Vayigash — 5772 — “Eminent Yosef”

01/01/2012 at 10:40 Leave a comment

“Eminent Yosef”


Parashat Vayigash

Neil F. Blumofe

31 December 2011


The Earth is degenerate in these latter days.  Bribery and corruption are rampant.  Our leaders are inept.  Children no longer obey their parents.  Each man cares only to write his own life story.  The signs of our decay are obvious for all to see and indeed it is clear that the end of civilization is at hand. 


This comes not from the latest blog or news article – it is not rhetoric out of any political campaign or am radio show – rather it is from an Assyrian tablet, dated back to the year 2800 BCE.  Ein hadash tachat hashemesh – there is nothing new under the sun.


As we learn in this week’s Torah portion, finally it is the brother Yehudah who stands up to the vizier Zaphnat Paneah and breaks the dismal cycle of bullying and harassment that this powerful man was waging specifically against the youngest son Benyamin and too against all of Ya’akov’s sons.  We learn that Yehudah approached Zaphnat Paneach, who was really his younger brother Yoseph, deep within, not in any casual way, rather in a way that was transformative both for Yehudah and for Yosef, himself.  At this moment, Yehudah had nothing left to lose – in deciding to finally confront the man who stands directly before him, he roused his fullest self and was determined to not let a cycle of abuse continue.


For many of us, our days continue as they did before – we gradually getting older with each passing year, making plans for the future – or at least saying that we are making plans for the future — watching children enter another grade and continue to grow up and away from us.  We, mourning friends, family and acquaintances who pass away – attending funerals and shiva services, shaking our heads in sadness and breathing deeply, fretful too about our own life, perhaps.  And as the year goes, we continue to have to adjust, making room for new ways to stay connected – new information that is constantly available to us, at all times – and we find ourselves having to take a stand to separate from this continuous flow.  The world may not be so different now than it was 4000 years ago – however, it comes at us much faster and without interruption.


It is amazing how our human body and mind can and will adjust to any situation.  Like the metaphorical anecdote about a frog that is gradually boiled alive in water, not aware of gradual changes in its environment, the brothers in Egypt find that their circumstances are changed as they ask for food during the severe drought.  They are confronted by their long lost brother Yosef, whom they sold into slavery many years before.  Here he now stands, gripped by his own frustrations and traumas, and perhaps in spite of himself, he continues to needle and provoke these hapless brothers who are entirely in his control.  The tables have turned, and in his authoritative role, Yosef turns into Zafnat Paneach — an aggressor – unwilling to let bygones be bygones and perhaps helpless to have his resentments rest.  What turns good people into recreational antagonists?  What brings decent people into a place  of perverse pleasure – where hurting another is accomplished as part of a day’s work?  How do worldviews become so narrow, so as not to admit even the possibility of another point of view?


In this case, we have one brother tormenting the rest of his family – which in many ways is more common than one who harms a stranger – and in this, I think ein hadash tachat hashemesh is true – we regularly wound the ones that we most love.  The courageous one of the moment we learn, is Yehudah – one who is implicated in bringing upset to his family, yet who is not trapped by his past actions.  Yehudah finds a way out of the cycle of despair and cruelty and in his ability to approach the authority figure in front of him, himself, and to bare himself openly and humbly before God, he changes the world.


Our Psalms teach, gam hoshech lo yachshich me’meka – even darkness is not dark for You – in any situation, one who is willing to stand up against injustice, to be responsible for his or her environment and surroundings, brings a light that can alter the inevitability of the world never changing.  Indeed, this challenge may be our life’s purpose – we know that our effect is limited in this world – as leaders come and go – it is the rare opportunity that we have to reasonably and thoughtfully speak our truth which can bring small yet profound variables into an otherwise unyielding boiling pot. 


So, where can we be Yehudah, standing before our master?  Is there an issue that grips you, that causes your heart to beat faster?  Where can we apply our limited energy and effectiveness to stand up and transform a situation by carefully weighing it out and then entering into it with all of our heart, our soul, and our might?  Is there a situation in our city or in this country – or if you have been following the upsurge of unpleasantness in Israel – of Jews against Jews, specifically in Beit Shemesh, where an 8 year old Orthodox girl has been threatened by other Jews as she walks to school – is there something we can do to demonstrate that Judaism has more than one ugly, fundamentalist face?


Our mystics teach that Yosef is not just another brother – rather, the word Yosef means, “something more,” or  “extra,” and the Yosef is found within each of us, usually in hiding.  As we turn to standing up and attaching ourselves to that which is ineffable and godly, we can find our truest selves and ways to dedicate our lives that have meaning far beyond current events.  We are to dedicate ourselves, not to expediency, or doing things that are most convenient, rather to revealing the holiest pieces of ourselves – our inner Yosef that can blaze forth past the trappings of our outer Zafnat Paneach that we usually display in the world.  Yehudah found his Yosef within himself and we too, should not let the present circumstances of the world deter us.  In 2012, let us locate the wholesomeness of our soul – the shalom part of our spirit, and apply ourselves to not changing the world, rather, to changing ourselves to effect the world – standing against any gradual injustice or sudden burst of terror. We can challenge and not be afraid – and in this bravery to stand like Yehudah and reclaim our eminent inner Yosef, there will be something new under the sun, every day.


Shabbat Shalom.


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5772: Vayeshev — “One Day” — Thinking About Matisyahu’s Facial Hair Vayechi — 5772: “Praying in Hebrew”

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