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There has long been a massive debate in Anglo Jewry as to whether we should take a unified stance in our support for the State of Israel or openly air our differences. It’s mostly been a noisy and shrill debate, but it’s the wrong debate – as it is deflecting us from the real issue.
And if we seek it, we will find it in this week’s parshah. Listen to the words that are among the most fateful and reverberating in all of Jewish history: “Joseph recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him.”
The Torah is a deep book. We make a great mistake if we think it can be understood on one superficial level.
On the surface, the story is simple. Envious of him, Joseph’s brothers initially planned to kill him. Eventually they sell him into slavery. He is taken to Egypt. There, through a series of vicissitudes, he rises to become prime minister, second only, in rank and power, to Pharaoh.
It is now many years later. His brothers have come to Egypt to buy food. They come before Joseph, but he no longer looks like the man they knew many years before. Then, he was a 17-year-old called Joseph. Now he is 39, an Egyptian ruler called Tzafnat Paneach, dressed in official robes with a gold chain around his neck, who speaks Egyptian and uses an interpreter to communicate with these visitors from the land of Canaan. No wonder they did not recognize him, though he recognized them.
But that is only the surface meaning. Deep down, the book of Bereishit is exploring the most profound source of conflict in history. Freud thought the great symbol of conflict was Laius and Oedipus, the tension between fathers and sons. Bereishit thinks otherwise. The root of human conflict is sibling rivalry: Cain and Abel, Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, and now Joseph and his brothers.
Joseph has the misfortune of being the youngest of those present. He symbolizes the Jewish condition. His brothers are older and stronger than him. They resent his presence. They see him as a troublemaker. The fact that their father loves him more only makes them angrier and more resentful. They want to kill him. In the end they get rid of him in a way that allows them to feel a little less guilty. They concoct a story that they tell their father, and they settle down to life again. They can relax. There is no Joseph to disturb their peace anymore.
And now they are facing a stranger in a strange land, and it simply does not occur to them that this man may be Joseph. As far as they are concerned, there is no Joseph. They don’t recognize him now. They never did. They never recognized him as one of them, as their father’s child, as their brother with an identity of his own and a right to be himself.
Joseph is the Jewish people throughout history. “Joseph recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him.” Judaism was the world’s first monotheism but not the last. Two others emerged claiming descent, literal or metaphorical, from Abraham: Christianity and Islam. It would be fair to call the relationship between the three Abrahamic monotheisms one of sibling rivalry. Far from being of mere antiquarian interest, the theme of Bereishit has been the leitmotiv of the better part of the last 2,000 years, with the Jewish people cast in the role of Joseph.
There were times – early medieval Spain was one – when Joseph and his brothers lived together in relative harmony, La Convivencia as they called it. But there were also times – the blood libels, the accusations of poisoning wells or spreading the plague – when they sought to kill him. And others – the expulsions that took place throughout Europe between the English in 1290 and the Spanish in 1492 – when they simply wanted to get rid of him. Let him go and be a slave somewhere else, far from here.
Then came the Holocaust. Then came the State of Israel, the destination of the Jewish journey since the days of Abraham, the homeland of the Jewish people since the days of Joshua. No nation on earth, with the possible exception of the Chinese, has had such a long association with a land.
The day the state was born, May 14, 1948, David Ben-Gurion, its prime minister, sought peace with its neighbors, and Israel has not ceased seeking peace from then until now. But this is no ordinary conflict. Israel’s opponents – Hamas in Gaza, Hizbullah in Lebanon, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, are not engaged in a border dispute – these boundaries or those. They deny, as a matter of non-negotiable religious – not just political – principle, Israel’s right to exist within any boundaries whatsoever. There are today 56 Islamic states. But for Israel’s neighbors, a single Jewish state the size of Wales is one too many.
Joseph recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him.
There is no state among all the member nations of the United Nations whose very existence is called into question this way. And while we as Jews argue among ourselves as to this policy or that, as if this were remotely relevant to the issue of peace, we fail to focus on the real issue, namely that so long as Joseph’s brothers do not recognize his right to be, there can be no peace but merely a series of staging posts on the way to a war that will not end until there is no Jewish state at all.
Until the sibling rivalry is over; until the Jewish people win the right to be; until people – including we ourselves – realize that the threat Israel faces is ultimate and total; until Iran, Hamas and Hizbullah agree that Jews have a right to their land within any boundaries whatsoever, all other debate is mere distraction.
Adapted from “Covenant & Conversation,” a collection of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’s parshiyot hashavua essays, published by Maggid Books, an imprint of Koren Publishers Jerusalem (www.korenpub.com), in conjunction with the Orthodox Union.
Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, chief rabbi of the British Commonwealth since 1991, is the author of many books of Jewish thought, most recently “The Koren Sacks Rosh HaShana Mahzor” (Koren Publishers Jerusalem).
About the Author: Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, former chief rabbi of the British Commonwealth, is the author of many books of Jewish thought, most recently The Great Partnership: Science, Religion, and the Search for Meaning.
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The Jewish outlook has always been that the physical world with all its beauty and pleasures is great, but only if it’s used to do good and express higher ethical values. Greek culture taught that beauty and pleasure are where it’s at – period – and let’s keep values and meaning out of the picture.
Remember 613 Torah Avenue? Of course you do.
Released in the 1970’s and through the early 1980’s, the 613 Torah Avenue Tapes on the weekly parsha were part and parcel of most frum children’s Torah education during those years, and continue to be used by many teachers and rebbeim.
Just as the moon waxes and wanes and then totally disappears from view before returning to the night sky, so, too, the Jewish people.
In commemoration of 19 Kislev, the anniversary of the release of the Ba’al HaTanya, the first Lubavitcher Rebbe, from prison in Russia about 150 years ago, a sale of chassidic sefarim took place in Yerushalayim. Sefarim were sold at a flat rate of 4 for 100 NIS. Sefarim were not sold individually for 25 NIS, but only in sets of four. Discs of chassidic music were also sold. People thronged from all over Israel to take advantage of this opportunity.
At about 4 a.m. on cold and damp autumn mornings in London, Dad would try to wake us in time for Selichot, the pre-Jewish New Year dawn prayers. As we heard Dad’s footsteps mounting the stairs, my brother and I would hide under our covers and mutter our displeasure at being disturbed.
In this week’s parshah Yaakov Avinu takes his entire family down to Mitzrayim. The Torah lists the family members who made this journey. On the list is Shimon’s son, Shaul. The pasuk refers to him as Shaul ben haCanaanis – the son of the Canaanis.
Chapter And Verse?
‘Has The Time For Slaughter Arrived?’
Question: I have noticed that some people stand during the Birkot Keriat Shema. I was always under the impression that one is supposed to sit for Shema and its berachot. Is there a source that allows one to stand during this part of the prayer?
The wedding was going full blast, with the joyful Jewish music playing. The sound of the violin awoke unfulfilled longings and triggered moisture in the eyes.
The family had reached deadlock.
According to the Sefer Yetzirah, each month is associated with a letter of the aleph-beis. Teves was formed by means of the letter ayin, which has a numerical value of seventy – a number that figures prominently in Judaism.
Having come to the conclusion that nobody was more qualified than Yosef to lead Egypt in anticipation of and during the approaching famine, Pharaoh appointed him prime minister. This appointment made Yosef the second most powerful man in Egypt.
Standing up for the truth is by no means an easy feat and Yosef paid for it dearly.
The family had reached deadlock.
A while back I inducted a new rabbi into office. It’s something I do often, and there is a certain predictability to the proceedings. I give the new rabbi my blessings and encouragement. He in reply thanks those who have helped him through the years, and sets out his aspirations as a spiritual leader and his vision for the future of the congregation.
Bad things happen, and when they do, the leader must take the strain so that others can sleep easily in their beds.
The purchase of the Cave of Machpelah is evidently a highly significant event because it is recorded in great detail.
Leaders lead. They don’t conform for the sake of conforming. They don’t do what others do merely because others are doing it. They think outside the box. They march to a different tune.
Could we understand the history of Israel without its prehistory, the stories of Abraham and Sarah and their children?
Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/parsha/the-real-issue/2011/12/21/
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