

Then came emancipation, and the entire culture shifted. We began to dream of liberty and equality. We began to speak the gentiles’ language and go adopt gentile values. We yearned for the gentiles’ acceptance, and aspired to full integration. We began to dream the gentile dream. But we never succeeded. The Jews were never embraced by Europe. They continued to hate us and discriminate against us. And when the Nazis came to slaughter us, our European friends conveniently “forgot” us.

Jacob and Joseph

This is reminiscent of what happened to our forefather Jacob. The Torah tells us that “Jacob settled in the land of his father’s sojourns.” Jacob settled in and began to feel at home in his father’s land. Isaac was a sojourner in the land; he never felt at home there. He felt at home only in the synagogue and study hall. Jacob settled in the land—he wasn’t a sojourner; he felt right at home.2

Jacob was able to settle into the mundane and earthly lifestyle of fieldwork without compromising his wholesome spirituality.3 Yet Jacob was breaking new ground, and all beginnings are fraught with risk. What came easily to Jacob had a corrupting influence on Joseph. The moment Jacob settled in and began to feel at home, he was beset by the tragedy of Joseph.

At first, Joseph had grandiose dreams of conquering the world with his monotheistic ideals. He dreamed of the sun and moon prostrating before him. He had visions of sheaves in the field bowing to him. The workers and the nobles, the peasants and the rulers, would all bow to Joseph’s teachings of Torah and G‑d.

But with time, Joseph temporarily stopped thinking of those triumphs. He moved to Egypt and became self-absorbed. He stopped dreaming Jewish dreams and began to interpret Egyptian dreams. He associated with Egyptian royals and Egyptian behaviors.4

We too must ask: where do we stand? Are we Americans, Europeans, Australians . . . or are we Jews? Are we “at home” in the synagogue and sojourners on the outside, or are we “at home” outside and sojourners in the synagogue?

You can spend most of your day at work without your workplace becoming home. You can also spend most of your life in the Diaspora without making it your home. If we are Jewish, then Israel is our home. We are in the Diaspora for a purpose—to help make these lands holier and more G‑dly places. But that is our job. It’s not our home.

When the Diaspora becomes our home, when we grow comfortable with the non-Jewish culture, music, holidays and values, when we measure time by the secular calendar and forget the Jewish date, we slowly, without realizing it, lose touch with our Jewish selves. We begin to identify more with our neighbors than with our people. We adopt their dreams, their ideals and their values.

What happens next? Well, let’s look at what happened to Joseph. He placed his hope in the hands of the royal butler and was bitterly disappointed. As the Torah puts it, the butler “forgot” him.5 Just as our European neighbors conveniently “forgot” us when the Nazis came to slaughter us.

How Do We Respond?

We do what Joseph did. He realized his error and returned to his faith in G‑d. When he was summoned to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams, he gave full credence to G‑d and to the message that G‑d had sent through the dream.6 From this point onward, Joseph became even more adept than his father at remaining true to his identity, despite being integrated within Egyptian culture. Joseph succeeded in his work and transformed the whole of Egypt. Everyone bowed to him, but it wasn’t really to him. It was to his divine message and Torah ethos.

Never again did Joseph think of Egypt as home. For him, Israel would forever be home. Indeed, before his passing he instructed that his remains be transported to Israel for burial.

And some two centuries later, Joseph was finally home.

We too must return to the synagogue, to Israel, to Judaism and to Torah. On that day, we too will finally be home.