A little something different this week. Enjoy!
At first glance, Parsha Vayeshev seems like a pretty harsh and destructive time for G-d. Jacob is desperately praying that the generations of family woes will finally be over yet we see intense turmoil with Joseph and his brothers. The brothers eventually rough him up a bit and throw him in a pit. The Torah states that, “And they sat down to eat bread, and they lifted up their eyes and looked, and behold, a company of Yishme’alim came from Gilad with their camels carrying aromatic gum, balm, and ladanum, going to carry it down to Egypt” (Genesis 37:25). This is the caravan the brothers will sell Joseph into slavery. Let’s put this in perspective: your brothers hate you, they just beat you up, threw you into a pit for who knows how long, took your awesome coat, and sold you into slavery. Why do you care that the caravan you’re gonna be stuck on for your not-so-happy ride down to Egypt smells nice?
Simply put, while we’re rejoicing in our happiness or mourning our destruction, G-d is simply creating. All of the good and bad moments of our lives are simply moments in time of G-d constantly creating the world so that we can all reach our potential. We often don’t see the meaning behind our suffering until days, months, years or even generations later. However, G-d will never allow us to suffer an iota more than is necessary. Joseph’s suffering was necessary so that the humiliation would humble him. Also, this event would bring his family to Egypt, where they would escape the famine. Even further than that, it would bring the rest of Israel down to Egypt where they would eventually have to endure the pain of slavery as a nation; the path in which the Nation of Israel is redeemed, given the torah and brought to Eretz Yisroel. However, despite all that, Joseph was spared the discomfort of the normally pungent smells that would accompany a caravan. This was a small reminder from G-d that all was not lost and that Joseph would not have to suffer any more than absolutely necessary, even if just a small discomfort.
Often when we are struggling through a particularly difficult time we don’t even notice the seemingly small discomforts, or lack thereof. Yet, it is in these details that we might recognize G-d’s hints to us that every moment of mourning or rejoicing in our lives is just a fleeing moment of creation leading us to our full potential. This reminds me of one of my favorite King Solomon stories. The king wanted to humble one of his most trusted wise men, Benaiah. He asked Benaiah to find him a magic ring that would make a happy man sad, and a sad man happy. He knew that no such ring existed but wanted to bring a sense of humility to Benaiah since he was known to brag amongst the other advisors. After months of searching with no luck, Benaiah happened upon an old merchant in one of the poorest quarters of Jerusalem. He asked the old man if he knew of such a ring. The man took a ring from his wares and engraved some words. When Benaiah saw the engraving he knew he had found the ring. That night when the king asked him to produce the magic ring, everyone was surprise when Benaiah actually pulled out a ring. King Solmon saw engraved “Gam Ze Ya’avor” – “This too shall pass.” At that moment the king knew that all his wisdom, wealth and power were just fleeting things, and he was saddened by the thought. But our sufferings will pass as well, a thought that should always keep us happy and comforted.
In keeping with the fact that it’s Labor Day Weekend and everyone is ditching shul to go to the beach, let’s keep this week’s d’var brief and to-the-point.
A double portion of Torah lovin’…
Nitzavim: do good stuff and G-d will reward you. Do bad stuff, and G-d will curse you. The end.
Vayelech: Moses is about to die. He gives the keys to the Jewish people to Joshua and they bro down in a tent with G-d who tells them that the Israelites are going to stray from the Torah.
This whole thing seems like a contradiction. G-d is the King of the Universe. You think he’d have the brains to not waste His time telling the Hebrews to worship Him in Parshat Nitzavim when he knows they’re just gonna go worship idols and eat ham sandwiches over in Parshat Vayelech.
But that’s the horrible thing about being a parent. You look into your newborn’s eyes and you feel this rapture that you’ve brought this life into the world. And you don’t think to yourself, “gee, one day you’re going to be stealing my car, get busted for smoking in the school bathroom and flunk out of college because you were more interested in X-Box than Chemistry 101.”
G-d, in this week’s double portion, is like any other parent, struggling to deal with the fact that His children will, in fact, give him the middle finger…and frankly, already have.
But G-d can’t help it. When G-d looks at Creation, it’s like we’re newborns in His hands. And he can’t help but say, “don’t worry I still love you kid, I’ll give you another chance. Just be good this time, OK?” And yeah, we’re pretty lucky like that.
“Justice, justice, you shall seek.” Parshat Shoftim is the Torah portion where we get to feel like Tikkun Olam-aholics and Social Justice Champions. The environmental crowd uses Shoftim to make the case for Al Gore’s livelihood and the LGBT crowd will surely use Shoftim to talk about the overturning of Prop 8, while the other side of the aisle will be screaming Fair Tax and War on Islamo-fascism at the top of their lungs. But let’s talk about something more interesting than politics.
Why is justice repeated twice in “justice, justice, you shall seek”? Isn’t it good enough to say, “seek justice” without the clever poetics?
The Jewish tradition is big on numbers and the number two has its own significance. Two, the Kabbalists believe, is the number for fellowship…and that seems to make sense. There are two parts to the Torah, oral and written, that are in fellowship with each other. One Torah isn’t “more right” than the other. They compliment each other. “Two people shall become one flesh”…how that’s fellowship. How about the two angels in Sodom and Gamorrah? Or the fact that we light two candles on Shabbat and that when a man studies in yeshiva, he studies with a partner?
This week’s Torah portion talks justice, but justice can’t be administered by one person. From the beginning, we learn what justice should be in fellowship. No one person, no matter how smart they are or just they are has all the right answers. Great things come from partnership.
Short and sweet, that’s the lesson of the week. Go with G-d and bring a friend!