Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah–Vayigash

To get involved or not to get involved … that is the question? Have you seen the videos where people will stage fights (physical or verbal) over and over again in order to see who might get involved to help? One person is always the aggressor, seemingly brutalizing the other. These scenes often leave us with some sad indictment on humanity, as we watch people run from the conflict. Occasionally, someone will step up and stand up for the one being abused. The people who stand up make me want to cheer; they help restore my faith. I just pray more people would stand up, because I see fewer simulations and an alarmingly increasing number of actual attacks. Just this week, someone (s) desecrated my seminary in Cincinnati with swastikas. It is really close to home … too close to even think about ignoring. Public response is hopeful and helpful, but none-the-less, hate is emboldened. People sit and passively listen/watch as horrible things are done/said that hurt others. Parts of this generation need to be reminded that we are a society built on respect.

While I am not sure how helpful this next thought will be, I know that however bad it may seem, now, this problem is not new. An often overlooked piece of this week’s Torah portion reminds us that we have experienced by-standers (people who watch or passively enable) for thousands of years. As Joseph sits with his brothers, not yet having revealed his true identity to them, he asks how their father is. Now, I understand how Joseph might want revenge on his brothers for having sold him into slavery, but ten times they refer to their father as Joseph’s “servant.”

Allowing his brothers to demean his father is unwarranted and shameful. The sages point out (Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer, ch. 39) that even while Joseph overcomes tremendous challenges to find himself primed to save the world, he allowed his father to be demeaned and did nothing to stop it. Yes, as a child, Joseph dreamed that dream: this moment resulted from that prophetic dream. He was haughty and arrogant then, and never realized that that prophecy was a warning. Joseph was filled with himself then, and despite the many “humility growing” experiences he endured, he never learned. The text points out that Joseph only lived to be 110. Judaism has a tradition of celebrating a righteous person with the thought, “May you live to be 120 (Moses’ age). Joseph was a great guy but only made it to 110. The sages point out that his failure to stop the diminution of his father cost him one year for each instance.

Long ago, Torah taught us that to stand by and allow another to commit an act of emotional or physical violence on another costs the bystander, as well. Joseph not only lost years, but his arrogance ultimately caused the downfall of Egypt. Power mongers win battles but suffer horrific defeats in wars. As every Egyptian sold himself into slavery just to get his grain back, the prized “Dream Interpreter” suffered the blame. 

Recently, I was part of a coalition that brought the Pledge to stand up for each other to Trenton, NJ, where the entire State Senate and assembly signed and adopted it (individually and as a collective body). The Pledge reads, “While interacting with members of my own faith, or ethnic, or gender community, or with others, if I hear hateful comments from anyone about members of any other community, I pledge to stand up for the other and speak up to challenge bigotry in any form.” In a society built on respect, affirming this pledge is a no-brainer. I encourage everyone reading this to go to and sign the pledge. I would love to be able to proffer the groundswell of support for this pledge to every state government, and then the federal government, as well. 

More than sign the pledge, I urge you to act on it. Whether we sit in the lunchroom, the boardroom, the bus, or the theater … or anywhere we interact with others, we cannot stand idly by while our neighbor bleeds. If one of us suffers an assault while people simply watch, it emboldens the next act. If we want the madness to end, then we have to be vigilantes in letting people know that they matter and that the horrific behaviors are not to be tolerated. Shabbat Shalom.