To Know Someone

December 23, 2021

In this week’s Torah portion, Shemot, we are presented with the question, what does it mean to actually “know” someone? It is in these opening verses of this new Book of Exodus that a new Pharoah becomes king whom we are told “did not know Joseph.” (Exodus 1:8) Similarly, Pharoah then declares his lack of knowing Gd only a few chapters later:

“Who is the Lrd that I should heed His voice to let Israel out?
I do not know the Lrd, neither will I let Israel out.”

Carleton University Philosopher, David Matheson, differentiates the ability for a person to know another based on two models; the first, is an impersonal knowledge built on third-hand anecdotal information, whereas the second is established on personal knowledge through shared experiences.

Many of us know general information on our favorite musicians, athletes, entertainment stars, even on those whom we dislike and know through the media or through the opinions of others we trust. However, this knowledge cannot, nor should not, be accepted without greater understanding. How often have we elevated someone to a status which their public relations experts have falsely created, only to eventually have them come crashing down when their real persona is identified off of the proverbial camera?

Our great sages all agree that the idea that a new Pharoah did not know of Joseph is highly unlikely, especially in the Egyptian civilization that took such great care in documenting its leaders’ stories and life achievements. Therefore, the fact that the Torah tells us that Pharoah “did not know Joseph” must be suggesting Pharoah having a different type of knowledge of Joseph, one that was limited, impersonal, and unconvincing to him of Joseph’s importance in Egypt’s storied history. Consequently, it is this lack of personal knowledge of Joseph and his Hebrew descendants that ultimately brings about this new Pharoah’s demise.

So how does someone get to really “know” another? The psychology books tell us that listening to one another is critical. In fact, a quick Google search asking the question “how to know someone” generates over 9.5 billion results almost all leading with what questions would be helpful in “getting to know someone” better. However, what the Torah teaches us, and in fact what life reinforces, is that shared experiences are the essence in getting to know someone else.

A quick observation of children at play shows us that the dialogue between the children is less important than the shared experience of climbing the jungle gym, playing with the Legos, or building sandcastles together. Similarly, adults joining affinity groups spend less time talking and getting to know one another in preference to spending more time jumping into the immediate task at hand. In fact, how often do Jews who just met jump into playing “Jewish geography,” ironically before actually knowing with whom they’re playing the game?

The last two years have been challenging in building community because we simply have not had the opportunities to come together and participate in these shared experiences. As we near the end of 2021, and as we pray for a swift conclusion to the pandemic and its Covid-variants, let us hope for a new year that brings us together more frequently, provides us with meaningful encounters, and enables us to collaborate on our shared vision for a vibrant and sustainable future of getting to know one another better.

In fact, over the last few months, the Jewish Federation of San Antonio has worked collaboratively with all our local Jewish agencies and synagogues to develop a dynamic and up-to-date community calendar. We encourage you to visit the calendar and see all the wonderful and exciting events taking place across Jewish San Antonio. Events are categorized and clearly labeled with the host organization’s contact information easily accessible. The initial feedback has been very positive, and we look forward to having you join us across the community for these wonderful programs and events… because by coming together for these shared experiences we will be…


Shabbat shalom,