A Winter Tale, Shabbat Style

December 4, 2015

A Winter Tale, Shabbat Style

You always know it’s winter when the weekly Torah readings are about the Biblical tale of Joseph and his brothers. This week’s Parashah, “VaYeshev” begins the story of Joseph and his brothers who hate him. It is part of a series of dysfunctional families and intense sibling rivalry which characterize all the families of the Book of Genesis. The story could have been truly tragic – Joseph’s brothers plot to kill him, throw him into a pit, and eventually sell him as a slave. The arc of Joseph’s story descents to the bottom: slavery, imprisonment, helplessness; then, it rises to redemption: freedom from prison, the rise to power, and then saving his entire family from famine, and therefore saving the entire Hebrew people. It is a story full of violence, anger, revenge, and hatred, but it ends with forgiveness and redemption. In the conclusion to the story in “Parshat Vayigash” in two weeks [spoiler alert!!!], Joseph, now a powerful Egyptian official, reveals himself to his brothers. They are terrified and expect Joseph’s reprisals, but Joseph tells them,

I am your brother Joseph, he whom you sold into Egypt. Now, do not be distressed or reproach yourselves because you sold me hither; it was to save life that God sent me ahead of you...  God has sent me ahead of you to ensure your survival on earth, and to save your lives in an extraordinary deliverance.

This tale is truly a remarkable story of forgiveness and reconciliation. I can’t help but think of the epidemic of violence here in America and around the world. Ideological violence, most often directed at total innocents. What happened to the “Brotherhood of Man?” If we are all brothers and sisters, when do we get to the level of forgiveness and reconciliation that characterizes the conclusion of the Joseph story? The situation with sons of Jacob seemed so hopeless, but the story ends with hope. Let’s hope that the world hasn’t entirely lost its bearings and returns to a more peaceful equilibrium.

Shabbat Shalom.