The network makes it hard to keep secrets

This week in Parashat Vayigash, Joseph finally reveals his identity to his brothers before reconciling with them. He then asks them to bring his father and their families to come live in Egypt, where Joseph had risen to such prominence.
At the emotional climax of this revelation, we read in Genesis 45:1-2: “Joseph could no longer control himself before all his attendants, and he cried out, ‘Have everyone withdraw from me!’ So, there was no one else about when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. His sobs were so loud that the Egyptians could hear, and so the news reached Pharaoh’s palace.”
If Joseph thought that he might keep his news private, he was badly mistaken, as confirmed in Verse 15: “The news reached Pharaoh’s palace: ‘Joseph’s brothers have come.’ Pharaoh and his courtiers were pleased.”
Secrets have a way of getting out, no matter the precautions or methods one takes to prevent them from doing so. I love what Benjamin Franklin had to say in Poor Richard’s Almanac about the keeping of secrets: “Three may keep a secret if two of them are dead.” Joseph’s hope of keeping his news private was doomed from the start, which is an important reality for us to keep in mind.
Information passes from person to person, whether we will it or not, through a network of friends and acquaintances. It can also be surprising how extensive those networks are. It’s fun to play Jewish geography, that social game when you meet someone for the first time and try to see if you have any connections within your overlapping Jewish networks. But, it is also illustrative of how far and wide information may flow.
I remember distinctly how surprised I was the first time I visited Israel. My friend and I took a Pan Am tour (which gives you an indication of just how long ago it was) of Israel over winter break during our sophomore year in college. We had a day to explore the Old City in Jerusalem and saw a sign in the Jewish Quarter for free tours. As college students, free was important to us, so we took the tour.
Before we got started, the guide asked us where we were from. “The United States,” I answered. “Yes,” he scoffed, “I know. Where are you from?” “New York.” “Yes, where are you from?” “Long Island.” “Where on Long Island?” “Syosset.” “Where in Syosset?” “‘Miller Boulevard,” I said, getting frustrated. “Oh, by the railroad tracks.”
It turned out he had had a girlfriend in Syosset and took the train out to meet her, and so he knew Miller Boulevard. I was astonished, though today I wouldn’t have been. A few weeks ago, I was honored to officiate at a wedding in New Orleans and met two different people at the reception whom I had a connection to through two different synagogues where I had served as rabbi. I know now that it is a small world and we are all connected in one way or another.
We live in a time when division and discord seem to be sky high. It would be better for us to remember how deeply connected we actually are, even when we aren’t aware of it. We should be careful of what we speak about and how we speak because what we say will be repeated farther and wider than we might believe to be possible.
We should also remember that we have far more connections and similarities than we have divisions. When we remember our connections, our differences begin to fade and we can live in a more harmonious world.
Rabbi Ben Sternman is the spiritual leader of Adat Chaverim in Plano.

Leave a Reply