Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Vayeshev- Rebirth Through Struggle

Vayomer Yehudah el ehchav mah betza ki naharog et achinu v’chisinu et damo. L’chu v’nim’ch’renu laYish’m’eilim v’yadeinu al t’hi vo ki achinu b’sareinu hu vayish’m’u ehchaiv.
And Judah said to his brothers, “what do we gain by killing our brother and covering up his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, but let us not do away with him ourselves. After all, his is our flesh, our brother.”
Of all of our ancestors, Judah goes through the most struggle and change. He has not always been the stellar example of a role model. He sleeps with his father’s concubine. He sells his brother into slavery. He keeps his son from marrying Tamar, leaving her as an agunah, neither able to marry nor to be free. He then fathers a child with her, in the guise of a prostitute, and accuses her of the wrongdoing. This is the final straw. Judah, realizing he is not only mistaken in his accusation, but the one at fault, begins the struggle to rise from the depths and achieve his potential. For this reason we are known as Jews, Yehudim.Vayomer Yehudah… and Judah said…” “Jews” from the name Judah. We are known by our ancestors- b’nei Avraham, the sons of Avraham, b’nei Yisrael, Israelites, and Yehudim, the descendents of Judah.
It can be said that the best mentors are those who have been where we stand, and have come out positively. Avraham, Jacob/Israel, and Judah, none were perfect, yet from all we have much to admire. It may be difficult to accept this from the verses above.  Just prior to this the brothers had thrown Joseph into a pit and sat down to eat. Their anger at Joseph was so great that they were indifferent to his needs or cries.  Just beyond is the story of Judah and Tamar, the point of rock bottom. But this is also a turning point. Perhaps Judah acts in this way because he does hear Joseph’s cries. Maybe he is not as indifferent as he seems. Perhaps he feels he could not live with the sure knowledge of Joseph’s death. We could focus upon “what do we gain…” or upon “let us not do away with him ourselves. After all, he is our flesh, our brother.” 
Frederick Douglass said, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” In parashat Vayeshev Judah is struggling, but out of the struggle comes great progress. Judah is growing.  He is emerging as the leader, moving beyond the influence of anger and hatred, working to become better.  The path to righteousness is never a straight line.  There are bumps and mistakes. If we seek to move ever forward, to improve ourselves, and to help others where we can, perhaps we too will be lucky enough to live on through the righteousness of our descendents.

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