- Posted by Elaine Zecher
- On December 21, 2018
- 0 Comments
Welcome to Shabbat Awakenings, a weekly reflection as we make our way toward Shabbat.
Elie Wiesel said that the opposite of love is not hate; it is indifference. But, when it came to define the opposite of a righteous person, a Tzaddik, he pointed directly to its opposite, to that of an evil person, a Rasha. Wiesel wrote:
Let us define the term Tzaddik…In Hebrew it is the opposite of Rasha, wicked. Rasha is he who sins against man, not necessarily against God. He who deserts his community is a Rasha. He who harms his friends is a Rasha. To betray one’s comrades, to flout one’s people, those are acts of a Rasha.
Conversely, the term Tzaddik is defined by relationships between [people]…A Tzaddik is the one who resists temptations… (Biblical Portraits, pg 164.)
This week’s Torah portion brings Genesis to a close with the death of Jacob and then Joseph himself. Joseph is the only character to be regarded as a Tzaddik. The rabbis of the Talmud (Yoma 35b) ascribe this quality to Joseph because he did not fall prey to temptation. For them, his refusal to accept the sexual advances of Potipher’s wife, especially since she was the powerful one, earned him the title of the righteous one, Tzaddik. Elie Wiesel preferred to see the concept expanded to include temptations beyond those inherent in sexuality. For him, Joseph refused to succumb to retribution and bitterness. He could have punished his brothers after the death of his father, for they did fear this reaction. Instead, he wept at their plea for forgiveness.
Elie Wiesel also noted:
One is not born a Tzaddik; one must strive to become one. And having become a Tzaddik, one must strive to remain one… (page 167-8)
The rabbis saw Joseph as an exemplar who worked hard at being a Tzaddik and didn’t take it for granted or use his position for his own gain. As they buried him in Egypt, it was with the promise that they would carry his bones back home when they finally returned. It is a request that would be honored generations later after hundreds of years of slavery with Pharaoh who never knew what it meant to be a Tzaddik like Joseph. Pharaoh will epitomize the Rasha, the wicked ones.
Pay attention to the Tzaddikim among us. They inspire us to aspire to our best selves. Be aware and wary for the Rasha as well. They have the ability to wreck havoc in the name of their own self-righteous indignation. They will build ersatz walls thinking they can protect themselves. In the end the one who sins against another person, deserts his community for his own self interest, harms, betrays and aggrandizes ends up in whatever version of hell on earth or elsewhere we dare to imagine.
Therefore, as we complete the book of Genesis, we invoke this blessing of hope:
Hazak, Hazak, v’Nithazek
Be strong. Be strong. Let us be strong together!
We gather tonight at 6:00 p.m. for Qabbalat Shabbat. If you are unable to join us, please live stream HERE. Tomorrow Torah Study begins at 9:00 a.m. with a brief service followed by a lively discussion.
I look forward to your thoughts and reflections, please connect with me directly HERE.