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Rabbi’s Update 12/13/2023


Dear Friends:


I have been intrigued by the luncheon that Joseph threw for his brothers in this week’s Parasha for over thirty years. Some time in the early 90’s, when I was the Hillel Director at American University, I was invited by Adas Israel’s then-rabbi Jeffrey Wohlberg to give a D’var Torah on this Parasha. The setup for the luncheon is odd. Joseph’s brothers are at one table, his household retinue as at another table, and Joseph eats by himself at a third table. I posited that this was because of Joseph’s situation as an observant Hebrew who was also a high officer of the Egyptian court. He could not eat with the other Egyptians because he needed kosher food and if he was served a different meal than the other Egyptians it would be noticed by the brothers, to whom he had not yet revealed himself. He of course could not eat with his brothers because the Egyptians had a religious taboo against eating at the same table as non-Egyptians. So Joseph found himself the odd man out. He could not be with his Hebrew brothers because he was an Egyptian official but he could not be with his fellow Egyptians because he was an observant Hebrew (the term “Jew” had not come into use yet).


It seemed to me at the time that this situation could speak to some of those hearing me. A congregant who often at the time invited me to Shabbat lunch with his wife and children later became White House Chief of Staff, Treasury Secretary, and is today the U.S. Ambassador in Israel. Being a visible and observant Jew in high government service can expose one to charges of “disloyalty” on all sides. As US and Israeli policies on Israel’s conduct in the Gaza War start to diverge, I can imagine our Ambassador in Jerusalem being attacked on the one hand as a disloyal Jew and on the other as too close to Israel.


This is of course nonsense. America is a mosaic of different religions and ethnicities but when someone enters into government service their duty is to this country. All of us have family and emotional ties that pull us in different directions but that is part of the give and take of a pluralistic democracy. If Joseph could do it, so can we.


As a reminder, I am having drop-in hours on Thursday afternoons from 2 to 4 at the shul. You do not need to make an appointment -- that would negate the whole point of drop-in hours -- but I’d urge you to check and make sure I am there regardless as sometimes there are unavoidable pastoral or other emergencies which might take me away from the building.

As always, if I can do anything for you or you need to talk, please contact me at rabbi@kehilatshalom.org or 301-977-0768 rather than through the synagogue office. I am happy to meet you at the synagogue by appointment. I have been spending more time in the synagogue recently but if you want to speak with me it’s best to make an appointment rather than assuming I will be there when you stop by. 


L’shalom,




Rabbi Charles L. Arian






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