You may indeed meet a stranger

BY RABBI JOSEF A. DAVIDSON

My late mother loved musicals, so we used to listen to a number of them while we were growing up. We used to see them when they were adapted for the movie screen as well. I particularly liked one — South Pacific — which one of my brothers and I saw in the movies. You may recall it yourselves. As children we knew all of the music by heart and would go around singing it, or at least I did. One of the songs we used to sing most often was one sung by Rossano Brazzi, Some Enchanted Evening.

“Some enchanted evening, you may see a stranger

ADVERTISEMENT
Repertory Theatre St. Louis ad


you may see a stranger across a crowded room . . .”

Though this is a love song which Rossano Brazzi’s character sings to a young island woman, its theme is a well known one, especially in the book of Genesis/Bereshit.

Three strangers visit Abraham shortly after he has circumcised himself. Two of those strangers go on to stay with his nephew, Lot. Jacob wrestles with a stranger in the middle of the night prior to his reunion with his brother, Esau. Each of these encounters with strangers results in a transformation of the person, an epochal event or an announcement of good tidings. In this week’s Torah portion, Vayeshev, a stranger once again plays a pivotal role in the story.

It is curious that in all of these cases, we are never informed as to the names of the strangers. They are described simply as “men.” They are brought into the story line for a short intervention and then are whisked away into the oblivion out of which they seemed to arrive. Their part in the story, no matter how small, seems to loom quite large from the perspective of the entire tale that is being told in the Torah.

In Vayeshev, Josef, too, meets a most important individual. This character in the story is crucial to the history and destiny of the Children of Israel, for had Josef not met this nameless individual, Jacob/Israel and his family might have disappeared from the world stage.

Josef encounters this individual at just the right time, during a moment when he cannot find any trace of his brothers. This nameless man is able to direct Josef to where his brothers are pasturing their flocks. Had Josef not encountered this individual, all of the events which led to the bondage in Egypt, to Moses’ call by God to deliver the Israelites from that bondage and to Sinai would never have occurred.

The nameless individual in this week’s Torah portion serves as a paradigm for the manner in which individuals affect each other daily. Sometimes the names are preserved for posterity; sometimes they are lost; sometimes they are never even exchanged. Nevertheless, people can affect one another in profound ways. No matter how small our role on the stage of life seems, it can be a starring role, a crucial part of the story.

The song Some Enchanted Evening is about a very real and serious phenomenon. Strangers enter our lives all the time. They have an effect upon us, even when we do not sense it, even as we enter others’ lives as strangers and affect them, too.

The words of anonymous poets have inspired generations of people. And the actions of strangers have changed the course of our own lives.

Some enchanted evening or day or week or month, you may meet a stranger, and/or you may be a stranger.

In the biblical narratives, encounters with strangers have all been necessary for the growth of the individual as well as the course of history.

What we do, what we say, who we are, what we believe — all of these things are important and can have cosmic results.

Rabbi Josef A. Davidson prepared this week’s Torah portion.