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Unsolicited Advice

11/24/2021 10:44:07 PM

Nov24

If we are indeed God’s chosen people and if God is indeed in control of everything, then why do we have such a sordid history?

But if God is a presence, the force of creation, the common bond of all humanity that exists but without pre-ordination or even an authorial personality-- and we are thus the writers of the Torah--why then would we write and repeat our story the way we did and do?

Instead, why didn’t we just write and rally around a “Yay Jews!” narrative?  Why must we continue to toil in Genesis’ vineyards of rivalry, debasement and violence between our ancient kin?  Our patriarch abandons his lover and child to death in the desert; our matriarch abuses the trust of her husband and son; the namesakes of the many of our 12 Tribes sell their brother into slavery and lie to their father about his fictionalized demise-- these are the ones in whose names we pray the Avot v’Imahot? 

Yes.  The answer is yes, because we Jews are the inheritors of something far grander than ancestor worship or harkening back to the days of yore.  Our tradition is not about reveling in the past accomplishments of those whose star-dusted bones became unrecognizable eons ago.  We were not perfect then, nor are we today.  But what is constant are the themes of jealousy, greed, injustice, rage and fear that lie just below the surface of all people.  We human beings are so susceptible to the forces of shame  which drive our worst impulses, that only by reading and re-reading, studying and reimagining, witnessing the worst of our impulses displayed in our most revered ancestors, are we continuously offered the opportunity to “get it.”  

The Sages remark that even with this understanding, one could argue that the fundamental central lesson of the Jewish people, the Exodus from Egypt, could very well not have taken place.  Because, were it not for  “that man,” some random figure in this week’s Torah portion, Vayigash, who meets Joseph on the road and asks him, “What are you looking for?” and Joseph responds, “et achai anochi mevakesh,” אֶת־אַחַ֖י אָנֹכִ֣י מְבַקֵּ֑שׁ, “I am looking for my brothers”-- he might never have found his brothers; they might never have then plotted to kill him; they might never have decided to just throw him in the pit and then sell him into slavery; he might never have become a slave to Potiphar where Potiphar’s wife would seek to seduce him, leading him to be punished and imprisoned; and then he might never have been there in the Pharaohs jail to correctly interpret dreams of the chief baker and cupbearer, only to be forgotten about until the Pharaoh was in desperate need of a dream interpreter; and thus Joseph would never have been able to provide the Pharaoh with the sage advice which ultimately would save the empire of Egypt, placing Joseph in the position of Vizier of Egypt; and thus he never would have been in the position of being able to save his brothers and father and family by bringing them to Egypt, ultimately resulting in the enslavement of future generations of the children of Israel, who would endure 400 years of slavery, only then to be led out with God’s signs and portents, calling all future generations of Jews and human beings to study and contemplate and reflect upon and imagine and build a vision forward for the world based upon the most important teaching of all of Judaism which is the indivisible dignity of each and every human being. It is for this teaching that all of our story and its constant retellings matter.  So it was a good thing that “that man” showed up, otherwise all hell might have broken loose!

And this is really what drives all of Judaism and the religious traditions committed to fairness and equality and human dignity. So when Thanksgiving rolls around--and it is indeed true that there are countless layers of wounds and violence that cannot be disentangled from the history of the society in which it took root and still holds sway--its fundamental truth that all of us must learn to share the bounty of this earth is the beating heart at its core. 

To those of you who are intending to wear “your colors” to the table, don’t. Just don’t.  On Thanksgiving, your colors of rivalry, teams, victories and defeats are not welcome.  Today, you are God’s children.  And if you can’t manage that, please take a doggy bag and go home. 

 

As for me, I am astounded at how “normal” and “miraculous” this Thanksgiving feels.  Let us not forget where we were last year at this time.  I know that I am supremely grateful for you, our congregation and community, who celebrate with us.  We have so much to be grateful for.  

From my temporarily fuller house to yours, Happy Thanskgiving!

Rabbi Scott

Wed, December 1 2021 27 Kislev 5782