Vayigash — 5771 — The Voice of Yehuda

21/12/2010 at 11:43 Leave a comment

“The Voice Of Yehuda”

Shabbat Vayigash

11 December 2010

In this portion after long last, we hear the dramatic words, “Ani Yosef, achichem – I am Joseph, your brother.”  Why does Yosef choose at this moment to reveal his true identity to his brothers?  His brothers had suffered through many tribulations in attempting to provide for their family during the famine in Canaan.  They experienced doubt, dissension and uncertainty as they stood before Yosef, their youngest brother Benjamin accused of theft, framed by the  imposing Egyptian.  The brother Yehuda has reclaimed his voice as he steps forward to offer himself as a prisoner in Benjamin’s place and now, after twenty two years, Yosef cries a great cry and brings his brothers closer to him, uniting his family and ultimately bringing them all into Egypt to live in honor.


We know what happens in the future – over time, a Pharaoh comes to power in Egypt who does not remember Yosef and who begins a series of actions to oppress and enslave this once honored people.  The word Egypt — Mitzrayim, becomes synonymous with the yoke of torment and suffering for our people – an anguish so pronounced that we celebrate not only on the 8 Day Festival of Pesach – too, we utter our thanks for this deliverance — the miracle of yetziat Mitzrayim – or our exodus from Egypt throughout our liturgy.  This emigration from a state sponsored affliction into the freedom of wandering in the wilderness in pursuit of the Promised Land, becomes the bedrock of our identification as a people.  Long after and actually, beyond the veracity of the account in the Torah, we live every day with this miracle of freedom on our lips.


Now though, our thoughts are different.  We revel in Ya’akov’s family coming together – if this were a movie, we would be caught up in this profound reconciliation among brothers and our urge to yell at the screen, “it’s a trap, don’t move to Egypt,” would not be present.  We would be overpowered by the accommodations of a successful empire – we would celebrate our little Yossele, becoming Minister of Distribution, with great power, second only to Pharaoh, himself.  We would kvell as Yosef – or as he was known in this new land, Tsaph’nat-Panei’ach – and his family, his wife Asnat, who came from a prestigious Egyptian family – her father was Potiphar, Yosef’s former master – and their boys, M’nashe and Ephraim — we would kvell as Tsaph’nat-Panei’ach managed the famine that had spread from Canaan to the entire world.  We would be swept up with Jewish pride as Tsaph’nat-Panei’ach distributed food to the masses and at the same time, took their land for the state.  We would be overwhelmed by the yiddische kup of Tsaph’nat-Panei’ach as he resettled Egypt, directing all inhabitants except the priests to relocate from the countryside into cities that he built.  We would shep naches from Tsaph’nat-Panei’ach as he imposed a tithing for Pharaoh on all of the subsequent harvests – and like the Egyptians themselves, who were grateful because they were able to survive, we too would gladly accept our servitude and give away one/fifth of our production to the state as we were tied to till the land – and like our ancestors we would not only form a connection to the land, we would be yei’a’chazu va – we would literally be grasped by it, ensnared, trapped and not able to leave.


So where is our rightful home?  Canaan is not Israel – and besides, Ya’akov and his family willfully left there to settle in Egypt, yet Mitzrayim, ultimately will spit us out.  It seems that the Torah teaches us, with all things considered that we are masters of the in-between, neither here nor there – always in pursuit of what’s next, honoring the moment that we have, gaining experience while in motion.  I do not view this as a negative.  Our Torah teaches us the value of transversing space and time – living between points, always putting our trust in God and not in contemporary regimes and governments.  We must work within a process and yet, we are not confined to a particular narrative of land – after layovers that can last generations, it is the journey that is our truest home.


This is why, so many years later – the modern state of Israel represents something so different – in addition to searching for guidance for good government in the Torah, we could be served by looking at our past history surviving as a sovereign nation – the lessons from the Books of Kings, which are found in our Hebrew Bible in the Nevi’im, or section about the Prophets.  Our track record for self-government is not phenomenal.  In every generation, we seem to eat each other alive and perhaps because of our own misdeeds and fractures are ultimately consumed by a powerful neighbor.  Why should this iteration of independence be different from all other iterations of independence?


With the looming bill of conversion, called the Rotem Bill, poised to reenter the debates of the Knesset again, after its freeze last August and the proclamation last week by extremist Shas Spiritual Leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef claiming that the massive fire in the Carmel Region last week was due to a lack of Shabbat observance by the Jewish people – and the current busha, scandal, of  nearly 300 rabbis in Israel organizing to enact a halachic ban on selling or renting land and apartments to non-Jews — as a people we are threatened by arrogance, tunnel vision and a lack of compassion that may be traced to many sources of fear and anxiety – yet only prove to unhinge the unity and the dream of the Jewish people secure and strong in its own land.


I believe that together we can do anything.  Imagine if all of our membership were engaged in our Agudas Achim community – imagine how powerful we would be – not politically, rather as a force to respond to whatever is in front of us – minyan, helping others who are disadvantaged, learning, growing and supporting each other – I think of this often on Friday nights when we are surrounded by enthusiastic visitors, who enjoy the core group that attends – and as wonderful as this is, I pine for our members to attend with them, as well.  Al achat kamah v’kamah – all the more so – we as a people in our land – in reading the Books of Kings, perhaps this kind of security is not meant to be.  Perhaps we are just destined to repeat the sins and the misdeeds of our ancestors, who were sloppy and insensitive and harsh to each other in the land.


The lessons that this Torah portion teaches us in its most profound example of Yosef and his brothers is that it begs us to ask each other the questions – what kind of people are we?  What is the Judaism the represents us?  Is it the belief that some of us have the absolute way as mandated by God or is it the drops of wine that we take out of our cups on Pesach?  Are we exclusivist or are we a light unto the nations?  As we move away from these days of Hanukah, what kind of light do we cast?


Yosef showed his true identity to his brothers only when Yehuda had the courage to stand up and not be silent.  May we too recover the courage of Yehuda, the voice of Yehuda in our own lives – may we recover our voices locally to strengthen our community and may we discover our voices in Israel too, to show that as we celebrate mighty accomplishments and have tremendous pride in our Holy Land that at the same time, we will not accept our lives being undermined and misrepresented by people who presume to speak in our name, until one day as history has made all too clear, we will wake up blinking our eyes once again to an accustomed slavery, subservience, and pattern of extreme pain.


Shabbat Shalom.




Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

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