Vayechi is the final Parsha of Genesis and the Parsha where two very charismatic patriarchs cross the threshold of the world to come. Growing up when this part of the Torah cycled through Joseph was nothing more to me than a kid with a coat who ends up in Egypt nothing more nothing less. When I decided to start Circle Pit the Bimah I wanted to try and approach each portion like it is the first time and not the thirty-third. I have really worked hard to try and forget, for lack of a better term, what I have learned from others in the past. This means no commentator quotes, no socio-political agenda, and no current news or popular culture references. So far this approach has really worked and for the first time in my life I see Joseph for who he was not for what he wore or where he lived.
As in life dualism places an integral role within Judaism, and at no other time is the clash between religious observance and secular life more evident than as it is with Joseph. Joseph is the patriarch who represents a secular life accompanied by belief in fact our holiday of Hanukkah which is observed during Joseph’s Torah portions is a holiday founded around that clashing of the religious and secular worlds. Very fitting, why is all of this important? Vayechi continues this tradition, Israel blesses Joseph’s sons out of order defying the normal process, Joseph returns Israel’s body to the land of his forefathers for a religious burial, and Joseph stays in Egypt and when he dies is interred under Egyptian customs.
Even today it seems most of the time the secular minded of us are attacking the fundamental foundations of the more religious Jew’s life by trying to impose a different set of day to day values than what they are used to. Depending on where you live the orthodox do the same to us, and unfortunately this will never change. Sometimes a marriage will occur between both worlds other times it may seem we are more cruel to each other than our enemies are to us. We will never be without the other. Eden is the only place within creation where there are only two mitzvot the first is just live and the other is do not eat the fruits of this one tree. If we were all Rabbinic Torah masters what need would we have for the Torah and Jewish fellowship the same is true if we are all righteous secular Jews.
The world we live in demands a Torah and that will never change, what we can change is how we approach the other side. The reasoning which might sway me probably will not work on my polar opposite and it is arrogant to think the same is true when the situation is reversed. I will always need a Rabbi because I am not a Rabbi, just as a Rabbi will always need a student so that he can be a Rabbi.
Where do you think a person should draw a line, if any, between religious and secular pursuits? Have you ever felt singled out for attack by the other side of the same family? We want to hear from you. Comment below or send me a message firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @circlepitbimah.