Doing Jewish Differently

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 The Rabbi’s Rave Parsha Vayigash (B’reisheet 44:18 – 47:27)

 

At the end of last week’s parsha (Mikeitz), things look grim. Joseph ― having not yet revealed his true identity ― has accused his brothers of theft and spying, and now Benjamin is to be arrested and imprisoned. Things are looking bleak for the brothers. And then Parshat Mikeitz ends.

Here it is one week later, and after what feels like an interminable delay, we resume the story in Parshat Vayigash. The Covenant between God and the descendants of Abraham is in jeopardy. Like any good cliff hanger, there is a distinct possibility that the entire story comes to a tragic end.

At the moment when all could come crashing down Joseph reveals himself to his brothers. With three words, “I am Joseph” (B’reisheet 45:3), the curtain lifts and God’s plan, as Joseph understands it, is revealed. Then there is kissing and hugging and crying and a huge sigh of relief for both the brothers and the reader.

Rabbi Zev Leff asks: Why did the previous week’s parsha have to end in suspense? Why didn’t the Torah simply extend last week’s Torah portion a few more verses and finish the story? What could possibly be the purpose of this moment of “we now pause for a word from our sponsor followed by the teaser; “tune in next week?”

Roll Flashback to last week’s story.

Joseph was sold into slavery, he fends off an inappropriate bit of sexual harassment (talk about relevant Torah!) from his boss Potiphar’s wife, and ends up in an Egyptian dungeon. The Joseph story, as much as any tale in the Torah teaches us that when things look bleak – wait a minute, things can turn around in an instant. In order to drive home this lesson, the Torah makes us wait a week to find out the ending!

In a sense this is the story of our own lives as well. We work, we plan, we struggle ― and then nothing seems to be happening. We have set the table for change but then the meal sits there and from our perspective, it’s getting cold.

Let’s face it, humans have a limited perspective. We know that the world does not revolve around us, but emotionally we have a hard time disabusing ourselves of the notion that the world began when we’re born, and ends when we die.

But the world goes on without us and often it’s difficult to see the big picture. History matters and we often are ignorant of what came before and we certainly have no clue as to what comes after. When we ask “Why did that have to happen,” we might not see the answer immediately; we might not even see it in our lifetime.

Perhaps that’s why older people possess a special, and usually unappreciated wisdom ― because they hold the perspective of time, and some insight as to how seemingly unrelated events connect.

In truth, it is often when things look the most dire that they turn around. ‘But you know, the darkest hour, is always just before the dawn.” (David Crosby 1969 – Long Time Gone written in response to the assassination of Robert Kenedy)

Every morning observant Jews recite: “Blessed are You, God, Who forms light and creates darkness…” Why do we express our gratitude for darkness?

One is the need for contrast.

“Without darkness how would we know light?” (From my song Ma’ariv Aravim, Rachelchannan Music 1993).

Contrast invites reflection.

Despite our primal fear of darkness, darkness is not our enemy. Darkness is our friend in the journey towards the light. Only because of our limited perception, do we perceive the darkness as an end, as opposed to a beginning.

That is a very Jewish perspective, inspired by our calendar. Jewish days begin in darkness at the setting of the sun, not at its rising.

Returning to our Joseph saga, we see that human condition does not lend itself to the concept of Savlanoot – patience. 21st century humans have been conditioned to demand and receive immediate gratification. The Internet, email, instant messaging, all demand that we respond quickly to whatever comes at us.

We shop online and receive instant gratification at our doorstep within days. Amazon and other online retailers are already making plans and investing in the technologies that will turn days into mere hours.

So human time becomes more and more compressed.

But God Time is unchanging.  The Creative Force in the Universe is unbound and unconcerned with any human need for instant gratification. Things like, romance or preparing for a change in career (to name just two examples) are not usually delineated by time, yet we humans continue to project our impatience into the mix. Usually this results in great unhappiness. How many folks walk around in a state of anxiety because they are “waiting for something to happen.” How many relationships with great potential are destroyed because one party become impatient with “moving to the next level.”

God Time is not human time. And this week our Torah portion tests how well we have mastered the art of waiting.

Change is a constantly recurring event in every life. It may well be the only constant, besides death, in human existence. We are witnessing social fluctuations on a scale and at a speed that most of us have not witnessed in our lifetimes. The impatience in our hearts, to end the constant shocks to our sensibilities that sometimes seem calculated to keep us in a state of turmoil, does not serve us well. Our impatience for justice and decency actually can weaken us. Impatience shortens our horizons so that see only short term gain.

So when you read in the newspaper about hatred, strife, and injustice don’t despair. Just as the words “I am Joseph” put all previous difficulties into perspective for the brothers, so too in time all will be clear for us.

But here’s a secret: If we internalize this understanding of God Time and live with that reality, then resolution will come more quickly and painlessly. And at the very least, living this way is sure to preserve our sanity in this world of confusion.

Bethesda Jewish Congregation

Bethesda Jewish Congregation