Thursday, December 25, 2014

Vayigash- From Out of the Darkness

Dabeir aleihem ko-amar Adonai Ehlohim hinei ani lokei’ach et-eitz Yoseif asher b’yad-Efrayim v’shivtei Yisrael chaveirav v’natati otam alav et-eitz Y’hudah va’asitim l’eitz echad v’hayu echad b’yadi.
Say to them, “Thus says Adonai God, ‘Behold I will take the tree of Joseph that is in the hand of Ephraim and the tribes of Israel, his companions, and I will put them together with the tree of Judah, and I will make them one tree, and they will be one tree in my hand.’” (Ezekiel 37:19)
In Egypt, Judah becomes the force behind the reunion with Joseph. As Benjamin is to be taken from them, Judah steps forward, emotionally pleading with the disguised Joseph to keep what is left of his family together. However, Joseph reveals that it was God’s plan behind their split, “Ki l’michya sh’lachani Elohim lifneikhem.” “For God sent me before you to preserve life.”
The Haftarah for Vayigash is attributed to Ezekiel, who was part of the Babylonian exile. His vision sees a reunification of the tribes of Israel. Just as in our parasha, the tribe of Joseph has been separated from the Judah. Like Joseph he was torn from his home in painful circumstances. His vision seeks to understand and provide a context for his suffering and the suffering of our people.
It’s a difficult idea- that everything happens for a reason. We know this not always to be true. Bad things happen to good people. Suffering does not always serve a purpose. What we can learn from Ezekiel’s research is an eternal optimism. Jews have always been ready to move. We have been forced from so many countries, and endured such horrors, that, when difficulties arise, we can no longer afford to sit back and wait for them to pass. Instead we are ready to mobilize. Some would say that this makes us a pessimistic people, controlled by fear from the past. I prefer to see it as that eternal optimism. Even in the shadow of the Babylonian exile, Ezekiel looked toward a better time. Jews had been spread throughout the Babylonian Empire. We had lost our country and our unity. Somehow in that horrible time we built a new religion. Our leaders looked past the confines of the destroyed Temple to see our homes as the new focus. They built synagogues and the great yeshivot, out of which came the Mishnah and Babylonian Talmud, the foundation for our modern Judaism. They were not immobilized by fear. They were mobilized with hope.

Our darkest times have obviously produced our darkest memories, memories that are burned into our collective consciousness. They have also produced our shining stars and our heroes. We should always remember that.

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