Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah – Vayeishev

The magic of Torah rests in its ability to help us understand life through stories and paradigms that span generations and transcend particular stories. Sometimes we can see apparent lessons to discuss, and sometimes they emerge from the processes we bring to the text. Then there are times when the text is (or should be) leading the conversation, and hopefully, we are paying attention.

Whichever one’s politics, whatever one’s religion, job status, gender, orientation, race, etc. – we find ourselves all under attack from somebody. Of course, too often, being on the other side of someone else’s politics (or whatever) gives rise to the charge that you are the one attacking.

The conflict that plagues our society is only a global manifestation of the battle that wages inside each of us. We each wrestle with the blessings and challenges evoked in inter-human interaction. Somewhere between our physical and our spiritual selves is a place of equilibrium in spirit. Some of us get to taste it once in a while, but it is nearly impossible to grasp. Biblically, this week’s Torah portion may best illustrate our conflict. Jacob’s marriages to Leah and Rachel produce two very different types of children. Paradigmatically, we can understand this ideal through the depictions of Judah and Joseph. Joseph is the idealist – the one who dreams. Judah is the grounded realist. In neither camp can we find wholeness. If our head stays in the clouds, we cannot live relevantly in this world. If, on the other hand, we shun the dreamer and stick too tightly to the myopic road in front of us, we will live unfulfilled, missing the many opportunities for blessings that will pass us by.

Leah bore all of her children before Rachel had any. The oldest sibling (Ruben) lost his inheritance rights for sleeping with his stepmother (Bilchah), and while the priesthood and kingship stayed within Leah’s children (Levi and Judah), the blessing due the first-born passed to Joseph, the firstborn of Jacob’s more beloved wife, Rachel.

Joseph then has dreams wherein his parents and brothers bow to him. He remains Jacob’s favorite son which causes such jealousy in his other children that they plot to kill Joseph. Judah saves him from death but sells him into slavery. As the story continues, Joseph finds his way into power, and years later, the brothers come before the chancellor of Egypt (not recognizing him as their brother) and beg for food. The children of Leah found themselves begging the son of Rachel (whose dreams now come true). During this episode, Judah and Joseph have some direct one on one confrontation. Joseph wins.

Centuries later, as we emerge from Egyptian bondage, Moses (descendant from Levi) leads the people out, but Joshua (descendant of Joseph) brings them into Israel. The pendulum swings, though, and while the first King, Saul is a Benjaminite, David (from Judah) supplants him. Yet even while we speak of the crown of King David standing forever, we know that after his reign and Solomon’s reign, Jeroboam (from Joseph) rebels and splits the people. While Jewish legend discredits Jeroboam, the actual Bible speaks otherwise – he saves his people from brutality at the hands of the Judean King.

One cannot ignore the recurrent theme of the struggle between our spiritual and physical selves. We have to stay vigilant in remembering our obligation to both take care of the here and now and dream about and prepare for an even better tomorrow. Where we fail, we condemn ourselves today and each other tomorrow. The struggle that began with the wives who stood at odds with each other ruptured their family. We need to fix it and restore our world. Shabbat Shalom.