Two old ladies meet up after a hiatus of 50 years.

"You wouldn't believe it," one later recounted to a grandchild, "but Millie swore that I didn’t look a day older than when she’d seen me last!"

"What did you say to her?"

"I lied too."


In this week's Parshah we read how, 22 years after being sold 'down to Egypt, Joseph is reunited with his brothers but this time under much reversed circumstances. They who had mistreated him, abandoned him in a snake-infested pit before ultimately selling him into captivity, were now cast as supplicants begging for famine relief, while Joseph had become the ruler of the Egyptian empire.

"And Joseph recognized his brothers, and they did not recognize him" (Genesis 42:8).

The last time they’d seen Joseph was as a callow youth barely 17 years old, setting off into slavery. Now he was a man, a leader of the world one and only superpower, surrounded by lackeys and brocaded in regal finery. Was it, a) the change in his circumstances the reason they didn’t identify him? b) the clothes? c) the beard? (Parenthetically, allow me to state for the record my deeply held belief that men look better in beards).

Or was it, d): None of the above.

Over time people change, and develop. Personalities progress and one’s character evolves. Barring radical plastic surgery however, most of us remain relatively similar physically and facially throughout our lives.

The brothers were confused, not because Joseph was unidentifiable, but because they weren't expecting him to look as he did.

The sons of Jacob were shepherds. Pasturing sheep is not the most labor-intensive of occupations. Plenty of time left for prayer, solitary meditations and communing with one's maker. They did not recognize him because the worldly nobleman they were encountering, beset and besieged by the cares of virtually the entire civilized world, existed on a plane so far removed from their more humdrum existence. From their perspective, this could be no brother of theirs.

But he was.

To walk with kings and be personally unaffected, to spend one's day entwined in the machinations of state but remain the son of Jacob, this was an attainment that the other brothers simply could not envision. Joseph the dutiful son, the shepherd boy sold into slavery, was still the same Joseph ensconced in Pharaoh's palace, untarnished by all he had encountered.

And of all the brothers, it was Joseph who scaled the greatest of spiritual heights, who through his foresight saved the world from famine and whose children are constantly invoked as the ideal model for Jewish children throughout history.


Who among us has not on occasioned yearned for a simpler life? Downscale, withdraw from the rat-race, retire to the farm and relax?

Don't do it. Don't cop out on life.

It is precisely through facing up to the world, taking on reality on its terms, living as a proud Jew and ultimately bringing goodness, kindness and spirituality to the daily grind that we make a difference to the world we live in, to our families, loved ones and not least importantly; we fulfill ourselves.