Month: December 2017

Parashat Va-y'chi • Genesis 47:28−50:26

Teaching Us How To Say Goodbye

As we approach the end of the book of Genesis, our parsha features the death of not one, but two Genesis greats: Jacob first, and then his son Joseph. First, Jacob asks that upon his death he be treated with chesed v'emet, translated as "faithful kindness," requesting that his remains be buried in the family plot back in Canaan. Then, in an impressive moment of control, Jacob sits up in his deathbed to bless each of his sons individually, before drawing his feet back into his bed and then breathing his last breath.

Joseph's brothers remain unconvinced that he will not seek reprisals against their earlier treachery, and so they approach Joseph to beg his forgiveness. Here is what Joseph says, "though you intended me harm, God intended it for good in order to accomplish what is now the case, to keep alive numerous people... thus did he comfort them and speak straight to their hearts." (Genesis 50:20 - 21) A few short verses later, Joseph, too, departs from the world.

According to Midrash B'reishit Rabbah, Jacob, in his dying, teaches us the "faithful kindness," is that which the living show the dead in performing acts of burial and eulogy. Joseph, in his dying, teaches us how to forgive - by speaking straight to the hearts of those who would seek our forgiveness. Each of these men offer us lessons in the difficult art of saying goodbye; reminding us that even in the final moments of a life, forgiveness and true kindness are attainable.

Rabbi Callie Schulman


Parashat Vayigash • Genesis 44:18-47:27

B’shert

It’s a term we Jews use colloquially to characterize something fated, something meant to be, or even something ordained by God.  Though most of us profess to putting little stock in such literal interpretations, at a deeper level, it is comforting to imagine that “things happen for a reason,” even if we must concede a bit of control over our destinies in the process.  In this week’s parasha, Vayigash, Joseph augments the potency of his “big reveal” to his brothers with an affirmation of faith:

“…God sent me ahead of you…to save your lives in an extraordinary deliverance. So it was not you who sent me here, but God…”    

On one level, this is an exoneration of his brothers for their harsh treatment of him, while providing for Joseph an easy pathway to grant forgiveness for their behavior.  But on another, it is an acknowledgment that there are forces beyond us and beyond this world, not necessarily causative but contributing to our future and our fate. As the eminent Torah scholar, Nechama Leibowitz, taught:

“Fortunate is he to whom it is granted to detect in the metamorphoses of his daily existence and the vicissitudes of her personal affairs, the workings of Providence—a mission on which he has been sent by God.” 

In many ways, this is the hallmark of faith:  To find in our attitudes and actions the intersection of divine intention and our daily endeavors.   

Rabbi Daniel A. Weiner


Parashat Mikeitz • Genesis 41:1−44:17

“Seven years of plenty to be followed by seven years of scarcity," Joseph interprets from Pharaoh’s dreams. Pharaoh recognizes Joseph’s brilliance and places him in charge of the entire land of Egypt. Through conservation of now abundant resources, recognizing and preserving this bounty, Joseph helps the Egyptians survive the famine and teaches us all a lesson about the cyclical nature of life: bad times often follow good, good times often follow bad. 
The same lesson is visible in the beauty of our Chanukah candles. Long before the Talmud story of oil that burned for eight crazy nights, the Book of Maccabees recorded the Israelite effort to celebrate the Festival of Sukkot as soon as the Temple was rededicated. They waited — they fought —for dawn to emerge from the darkness; and it did. Good times often follow bad in the cyclical nature of life. Maintaining our faith and hope, as did the Maccabees, gives us direction and fortitude in the midst of struggle. 
Rabbi Aaron Meyer

Parshat Vayeshev • Genesis 37:1−40:23

Parshat Vayeshev introduces us to Joseph, our famous dreamer, whose story asks us to take careful notice of our dreams. Whenever we sleep our bodies and brains benefit from the restorative powers of rest; but Jewish tradition argues that our souls receive a tune up as well. Scattered throughout Jewish practice are hints at what our ancestors made of what happened behind their eyelids at night. Ever have a dream that you just can’t shake? Or that keeps recurring? A nightmare so terrifying you woke up in a cold sweat? So funny that you woke up laughing?  A dream, reviewed in the light of day, can sometimes seem like utter nonsense - like our brains have gone rogue on us, and run off with Lewis Carroll for a trip through Wonderland- but our tradition asserts that there’s got to be more to it than that.

Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato, an 18th century rabbi from Italy, dug into the study of what Judaism has to say about the purpose of dreaming. After all, our biblical ancestors were having wild dreams all over the Torah, so there must be something to them. This particular rabbi taught that while our brains were resting and sifting through the information of the day, our souls become sort of detached from our bodies and zip around the realms of the spirit - where they are most at home. But he doesn’t stop there. The spiritual realm, he suggests, is like a grand reunion of spiritual beings and divine messengers. Rubbing elbows with such a crowd, our souls might innocently overhear some prophetic hint, what we might call an omen. That bit of information, he says, then travels down to us through our dreams, and gets filtered through our consciousness while the brain and body rest. These messages get mixed in with the rest of the strangeness of our dreamscenes and we are left to decipher them; just as Joseph was left to decipher the dreams that would ultimately become prophetic.

- Rabbi Callie Schulman