Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah-Vayeishev

And he wailed. Jacob sees his sons returning from their work in the field. There is a somberness about them. They are carrying something. “Wait, Joseph is not with them! Where is my favorite son? Where is my Joseph? What happened to him? What have you done?” Jacob’s sons present their father with the bloody tunic; the very tunic he had so lovingly gifted to Joseph … his favorite son. And, Jacob wailed. Even the brothers who created the conspiracy to get rid of their brother and hide it from their father were awestruck by their father’s grief. For some of the family entourage, these are the mournful tears of a man needing to be held and consoled. For some, these tears are the just desserts for a man who chose favorites from amongst his children. For Joseph’s brothers, these had to be tears of incredible sadness … their sadness. If it were any of them, would their father of cried so? Did he truly love Joseph so much more … so exclusively? Had they no place in their father’s heart? Dad never inquired as to their safety. They hated their brother and believed that getting rid of him would return them to their father’s favor. Instead, Jacob, refused consolation and pledged to go to his grave in mourning for his favorite son.

And he wailed. An inner city father watches as police cars pull up to the front of his Georgia home. They are carrying something. “Wait, Joseph is not with them! Where is my favorite son? Where is my Joseph? What happened to him? What have you done?” Joseph Terry Brown was gunned down. There have been an ungodly number of “Josephs” shot in this country this year. For Joseph Brown, it was only one of two major incidents that day. Every victim of the 355 mass shootings in this country … this year … left family mourning their loss. Everyone had a loved one at home who heard the news and wailed.

The people gathered around Jacob to try and console him. Gatherings around the country form after each shooting, trying to console each other. Jacob could not be consoled, and the presumed violence done to his son will continue to plague him until the day that he learns that Joseph is still alive. Joseph Brown’s family will never experience that relief. Why was the Biblical Joseph to be killed? He was a dreamer. Yes, his dreams aggrandized himself, but in truth, each of his dreams came true. He dreamt that his brothers would bow before him. We will read that in fact they do. His ability to dream and interpret dreams may have saved an entire civilization, but to his jealous brothers, his dreams warranted death. Joseph Brown dreamt of living in a loving relationship with a woman and her children from a previous marriage. His dream cost him his life, as a jealous ex-husband shot the whole family in their home. We will spend several weeks each year telling the story of the Biblical Joseph. Joseph Brown’s story got swept away in the wake of an even larger tragedy that day in San Bernardino, California.

355 mass shootings in America this year, so far. That equals more than one a day. The victims’ only crimes were wanting to live freely in America. Were we to read about this in other nations, we would be screaming that they were godless people. We would put traveling sanctions for anyone planning on going there. We would be screaming about human rights violations. No, what are we doing? Well, those who are losing loved ones to the violence are screaming in pain. They are wailing. The rest of us are walking in prayer vigils, talking about how horrible the violence is, and then going back to our lives.

We are taught that prayer is only valuable if it moves the one praying to act. To say words of prayer and then move on to the next item on an agenda is not prayer, in fact, it may be blasphemy. IF we pray for and dream of a world at peace, then we need to prepare ourselves to make it so. One cannot make peace with more weapons. One cannot make peace with fear in his heart. IF we want to make peace then we have to realize that if we know that more Torah yields more peace, then more arms must yield more violence. How can we dream of and pray for a messianic day, at the very same time we load our guns prepare for battle? You cannot “WIN” the messianic age, we must earn the peace that it promises. Joseph’s dreams saved Egypt. It certainly was uncomfortable for the Egyptians, but in giving up their grain surpluses, they were fed for years when nothing grew. Joseph Brown’s dreams ended on December 2, 2015.

What is our role and obligation in this mess? Are we destined to simply sit and pray … or mourn when it gets too close to home? What is unique about the Biblical Joseph is that he made things happen. He faced the unimaginable and in each setting rose to the top by being proactive in the cause of fulfilling his dreams. I dream of days when the violence will be over. I dream of the day when we will turn our weapons into instruments of creation; when we win the battle of working for peace as opposed to the one we live now, defending ourselves from the next act of violence. Laws need to change. Hearts need to change. We need to learn to love loving and not live fearing. As we read Torah each week, we feel the successes and failures of our ancestors as they play out in the stories. We know, from thousands of years of tradition, that when faced with the choice between living and dying, loving and fearing, growing or shrinking, we must always choose life. Turn the time we spend fearing and grieving into time spent speaking and writing; changing the conversation that fosters the madness into the conversation that heals our spirits. Write city hall, call the Statehouse, visit Congress and make sure you are heard in a meaningful way. Shabbat Shalom.