middot separation torah finding goshen

finding goshen

Written by  rav rafael

art-goshenWhen the ever-unfolding drama of the last chapters of Genesis comes to a climax, Joseph has drawn his father and entire family down to Egypt to weather the remainder of the famine.  This wasn’t exactly what Jacob had in mind after all the years he spent in Padan Aram with Laban, building his family. But, this seems to be the story of the Jewish people. Exile upon exile has befallen us since our departure from the Garden of Eden.

Joseph reassures his father that there is a special place within Egypt that will serve as a sanctuary while they are there. His proposition has merit. Egypt is filled with idolatry and magical practices, all of which Hashem wanted the Israelites to remain separate from, after their father, Abraham, separated from his family’s idolatrous past.

a spiritual refuge

“You will then be able to settle in the Goshen district since every shepherd is abhorrent to Egypt." — Genesis 46:34

Goshen was a place of lush fields for their herds. It was also a place where the offspring of Jacob could grow, prosper, and eventually leave with the wealth that would help them build their nation. Just as Abraham and Sarah were exiled to Egypt during their own times of famine and returned with Egypt’s wealth, so too would the entire nation return to Eretz Israel with Egypt’s riches.

Goshen served as a spiritual refuge. The Midrash tells us that the area was sanctified since the time Sarah spent there.

"Tell Father to come to me without delay. He and his family will be able to settle near me in the Goshen district. This is an undefiled area. When Pharaoh took Sarah, he gave her the Goshen district as a gift, and since then, there has been a spirit of holiness in that area because of Sarah's merit. The corrupt influence of Egypt's guardian angel has no effect in this area.” (Meam Loez)

The Torah teaches us important lessons about the middah of separation in the midst of our exile.   For many of us, our lives are made of a series of sojourns. We readily identify with Jacob, whose life is exemplified by his various journeys, trials, and sufferings. Since the Garden of Eden, humanity has essentially been estranged from the comfort of “home” represented by that ideal paradise. So what do we do when we leave the comfort of one home to establish another one far away, like Jacob’s family in Egypt? How do we find our own Goshen within the midst of our exile from home?

when separation is a risk

Rabbi Hillel once taught, "Do not separate yourself from the community" (Avot 2:5). Sometimes life’s journey takes us to faraway places. When it does, we must reconnect to our sense of “home” by finding our own Goshen. We must seek out a community in which to settle and raise our family. Community provides a place of safety and separation from the challenges of exile to a lonely place. When my wife and I relocated from the east coast to the west coast following our graduation from college, we did feel the loneliness of exile. It was difficult to make friends. We began our search together diligently to find a spiritual community that shared our values and where we could find again a sense of “home.” Our goal was not just to have friends, but to also be spiritually accountable and kept on track. Eventually, Hashem led us to the right place and we have spent many years there, raising our children within that dynamic extended family. 

When we choose to connect to a community, we lower the risk of becoming renegades and living life according to our own rules. A healthy community has expectations and helps us to flourish; when we are lone agents and separate ourselves, we begin to make our own rules which can lead to our spiritual demise.

Strive to find the Goshen in your life.  Seek out a community that will not only provide safety but continual spiritual growth.  In doing so, you can prosper, as you maintain proper boundaries against the things that have no place in your life and nurture the elements that will bring true life wherever you may be.

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