Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah–Vayigash
We teach that Torah has to continue to evolve if it is to stay alive. Torah has done just that over the last two-plus thousand years. As we read the text in the 21st century, we experience it in ways completely unimaginable by our ancestors. If we are to face the contemporary world in the midst of the storm, then our faith has to inform us on how to behave and on how to still experience holiness. This goal of Torah’s eternal relevance stands as our guiding light as we walk through the many challenges and blessings that we face.We teach that Torah has to continue to evolve if it is to stay alive. Torah has done just that over the last two-plus thousand years. As we read the text in the 21st century, we experience it in ways completely unimaginable by our ancestors. If we are to face the contemporary world in the midst of the storm, then our faith has to inform us on how to behave and on how to still experience holiness. This goal of Torah’s eternal relevance stands as our guiding light as we walk through the many challenges and blessings that we face.
Currently, we live in a very insecure world. People bully when they lack faith. The more one has to prove how faithful he/she is to a “party line,” the more others question how much God versus how much fear drives his/her spirit. I met with a virulent and vocal anti-Semite and asked him why he hated me. His quick response was because I am Jewish. I told him that Jesus was, too. Over the course of the next twenty minutes, we came to realize that he hated me because someone taught him to do so. Our daughters, by the way, were fairly close friends. They forced us to speak. My new friend spoke from my pulpit just months later.
For every one of these success stories, we know a myriad of stories wherein people simply chose never to engage and never to listen to each other. They began afraid, and as the wall they build between each other grew, so did the temperature of their fear. At some point, the fear manifests in violence. Every war in history devolves just this way. We begin with the presumption that we have cause to fear and then act in ways that fulfill our prophecy.
As I grow more and more concerned over the fear that grips people, I find myself heartened by a Chassidic commentary I read on this week’s Torah portion. Joseph ascended to power in Egypt; second to only Pharaoh. As the years of plenty led into the years of famine (just as he had predicted), people came from all over the region to seek food and grain. It happened one day that, as he sat greeting all who came in need, he sat there face to face with his brothers who sold him into slavery and then told their father he had died. He recognized them. They did not recognize him. Of course, seeing them pulled him right back into the pit into which they threw him and from which they drugged him and sold him. Joseph struggles to control his emotions. “He cried, ‘Order every man to leave me.’ So no man stood with him while Joseph made himself known to his brothers (Gen. 45:1).
”Rabbi Chama bar Rabbi Chanina and Rabbi Shmuel bar Nachmani discussed this matter. One said that he acted unwisely, for had one of them hurt him, there was no one left to protect him. The other argued that he presumed that the brothers had become pious and holy, and therefore he was safe. With all due respect to the great sages, I believe that they are both short-sighted. Yes, Joseph took an enormous risk leaving himself alone with his brothers. Yes, he had to have faith that they would not attack him. That said, my take away is less presumptuous and more necessary. Joseph took a risk; he put himself out there. He was vulnerable. In this posture, he was no longer the threatening Lord over Egypt; he was Joseph. He was their brother. His first words to them are not words of spite or hate. He asked, “Is our father still alive?” While I cannot say that Joseph was unafraid, I most certainly understand that his fear did not hold him back. If we want to heal the world, we must step out on a limb.
Martin Luther King, Jr. taught us, “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” It is called “the leap of faith. Rav Kook, the first Chief Rabbi of Israel, taught that in the face of derision or senseless hate, one had to intentionally love. Dr. King put it, “Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.” With every reason to hate his brothers, Joseph’s only response was of love. You know … Hal David and Burt Bacharach said it best, “What the world needs now is love, sweet love. It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of. What the world needs now is love, sweet love, no not just for some, oh, but just for everyone.” Shabbat Shalom.