My Travels Have Changed Me: Kafka’s Doll and Yosef

As the story goes, Franz Kafka was walking through a park one day in Berlin when he met a girl who was crying because she had lost her favorite doll. She and Kafka searched for the doll unsuccessfully. Kafka told her to meet him there the next day and they would come back to look for her. The next day, when they had not yet found the doll, Kafka gave the girl a letter “written” by the doll saying “please don’t cry. I took a trip to see the world. I will write to you about my adventures.”

During their meetings, Kafka read the letters of the doll carefully written with adventures and conversations that the girl found adorable. Finally, Kafka brought back the doll (he bought one) that had returned to Berlin.

“It doesn’t look like my doll at all,” said the girl. Kafka handed her another letter in which the doll wrote: “my travels have changed me.” The little girl hugged the new doll and brought the doll with her to her happy home.

A year later Kafka, who never married and had no children, died.

I love this story. It speaks of our inherent desire to make sense of the world. But the doll was clearly a news one. Did the girl actually think that it was her well-traveled doll?

I was thinking about this story when reading Vayigash, this week’s Torah portion. Here we read about Yosef revealing himself to his long lost brothers. Even with all of the years and all of the Egyptian costumes how did they not recognize their little brother? Just like Kafka’s doll, Yosef was well-traveled and it had changed him. This is evident by what he says to them, “Now, do not be distressed or reproach yourselves because you sold me hither; it was to save life that God sent me ahead of you.” (Genesis 45:5)

Interesting enough, the story about Kafka and the girl did not end there. Many years later, the now-adult girl found a letter inside the doll. In the tiny letter signed by Kafka it was written, “Everything you love will probably be lost, but in the end, love will return in another way.” We learn from this story about Kafka, the doll, and Yosef that we all need to embrace change. It’s inevitable for growth. Together we can shift pain into wonder and love, but it is up to us to consciously and intentionally create that connection.

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