- Posted by Elaine Zecher
- On December 20, 2019
- 0 Comments
Welcome to Shabbat Awakenings, a weekly reflection as we make our way toward Shabbat. If you’d prefer to listen to it as a podcast, please visit TI Clergy Corner HERE.
“Does the word mensch just describe a man?” The speaker asked a group of Jewish leaders. Voices rose from the crowd in the affirmative. Then the speaker answered the question himself. “Maybe “menschy” is more inclusive. “We know that the literal translation of mensch is man. Yet, it denotes much more.
Hillel used to say: A brute is not sin-fearing, nor is an ignorant person pious; nor can a timid person learn, nor can an impatient person teach; nor will someone who engages too much in business become wise. In a place where there are no men, strive to be a man. (Pirkei Avot 2:5)
It may appear that it takes hard work to act with integrity, to do what is right and just. It may seem that the natural human inclination is to serve oneself, but I believe there is the potential for good intention. We don’t need to be in the public eye to act menschy. Sometimes, it is the private encounter that makes all the difference. In this week’s Torah portion, Joseph encounters an unnamed man as he went to find his brothers pasturing sheep.
And [Jacob, his father,] said to him, “Go and see how your brothers are and how the flocks are faring, and bring me back word.” So he sent him from the valley of Hebron. When he reached Shechem, a man came upon him wandering in the fields. The man asked him, “What are you looking for?”
He answered, “I am looking for my brothers. Could you tell me where they are pasturing?”
The man said, “They have gone from here, for I heard them say: Let us go to Dothan.” So Joseph followed his brothers and found them at Dothan.
Was this the kind of man who helped to change the direction of Joseph’s life? After all, when he found his brothers, they threw in a pit and then sold him to the Midianites heading down toward Egypt. How could this be a positive result?
Sir Rabbi Jonathan Sacks assesses the situation in this way: The anonymous man – so the Torah is intimating – represented an intrusion of providence to make sure that Joseph went to where he was supposed to be, so that the rest of the drama could unfold. He may not have known he had such a role. Joseph surely did not know. To put it as simply as I can: he was an angel who didn’t know he was an angel. He had a vital role in the story. Without him, it would not have happened. But he had no way of knowing, at the time, the significance of his intervention. (Covenant and Conversation 12.18.19)
These particular verses of the Torah continually intrigue me. They speak of the positive potential impact every person has on another person’s life. Whether we offer directions to a lost soul, assist a stranger, lift another up with kind words, teach, lead, and inspire. We do not always know whether we may change a life, but it doesn’t mean we should cease from engaging in these and other actions.
During this season of darker days, this willingness to help brings light, whether we know it or not and whether others know it or not. It is part of the miracle making of Hanukkah that our menschy actions matter. Who knows? We may change a life or even the whole world.
Shabbat Shalom and Happy Hanukkah (starting Sunday night)Join together at 6:00 p.m. for Qabbalat Shabbat that includes an oneg with donut tasting. What better way to prepare for Hanukkah!? Live stream HERE .
Rabbis Jen Gubitz and Suzie Jacobson will be leading Tot Rock Shabbat at Imagine Playspace in Cambridge this afternoon from 4:30 – 6:30 p.m. Join others from Families with Young Children for two hours of play, dinner, singing, and Shabbat ritual. Register HERE .
A lively Torah discussion preceded by a short Shabbat morning service and Torah reading begins at 9:00 a.m.
Connect with me HERE to share reflections and reactions.