Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah–Va-y’chi

About 26.5 years ago, I learned that my father had passed away. My sister heard from a cousin and called me in Jerusalem. I was a first year Rabbinical student, having just closed my Arkansas law practice and embarked on a brand new life journey. My father and I had conflict. He experienced conflict with all of his children. He spoke of loving us, but had, in our minds, awkward ways of showing it. He died not having spoken to any of us for over five years. By the time I got the news, he had been buried weeks before. I had moved on. I was perfectly fine (as were my siblings) to forget that he existed. The call came, and the “shock-therapy” began.

Posthumously, we have reconciled. Dad’s Bar Mitzvah picture stands on my desk and a photo of him holding mom overlooks this space. Our conversations are sometimes still difficult, but they are no longer deal breaking and no longer emotionally threatening. They are thought provoking. It took Dad being gone for many years before I felt that we could hear each other. Has my father changed? Who knows, but I know I have. I cannot undo the years of pain that either of us experienced. I have only tomorrow.

Our Torah portion concludes the Book of Genesis. We read of Jacob’s final days and the blessings he bestowed upon his children and grandchildren. We read of Joseph’s journey to bury his father and the return trip, as he stops at the pit into which his brother’s had thrown him. Joseph has had a lot with which to deal.

Knowing that he was his father’s favorite, he had never reached out (even with all of his power and status from Egypt) to let his father know he was alive. Having committed to leaving his family and life behind, he had to confront his brothers. Not knowing that they stood before the brother they betrayed, they appeared for grain because of the famine in his homeland. Joseph had to confront himself and determine what purpose or goal revenge might make real. In the end, Joseph looked into the pit and realized that the past was the past and could not continue to hold sway over tomorrow.

Had his brothers changed? He did not know. He had changed. There could be no undoing of the dreams of superiority, the “favorite of Dad” status, or the hate and enmity it bred in his brothers. Like the brothers, who returned from burying the father whose lifetime journeyed through only challenging relationships, Joseph had to make a choice: Joseph had only tomorrow.

How many of us hold grudges, spending energy on forgetting the people against whom we hold them? Even in committing to not speaking with a family member or “former” friend, every time their name gets mentioned, a piece of us gets pulled back into the darkness. We wait for the apology or explanation; for that person to grovel for our acceptance. We often cannot or will not see anything that we did as contributing to the rancor that separated us from each other.

God knows we are not perfect. Jacob, our namesake patriarch (Israel) never had a functional relationship in his life. Joseph had to decide whether to follow in his father’s footsteps or bring life back to his family. Knowing how his story plays out, in this respect, we understand that he chose wisely … we have each other. I chose wisely, I am … and my father is, at peace. Life is too short to spend it distancing ourselves from each other and holding on to yesterday’s pain. It only causes more pain. Where we open our hearts … really open our hearts, heaven and earth move and we are restored. Shabbat Shalom.