- Posted by Elaine Zecher
- On December 22, 2017
- 0 Comments
Welcome to Shabbat Awakenings, a weekly reflection.
This week’s Torah portion, Vayigash, is about bravery and courage. Its title is the verb attached to the idea of being willing to step forward without certainty of the reaction.
We are in the middle of the Joseph narrative. Joseph has already arrived to Egypt and achieved status second to Pharaoh. In earlier chapters, we witnessed a family dynamic of jealousy, subterfuge, and the desire of brothers to rid themselves of Joseph whose dreams set them as subservient to him. They didn’t account that they would ever encounter him again. Because of famine, they had to journey to Egypt to secure food. They didn’t recognize the man in charge, but Joseph, the man in charge, recognized them and set about to test their reaction to losing another brother, Benjamin, by the same mother of Joseph. When our portion opens, one brother, Judah, stepped forward to defend Benjamin to this man he thought was second only to Pharaoh. To challenge this authority might have meant losing his life, and yet, Judah knew he must save Benjamin. Years before, he didn’t save Joseph. Now, he made a promise to his father, Jacob. It was a chance for redemption and healing. Vayigash Yehuda… (Genesis 44:14) Judah stepped forward.
Chapters earlier, Abraham asserted himself to God! God was about to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham challenged God to consider whether there were any righteous people in those cities to avert the decree. Abraham couldn’t have known if God might take out a wrathful response on him. Vayigash Avraham… (Genesis 18:23) Abraham stepped forward.
Like Judah and Abraham, there are moments when we assess a situation and realize that we must assert ourselves even when we might make ourselves vulnerable to unintended consequences. We can’t guarantee the reaction or the results, but it is a willingness to take a step forward that can make the difference.
That we step forward is interconnected by how we do it.
The 11th century commentator, Rashi, analyzed how we can step forward. He wrote that the verb ננש, which forms the word, vayigash can mean to wage war, by speaking stern words, to persuade by entreaty, and to pray. (Rashi in his comment to Genesis 18:23 quoting Genesis Rabba 49:8).
All three ways make an important impact.
Last week, on Thursday night, members of our congregation stepped forward with strong words, with supplication and with prayer. We are part of an initiative with Greater Boston Interfaith Organization called “Out of Many, One.” It is one way we can stand with our neighbors in the Muslim community who face an unfortunate rise in bigotry, hatred, and being singled out for whom they are.
Over 300 people from Temple Israel, the Muslim community, and from other congregations gathered in Levi Auditorium, and bore witness to personal stories of being treated as “other” or as “strange” rather than as citizens and active participants in the community. We gathered because of a vision of a world that allows, encourages, and nurtures the ability to learn from another, to be supportive of each other, and to discover greater relationship and connection. Our own Rabbi Matt Soffer worked tirelessly along with our GBIO Temple Israel team to ensure that we would create an event that reflects our community and welcomes our Muslim neighbors.
It is not easy to step forward.
Before the event, we heard apprehension voiced by some members of our own community about the gathering. I welcome these comments because they come from within, and were voiced with respectful and thoughtful concern. Unfortunately, there are those outside the congregation who see no value and actively oppose gathering together to build relationship and connection with our interfaith neighbors. These are the same people who have chosen to demonize a rabbi in Lexington, Rabbi Howard Jaffe, whose intention to create relationship and understanding with the Muslim community was met with allegations of heinous intent. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Rabbi Howard Jaffe is a person of tremendous integrity whose efforts to bring peace between communities reflect his strong commitment to social justice and compassion.
We will continue to step forward with the strength of our conviction with strong words, with entreaty and with the prayer that our presence that night and in the future, face to face, is testimony to the strength of our interfaith bond. Out of many, one means not the same, not always in agreement, but united by a desire, and intention that our strength is made stronger with each other.
We gather at 6:00 p.m. for Qabbalat Shabbat. Live stream HERE. Torah study begins at 9:00 a.m. with a short service and Torah read followed by a lively discussion.
Share your thoughts with me HERE.