Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah-Vayigash

Twenty-two years is a long time. In December 1993, I was 7/10 of the way through Rabbinical school. I lived in Cincinnati and spent my life running from school to Temple Sholom (where I ran all the adult education), to Glen Manor Home for the Jewish Aged (I was Chaplain for the nursing home), to home to be with my family … and then back through the cycle again what seemed like seven days each week. I was preparing for graduation (end of 4th year) and beginning research for my Rabbinical Thesis and end of 5th-year ordination. A lot has happened since then … and a lot has not changed at all. 22 years is a long time, and reminiscing on all that was often leads to interesting internal dynamics which often leads to changes in how we relate to ourselves and to each other.

I was a work-a-holic. I still am. At the same time, certainly my home life has changed dramatically. I love my family, and, I guess still struggle trying to demonstrate the depths of that love with my addiction to service. This concept is perhaps one of the greatest frustrations that my late first wife shares most deeply with the woman to whom I am blessed to be married today. 22 years is a long time. I think I have grown in many ways … and shrunk in others, and yet, as I look back, I find myself chasing many of the same demons that plagued me 22 years ago … 40 years ago. I also see how much more I appreciate the blessings that stand before me every day. Some of the blessings I now appreciate, I appreciate only because of the challenges I faced, chasing the demons. There are horrible choices I made when I was young; that helped me keep others from making them now.

22 years passed between the time that Joseph left home to check on his brothers and the field and the next time he saw his father. In the interim, the braggart and esoteric dreamer experienced being sold into slavery, redeemed to serve a prince, thrown in prison, restored to freedom, … and then landed as the second in command in Egypt … second only to Pharaoh. Imagine seeing your father for the first time in 22 years, wondering why he never searched for you, to only then find out that he was told you were dead. Imagine being Jacob who experienced the devastation of losing a child only to learn that the rest of your children lied to you about the death! A lot happened in 22 years. He is, though, the same Joseph, just much older and wielding a lot more power. Still, though, Joseph’s demons (his ego and dreams) helped him save Egypt, helped him overcome his brothers, and helped reunite him with his father. He now has his own family. He understands compassion in ways that he could never have.

We are products of our years. How often do we meet people (sometimes in the mirror) who spend time regretting choices or experiences undertaken? How much energy do we spend saying, “If only I had …?” Each of our personalities established themselves years ago, and none of us is perfect. That said, I learned that a profound difference existed between knowledge and experience. We spend time learning things, and this education happens along two lines. We can learn a lot of information by studying books and reading documents. If we lack experience in living, the information in these books remain nothing more than facts and figures that fill our heads. On the other hand, I have experienced time with so many people who never had formal education, who cannot read or write, and yet, have the most uncanny understanding of life. I asked one such friend how she knew so much. She simply said, “When you live as many years as I have, there is nothing you have not seen.” Joseph’s maturation and my own growth are more rooted in our life experiences than in anything we learned in a book. Ultimately, even the difficulties … traumas provided us opportunities to garner blessings for our futures. Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan taught the past has a vote but not a veto as we move forward. Certainly, this is true for interpretation of Torah. Isn’t it true, though, that each of our lives is Torah? I am who I am because of all whom I have been. Cherish each moment … even the difficult ones, for the difference between blessing and curse, is not what happens to us, only what we do with it. Shabbat Shalom.