Weekly Message

December 14, 2018
6 Tevet 5779

Parashat Vayigash
Genesis 44:18 — 47:27

Dear Friends,

On this Shabbat, I wanted to share with you this example of praise and gratitude, written through a very particular and personal lens, by a young man in our Hebrew School who loves math. The other children in the class also responded to the same assignment — each in their own way.

Each of us has our own lens through which we see the world. Ben gives us a wonderful example of how that lens can be a source of wonder and gratitude. How would you describe the lens that you use and what are the blessings that it bestows?

In this week’s Torah portion, we come to the end of the drama between Joseph and his brothers, along with the reunification of the family as Jacob travels down to Egypt and sees his son Joseph alive.

Last week, when we had our Torah discussion about Miketz, it became clear that our understanding of the text was informed in large part by how we each understood the brothers. There are traditional or midrashic ways of seeing the dynamics and the qualities of this family, and then there are our own. Everyone came to the story with his or her own lens.

We are each formed by our own set of experiences, likes, and dislikes. This Torah portion is one where we can resonate with at least one member of this large family, even the ones we do not hear from directly. It is a difficult story, as the focus seems to shift from one character to another at a rapid pace, at least for the Torah. The story ends up being about the entire family.

Family is an important lens with which to read and study Torah. The families in it are all far from perfect. And yet we are taught that they are our forbears and God was in a covenantal relationship with them and by extension with us. My father had a deep sense of gratitude when he saw the birth of the next generation in his family after the Shoah. There would be a next generation to carry on. Gratitude was the lens he chose.

When we look at the Joseph story, there is both gratitude and relief and, when Jacob meets Pharaoh, a bit of complaining. (Maybe he was trying to appear small in the eyes of Pharaoh, while sounding ungrateful to Adonai.). Joseph’s dreams have come to fruition in a good way, with his brothers repenting for their previous actions, giving Joseph room to forgive them. In particular, Judah has to come to terms with his previous behavior even before he knows that it is his brother standing in front of him. He has to be better this time. His lens is one of self-knowledge and the effort it takes to make amends for past behavior.

It is up to us to find the lens of gratitude that works for us. It is the lens that has the capacity to keep us going even when things are difficult or confusing. Joseph emerges from this story with an understanding of his life; Judah emerges with a sense of making good that which was previously left undone. Ultimately, this somewhat fractured family is united — maybe not completely healed — but grateful for the outcome as each one found their own way to that sense of gratitude and praise for the Divine.

Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Linda Shriner-Cahn