Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah –Vayigash

Show of hands – how many of you are afraid? It’s okay; no one is watching to see if you did or didn’t, but I think deep down inside, we are all afraid. While our fears certainly root in our insecurity on so many levels, many of us know we are afraid but don’t know how to pinpoint the cause.

In religion, fear of being challenged leads people into fundamentalist beliefs – speaking of an all-everything God and limiting that same God to only the one path/experience/tradition/voice that affirms an individual’s personal belief. Politically, people get so tied into their “party line” that they lose sight of the much bigger world. We should be learning with each other, not living to one-up each other. Fear drives the need to win at all costs. Fear drives nearly every dysfunction in life, and the greatest challenge is that people are most afraid of seeing that they are afraid.

Fear is not, in and of itself a bad thing. Fear can drive us to overcome, but without faith, it only accelerates our retreat and circling of our wagons. Nelson Mandela taught, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

This week, we witness a family reunion. Joseph sat in control of almost all of Egypt. His brothers came from Canaan seeking grain. Joseph knew them, but they knew him not. He tested them, punished them, and then opened up to them. The last time he saw them, they had threatened to kill him and then sold him into slavery. It was not until Judah (who had actually previously saved his life) approached him boldly that his heart began to open.

Imagine sitting in front of the Power-base of the most powerful nation and standing up to protest an injustice. The Torah portion speaks to the truth of courage at the beginning of this week’s portion. “Vayigash aelive Yehuda va’yomer – Judah stood up to him and spoke.” The Torah highlights this monumental moment by using the word “vayigash,” because its root is the word used whenever someone courageously faces danger. Judah stood up to Joseph. He had to be afraid, but it did not matter. As General Patton said, “Courage is fear holding on a minute longer.” To affect justice, he had to act and defend his brother.

Of course, we know that nothing changes if we don’t stand up. Upstanding vs. by standing: the scales of righteousness tip on the side of our behaviors and responses. Where we give in to our fear, we actively or passively participate in letting the emptiness of chaos proliferate. It is in chaos’ vacuum that we find evil take charge.

We are not just addressing matters of social justice. No, it takes courage to grow and to love others who grow even in diverse directions. It takes courage to stand firm and hold yourself and others accountable and give the best we have to give. To achieve this goal, we have to see value and dignity beyond our own horizons. From the Hindu Upanishads, we read, “Who sees all beings in one’s own self, and one’s own self in all beings, loses all fear.” In overcoming this fear, we can learn that the breadth of God transcends the shackles with which we bind God to our own spiritual myopia. It frees us to celebrate life … all of it. It opens doors for even difficult conversations to be shared in loving and dignified ways. It empowers us to make the Rabbis’ teachings our reality. Aelu v’aelu, divrae Elohim Chayim – these words and also these words are spoken from the living God.”

Shabbat Shalom! To all my Christian friends, “Merry Christmas.”