Thought for Shabbat – December 14, 2018
Joseph, after having been almost killed, sold into slavery, accused of sexual assault, imprisoned, and eventually finding his way into the good graces of the Pharaoh of Egypt – is getting ready to exact his revenge on the brothers. They had made him suffer and he now had the power to make them suffer by punishing the youngest brother.
Then Judah, one of the brothers, stands up to defend Benjamin with the longest speech in the entire book of Genesis. He risks his life to save Benjamin by addressing and challenging one of the most powerful men in Egypt. That person, his brother Joseph, who has been angry at his brothers for a very long time for their betrayal, is moved to reveal his true identity to his brothers. He has forgiven them, not because they asked for forgiveness but because the actions of Judah proved that they deserved it.
Joseph, who had lorded it over his brothers as children, now ironically sought to be their equal brother even though he actually was an earthly lord. It was the humility that he did not know as a child that helped him to appreciate his newly acquired gift of brotherhood. This brotherhood he had not known or appreciated as a bratty, obnoxious child. He was ready to take responsibility for his own role in what had happened in his past. He was ready to be someone’s brother and friend. He was ready to show love to the father with whom he had not been in touch since his disappearance, even though he had the ability to do so.
After assurances, the brothers were ready to put their past behind them. They might never entirely forget all that had gone before, but the possibility of a positive future outweighed the natural desire to live in the past. It was with this focus on the future that this group of brothers helped to make what would become the Jewish people.
As Jews, we have learned the hard lessons of the past. Especially in recent years and recent weeks, we have struggled with the present as well. But our faith in our future is what keeps us together. The past does not deter us from who we are and must be. Even as our present challenges us and informs how we feel about the world, we are on a mission, a mission to create a better future for ourselves, our families, our communities, our people and others as well. It is that mission that helps the Jew to defiantly look at the past, absorb the blows of the present and look forward to the future that we pray will be defined by a common worldly vision of justice and fairness for us and all of God’s creatures, a vision devoid of hate and full of respect for differences. It is on this mission that we humbly walk hand in hand with God, each other, and all those willing to join our sacred mission.
Rabbi Yaier Lehrer
I look forward to being with you this weekend as we celebrate our Contemporary Shabbat at 10:30 tomorrow morning as well as our traditional service at 9:45, followed by lunch for both.