Vayigash 5780 – It’s Time to Leave the ANGER Behind…

By: James Rosenberg

With the beginning of the New Year, many of us have already started writing down and thinking about what, if any, resolutions we might want to make. Knowing that some of our resolutions have appeared on previous years’ lists, we know all too well how easily we can forget our best intentions when other things get in the way.

This week’s Torah portion, Vayigash, teaches another lesson which is equally, if not more worthy of a New Year’s resolution. It is part of the story of Joseph.

As we recall the story, Joseph’s brothers, in an act of jealousy and cruelty, had thrown him in a pit and sold him into slavery. Once a slave, Joseph managed to win his freedom and ultimately became the Viceroy of Egypt. Now, Joseph’s brothers were in Egypt because of the famine back home, to buy food and the necessities of life for their families. They came before Joseph who controls all of the supplies, but they did not recognize him. As the brothers bowed before him, an emotional Joseph yells out, “I am Joseph, your brother, the one you sold into slavery so many years ago!”

It would not be at all surprising to think Joseph might want revenge upon his brothers. After all, because of their actions, he was sold as a slave, ended up in a land far away, served time in prison, and spent many years in isolation, away from his beloved father, Jacob.

Thereafter, his brothers return from Egypt loaded down with food, provisions, and gifts. Arriving home, they report to their father the miraculous news that Joseph is still alive, and is in Egypt. After fainting, Jacob says, “It is enough; Joseph my son is still alive.”

There is such a thing as “enough”. The restoration of love between parent and child, between spouses, between friends – THAT is enough. A life lived with morality and purpose, THAT is surely enough. A community passionate in the service of God, THAT is clearly enough. As the Mishnah says, “Who is rich? One who is happy with his portion.”

Contentment is the only source of peace of mind.

Satisfaction is still our only wealth.

And, LOVE, after all, is the only possession… It is enough!

Let’s take a short break, I have a question for our learned scholars… 

Why did Joseph not go see his Father, Jacob, in the intervening years after he was out of slavery, to let him know that he was alive, healthy, and prosperous?

I am lost on the subject; even Google doesn’t know. Anybody?

Having revealed his identity, and rather than respond with anger or hatred, Joseph pleads with his brothers to let go of their own guilt and sadness, assuring them that what has happened to him has been part of God’s plan. Having had years to ponder what happened so long ago, and how he might respond to his brothers, Joseph may have had fantasies of how to make his brothers pay for their actions.

Yet, in the end, he realizes that while the moment might seem sweet, it would not last. It would destroy his brothers and, in the end, destroy himself… It would not change what happened between his brothers and him, nor would it change all that has happened since that time, much of which was actually good for him. Moreover, it would not change the fact that his brothers are still his brothers. Any act of vengeance would only continue the cycle of hurt and destruction – for his brothers and for himself. As Gandhi once said: ‘An eye for an eye – can…

…make the whole world blind.

Yes, said Joseph, I am the brother whom you sold into slavery, and that fact remains. However, sadness and regret lead to revenge and that is the deepest pit of all. And, I am no longer in that void. Instead, I am choosing to live life in the present not in the past, to love despite the hurt, and to reconcile over the pain. My life has unfolded in a way that I could do God’s work. Therefore, in the end, it is not about me and it’s not about all of you, but about the goodness and blessings of the life we have all been given.

In this Parasha, I am struck by Joseph’s willingness to make sacrifices for his father’s God.  Joseph does not ask, “what’s in it for me?”  Instead, his guiding questions are “what do I owe God?  What does God expect of me?”

Judaism cannot survive unless Jews are willing to make sacrifices on its behalf.  God cannot make a difference in this world unless we are willing to maintain our posts regardless of personal pain.  Needy Jews (and non-Jews alike) will not be helped unless we help provide the resources and energy necessary to assure the presence and health of Jewish institutions, coupled with the charities for those in need, whomever they are…

Once upon a time, Jews understood that communal institutions deserved their support and affiliation—not for what each individual got out of them at that moment, but because those institutions allowed us to take care of each other and to serve God.  Bikkur Holim committees visit the sick and insure that no Jewish person in poor health is neglected.  Hevra Kadisha – assures us of the proper and loving care for the remains of deceased Jews.  Menachem Aveilim are committees that provide Shiva Minyanim and comfort mourners while assuring that they have food to maintain their health, despite their sorrow.

In addition, the Minyanim assures that a sizable number of Jews are always on hand to pray, to study, and to provide community to all who need it.

Once upon a time, Jews gave to charities—both Jewish and non-Jewish—at a far higher rate than their gentile neighbors did.

Members of those organizations did not give of their time and their money because it felt good.  They did so because that was what a mensch does. Like Joseph and Jacob, they were prepared to make a sacrifice for the greater good of their fellow Jews, their fellow human beings, and their brit, the covenant with God.

Alas, it looks like those days are ending.  If I do not enjoy it, I quit.  If I do not need it, I stop supporting it.

We pay attention to a part of Hillel’s wisdom, recorded in the Mishnah: “If I am not for myself, who will be?”  However, we are less attentive to Hillel’s next line: “If I am only for myself, what am I?”

The problem with only staying involved when it serves our own interests is that we can no longer count on each other during our own moments of need, and that includes everybody.  If we do not support synagogues, federation, and charities for the sake of others, why should others stay involved for us?

We had this problem during the last century; nobody came to help our Jewish brethren in Europe, until the Allies invaded and conquered Germany in 1945. The losses were dreadful, with atrocious and appalling numbers. Non-Jews in Poland and Germany, as elsewhere – knew what was happening. They knew the nature of that sickening smell in the air, the smoke that hung over their cities. However, WHO came to help us? Why did THEY not do something?

Anything – to stop the atrocities being committed every hour for 12 years?

In a world in which everybody looks out for number one, we never add up to much.      Why? Because, ONE is the loneliest number in the world!

Perhaps – making a sacrifice to help others is a good investment for us to make. If we brave the wilderness of the less fortunate, and learn how we can help, maybe we can work together. ALL of us, working collectively and in concert, can make planet Earth a better place for one another to live.

I must thank the following people who provided spiritual inspiration during my preparation of this D’var Torah.

Rabbi Cheryl Peretz

Rabbi Bradley Artson

Rabbi Shefa Gold

Rabbi Ephraim Pelcovits

In closing, I wish each one of you a Safe & Spiritual Shabbat Shalom…