December 30, 2011

It is a time of great tension in the family of Israelboth of course in the modern state and the original family in the Torah.  Two weeks ago in our parsha, as Joseph approaches his brothers in the field, they see him "mei-rachok," from far away. On the p'shat simple level, they could see the well known coat, given to him as a favorite son.  But the drash or interpretation is not so hard to guess--they saw him as distant, and refused to see him up close. The text emphasizes this--"before he could come close to them"--and then uses a strange verb, "vayitnaklu oto l'hamito," or the schemed to kill him.  Ramban, Nachmanides, from 13th century Spain, brings out that their plan was also to kill Joseph from a distance, perhaps by setting their dogs on him, so they wouldn't have to get into a messy face to face situation.  When that plan failed, they decided to throw him into a pit and ultimately sold him into slavery.

Every child knows the rudiments of the story.  All of the troubles in this family stem from their petty jealousies. The brothers see a coat that is emblematic of Joseph’s position viz-a-viz his father.  Joseph sees the brothers as bit players in his dreams. Yet, decades later the brothers don't recognize Joseph even after all his machinations and intrigue.

Given the facts we have, this still begs the real question.  Yes, it took Joseph a few years to become the second most powerful man in the world.  But, how did he let his elderly father bewail and bemoan him for so many years after his ascending into power?

Joseph is surprised by his brother’s renewed fear of him after Jacob dies. Alienation is the root of anger and of great evil. The healing process cannot begin until this week’s parsha Vayigash when the brothers finally come near to one another, but even that reconciliation is incomplete as the brothers still go their separate ways.

This is of course the entire challenge of our community and all that await us. How can we transcend the alienation that surrounds us?  If we cannot hear our fellow human being, if we cannot come to know him or her, to experience their sorrow with sympathy, then how can we possibly come to know the larger communities of today awaiting our help? If we cannot transcend the alienation with people we see each day, then how can we undo the deep schism of our people from the Torah, from the life of the soul, and from God? We must learn to witness the pain of another person without feeling defensive. Rather we must show sympathy and love, and stand for hope.

We just celebrated Chanukkah.  This is now a time for reversing darkness and estrangement.  May the light of Torah which we ignite this season drive out the darkness of alienation and draw us together into a community of joy and peace.

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Jeffrey Abraham