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October 26, 2016 / 24 Tishri, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘Joseph’

Rosa Katzenelson: Paintings Beyond Hasidic Expressionism

Thursday, October 25th, 2012

Hadas Gallery (hadasgallery.com)
541 Myrtle Avenue, Brooklyn, New York
info@hadasgallery.com 215-704-2205
Until October 28, 2012

Passion of belief can certainly lead to passion of expression, especially for an artist. Rosa Katzenelson’s paintings and digital artwork, currently at the Hadas Gallery in Brooklyn, could easily define the very essence of religious expressionism. As a Chabad devotee, every aspect of her work exudes a passion for both the chassidic subjects she depicts and the visceral act of making a painting. Nonetheless, upon closer inspection her work yields considerably more complexity.

Dancing in the Rain presents an exuberant moment of religious consciousness in which the male dancer, kicking up his heels in the midst of a crowd on a wet sidewalk, seems almost suspended by the umbrella he holds aloft. The chassidic crowd cheers him on, a swirl of black fedoras and dark umbrellas, while a blast of light in the upper right intimates that the rain is indeed a divine overflow. Quite the magical moment perhaps inspired by Gene Kelly’s “Singing in the Rain (MGM 1952)” film sequence in which the love-struck Kelly literally sings and dances on a rain-drenched Hollywood street. But then we notice the upside down figure in the foreground sidewalk. Immediately we assume it to be the dancing man’s reflection and yet it uncomfortably feels like something else. The head, hat and hand are too much in focus to be a mere reflection. So perhaps it is an allusion to a slain alter-ego, the yetzer hara, or a dybbuk; whatever it may be, suddenly the first impression of carefree joy is tempered by more serious matters.

Preparation from Below, (18 x 24), Oil on canvas by Rosa Katzenelson
Courtesy Hadas Gallery

Light again operates as a mystical agent in Preparation from Below (Chatan l’Torah), flowing in from an open window to where a sefer Torah is about to be read. The open Torah, some of its letters magically floating over the klaf, is surrounded by no less than six intense men in taleisim. In the foreground a young woman is handing a golden-haired child to a man while his older son stands alongside, thereby further defining the moment as the Kol haNe’arim, the blessing of all the children that introduces the aliyah of Chassan Torah. This painting breathes a joyful moment of expectation and celebration, depicting a blessing of light upon the moment that faithful Jews complete one year’s Torah cycle and prepare to take up the New Year’s Beraishis. The men and their children form a quivering white crown that surrounds the Torah, directly connected with the Divine light that illuminates its existence.

Joseph’s Dance, (28 x 24), Oil on linen by Rosa Katzenelson
Courtesy Hadas Gallery

Katzenelson, who studied art and film in Argentina, also has a background as a clinical psychologist. This may give us some insight into the very recently completed Joseph’s Dance. At first glance we are at some kind of simcha with the central figure, presumably Joseph, dancing wildly with another foreground figure. Most of the onlookers seem engaged and cheery although two on the extreme right exude a barely concealed animosity. Count them all up and there are ten and then of course we understand that this contemporary scene is actually depicting the biblical Joseph. Now the mad enthusiasm starts to come into focus with each brother reflecting his relationship with the troublesome Joseph. We wonder exactly where in the narrative has the artist set this scene. If it is before the outbreak of their conflict then the shinny new blue-black suit Joseph wears fits perfectly as the “coat” Jacob gives him, as does his flying peyoesand maniacal expression. This is the young reckless Joseph, not careful with his words or actions around his older brothers. Or perhaps we are seeing a homecoming, the chastened brothers readmitting Joseph into the family fold, with the lingering resentment and fear of at least two of them on the side. Then this is Joseph triumphant, still unnervingly sure of himself, dominant and even a bit dangerous. Whichever scene we choose, the artist has collapsed the long convoluted narrative of Joseph and his brothers into one insightful moment of familial complexity and tension.

Eye of the Fish, (18 x 14), Oil on linen by Rosa Katzenelson
Courtesy Hadas Gallery

Mystery is at the heart of every good painting. To be otherwise renders art into illustration and The Eye of the Fish is no exception. Set around a bucolic pond we slowly make out four or five male figures tightly clustered on the far side of the pond, each holding what may be a prayer book. Immediately Tashlich comes to mind. But what of the two beautifully painted ladies in the foreground? They too have a prayer book, but it seems one is holding an infant even as a young girl playfully runs alongside them. Men on one side, women on the other, a shimmering pond between them in fading hours of Rosh Hashanah. This artwork, in its lush brushwork, evocative setting and characters is a beautiful pastoral that contemplates the complexity and quiet delights of a year about to unfold. The image is evocative, charming, playful and yet wonderfully serious about the joys of living in a Jewish world. Out of Rosa Katzenelson’s passion for Yiddishkeit and making art comes flashes of insights and mystery that make returning to the paintings over and over a pure delight.

Richard McBee

Miami Beach Chabad House Torah Studies Catalog

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

Chabad House in Miami Beach has released its Torah Studies catalog of classes for the first season of the 2013 academic year. All classes will be held at The Chabad House, 669 North Lincoln Lane, Miami Beach. The sessions are open to men and women.

Chabad of Miami Beach values a deep and rich learning experience.

Its Torah Studies program is of the highest caliber, developed by the world-renowned Rohr Jewish Learning Institute. The program brings a series of stimulating text- and discussion-based classes on a weekly basis:

Livening The Human Core – Tues, Oct 30, 7:30 p.m. How to Get Up when Life is Down. Material worries cause emotional drain, depleting us of our inner reserves and the conviction to go on. This class introduces profound advice from the prophet Elisha about how to reignite our inner spark.

Behind the Wedding Ring – Tues, Nov 6, 7:30 p.m. Steps to Acquiring a Flourishing Marriage. Marriage is forever. Husband and wife should both feel they are getting a winning deal. These are some of the secrets we explore as we unravel the surprising biblical origins of the wedding ring.

Living to Laugh – Tues, Nov 13, 7:30 p.m. Humor as our Reason for Being.

What makes us laugh? What gives us our greatest giggles? Humor is born from the radically unexpected, unfamiliar, and abnormal. This lesson views laughter as the purpose of life, that by transcending and defying our nature we can make God chuckle.

Jacob’s Ladder – Tues, Nov 20, 7:30 p.m. Actualizing Your Higher Calling. Climbing from who we are to what we can become is perhaps life’s greatest challenge. This lesson introduces a practical daily meditative exercise to keep our potential in sight and the tools to actualize it.

A Love Called Hatred – Tues, Nov 27. The Fascinating Story of King Menasheh. The opposite of love is not hatred but indifference. Hatred is love turned sour. When people are too gripped by love to let go and be indifferent, they instead redefine their strong relationship as hate. This lesson examines the biography of a hateful Jewish king who ultimately uncovered the love behind his hatred.

The Tune of Ambivalence – Tues, Dec 4, 7:30 p.m. Navigating Through Tough Existential Dilemmas. Discover the guiding principles that help us make critical and courageous decisions. Torn between temptation, hesitation, and cognitive dissonance, this lesson examines three biblical tales of everyday struggle that share a common tune – literally!

Decorate, Then Sweep – Tues, Dec 11, 7:30 p.m. (Chanukah). Starting Out on a Positive Note. You need to rid yourself of bad habits to inculcate positive ones, but if you don’t start with the good right away, you may end up waiting forever. This lesson explores the pros and cons of cognitive versus behavioral therapy and the wisdom in the order of the Chanukah candles and of Joseph’s sons.

Reconstructing Crossed Lines – Tues, Dec 18, 7:30 p.m. An Exploration of the Workings of Teshuvah. When we cross a line, we become desensitized to the line and prone to cross it again. How do we return to our former selves? This lesson explores the innovative, three-step process Joseph used to aid his brothers return, including reconstructing their original circumstances to prove they had truly changed.

Deaf to Nuance – Tues, Dec 25, 7:30p.m. The Positive Side to Selective Hearing. Subtleties sometimes dilute and distort the lines of truth, and complexity gets in the way of us standing up for what is right. This lesson amplifies the story of Chushim – the deaf grandson of Jacob – who stood by the obvious when others were blinded by the details.

Shelley Benveniste

Thoughts Make the Man

Friday, September 7th, 2012

Dear Friends, the clock is ticking down to Rosh HaShanah. You can hear the shofars blasting all over the world. T’shuva may seem like a towering mountain too high to climb, but it’s really not as hard as you think.

Rabbi Kook teaches that even contemplations of t’shuva have significant value. To understand this, we must look at life with a different orientation than we normally do. Usually, we are pragmatists. We judge the value of things by the influence they have on ourselves and the world. For instance, ten dollars is worth more than five dollars because it can buy more. A doctorate is better than a bachelor’s degree because it can lead to a better paying and more prestigious job.

There are things, however, that have an absolute value, regardless of their tangible impact in this world. Truth is an example. Holiness is another. To this list, Rabbi Kook adds good thoughts. Contemplations of t’shuva, even if they do not lead to a resulting change in behavior, bring benefit to the individual and the world.

This is similar to the question in the Talmud — which is greater, Torah study or good deeds? The answer is Torah study because it leads to good deeds. You might think that if the ultimate goal is the deeds, then they would be more important. But our Sages tell us that the thought processes which lead to the deeds are of primary concern. Being immersed in Torah has an absolute value in itself. Thus, Rabbi Kook writes:

The thought of t’shuva transforms all transgressions and the darkness they cause, along with their spiritual bitterness and stains, into visions of joy and comfort, for it is through these contemplations that a person is filled with a deep feeling of hatred for evil, and the love of goodness is increased within him with a powerful force (Orot HaT’shuva, 7:1).

T’shuva can be dissected into two different realms. There is the nitty-gritty t’shuva of mending an actual deed, and there is the thought process which precedes the action. The value of these thoughts is not to be measured according to the activities which they inspire. For instance, a person may decide that he wants to be righteous. But when the person tries to translate this thought into action, he finds himself overwhelmed. To be righteous, he has to get up early in the morning to pray. He has to stop doing a host of forbidden deeds. He has to watch what he says, and watch what he eats. Before he even begins, his will is broken. Though his wish to do t’shuva was sincere, he couldn’t find the inner strength to actualize his thoughts into deeds.

Rabbi Kook says that all is not lost. This person’s original idea to do t’shuva stemmed from the deepest recesses of the soul, where it was inspired by the spiritual waves of t’shuva which encircle the world. Thus he has already been touched by t’shuva’s cleansing streams. In effect, he has boarded the boat. Though his will power  may be weak at the moment, his soul is longing for God.

Through the contemplations of t’shuva, a person hears the voice of God calling him from the Torah and from the heart, from the world and all it contains. The will for good is fortified within him. The body itself, which causes transgression, becomes more and more purified until the thought of t’shuva pervades it (Ibid, 7:5).

In the beginning of his t’shuva journey, a person must realize the absolute value of his initial inspiration. He has to find a new way of judging the value of things, not always looking for concrete benefits or results. When a person undertakes t’shuva, his thoughts weigh as much as his deeds. T’shuva is not just a process of do’s and don’ts, but rather a conscious and subconscious overhaul of an individual’s thought processes and emotions. Already by thinking about t’shuva one is engaged in it. As the saying goes: you are what you think.

Even the thought of t’shuva brings great healing. However, the soul can only find full freedom when this potential t’shuva is actualized. Nonetheless, since the contemplation is bound up with the longing for t’shuva, there is no cause for dismay. God will certainly provide all of the means necessary for complete repentance, which brightens all darkness with its light… ‘A broken and contrite heart, O God, Thou will not despise’ (Ibid. Tehillim, 51;19).

When we recognize the value of our thoughts, we discover a very encouraging concept. One needn’t despair when confronted by the often difficult changes which t’shuva demands. This is especially true in the initial stages before a person’s increasing love for G-d makes all difficulties and sacrifices seem small. Even if a person cannot immediately redress all of his wrongdoings, he should know that there is a great value in just wanting to be good. One can take comfort that he wants to be a better person. With God’s help, he will also be able to actualize his yearnings. But in the meantime, just thinking good thoughts is already strengthening his inner self and the world.

Tzvi Fishman

Father’s Day

Sunday, June 17th, 2012

For a Jew, every day is Father’s Day, not just once a year. The mitzvah to “Honor thy father and thy mother” is one of the most fundamental commandments of the Torah. Interestingly, the commandment of honoring one’s father and mother is on the side of the Tablets dealing with commandments between man and God. This is because our parents are our gateway to God. It is they who teach us about God and the Torah. Therefore, honoring them is essential to the preservation and continuity of the Torah from father to son, generation after generation.

The full wording of the commandment is: “Honor thy father and mother that thy days may be long in the Land which the Lord thy God gives thee” (Shemot, 20:12).

Not many commandments come with a clearly stated reward. Please look closely at the reward for keeping this fundamental commandment – “that your days may be long in the Land” – that means in the Land of Israel. Isn’t that interesting!

What’s the connection? Well, if you honor your father and mother, you will respect what they teach you. Since Jewish fathers and mothers are obligated to teach their children the Torah, they will naturally teach their kids that a Jew is supposed to live in the Land of Israel, just like it repeats over and over again in the Torah dozens of times. Part of respecting one’s parents is by obeying them when they instruct you in the ways of the Torah. Thus a child who honors his parents will live in the Land of Israel, in line with the Torah’s teachings.

Though my parents were not happy when I told them that I was moving to Israel, I made aliyah anyway. While honoring one’s parents is an essential tenet of Judaism, if parents do not want a child to move to Israel, the child does not have to listen to them, since going on aliyah is a mitzvah, and parents are not allowed to prevent a child from carrying out a commandment of God. To my parents’ great merit, even though they were upset with my decision, they always helped me out when I needed their assistance in fulfilling the commandment of living in Israel, which our Sages tell us is equal in weight to all of the commandments of the Torah.

Later, when my aging parents became ill, I had the good fortune of bringing them to Israel to live adjacent to my family in Shilo, and then Jerusalem. When my aunt phoned me from Florida, informing me that my mother was developing the early-warning signs of Alzheimer’s Disease, and that my dad couldn’t handle her outbursts of anger, I immediately flew to Boca. We visited some retirement communities, but when we learned that my mom wouldn’t be allowed to live with my dad because of her condition, I persuaded my dad to let me take them to Israel where my family could watch over them. My uncle agreed to sell their house and car, so I packed up their bags and some cherished belongings, and we drove off to the Miami airport, telling my mother that she was going to Israel for the bar mitzvah of one of my sons.

Thus, my father, of blessed memory, spent his last nine years in the Holy Land. At the end of his sojourn in this world, he merited to be buried on the Mount of Olives, alongside the Prophets and great Rabbis of Israel. After, my dad passed away, we moved my mom into a nursing home nearby, so that I can visit every day.

I can’t say it was easy running back and forth between my mom and dad, and my own topsy-turvy home, having to take care of sick and anxiety-ridden parents and a house with seven energetic children, but, Baruch Hashem, I am grateful that I merited observing the mitzvah from alef to taf. My trials and tribulations became the basis for my latest novel, a comic and moving tale of a family situation we all go through sooner or later, when the mitzvah of honoring one’s parents takes on its greatest weight and meaning – when they are older and need us the most. It’s a wonderful family adventure, filled with Torah and the love of Jewish values. I set the story in New York, at my daughter’s request, so that people in Israel (her friends) wouldn’t say it was about our family. Since it’s still Book Month in Israel, here’s an excerpt from the novel for your reading pleasure, based on the time I (“Joseph”) took my parents (“Harry and Lizzy Friedman”) for a Pesach vacation at a resort hotel, to give my overtaxed wife (“Rivka”) a break. Also, since Dad’s yahrtzeit is coming up, it’s a chance to thank him again for helping me on my journey back to Torah and to Eretz Yisrael. May his memory be for a blessing.

Tzvi Fishman

Artifact Found in Time for Shavuot Proves Bethlehem Existed During First Temple

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

In a press release issued on Wednesday, the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Ir David Foundation announced that a clay seal was discovered bearing the name of the city of Bethlehem, evidence that the city existed during the period of the First Temple in Jerusalem.  The find fortuitously coincides with the upcoming holiday of Shavuot, during which time Jews from around the world focus on the story of the biblical figure Ruth, set in the city of Bethlehem.

The 1.5cm seal – called a bulla – was discovered during sifting of soil removed from the archeological excavations the Israel Antiquities Authority is carrying out in the City of David, just outside the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City.  The sifting is underwritten by the Ir David Foundation, which treated The Jewish Press to a private tour.

The clay bulla was meant to seal a document or object, used as a way of showing that the private item had not been tampered with.

The new bulla bears the words:   בשבעת   Bishv’at    בת לים    Bat Lechem [למל[ך   [Lemel]ekh

Eli Shukron, director of the excavation on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, said “it seems that in the seventh year of the reign of a king (either Hezekiah, Manasseh or Josiah), a shipment was dispatched from Bethlehem to the king in Jerusalem.”

“The bulla we found belongs to the group of “fiscal” bullae – administrative bullae used to seal tax shipments remitted to the taxation system of the Kingdom of Judah in the late eighth and seventh centuries BCE,” Shukron said.  “The tax could have been paid in the form of silver or agricultural produce such as wine or wheat”.

According to Shukron, this is the first time the name Bethlehem has appeared in an inscription from the First Temple period, proving that Bethlehem was a city in the Kingdom of Judah, and possibly in earlier periods.”

The first mention of Bethlehem in the Bible occurs in regard to the matriarch Rachel, wife of Jacob, sister of Leah, and mother of Joseph, who died while giving birth to Benjamin “in Ephrat, which is Bethlehem, and was buried there (Genesis 35:19; 48:7).

In later generations, when the region was settled by the descendants of Jacob and Leah’s son Judah, a man named Boaz made Ruth, a Moabite convert and daughter-in-law of Naomi, his wife (Book of Ruth).  The couple’s great-grandson, David, became the most celebrated king in Jewish history, and made his capital in Jerusalem, on the site of the modern day “Ir David” – City of David.

Malkah Fleisher

The Purim Narrative At The Pardo Palace

Monday, February 27th, 2012

Located about nine miles north of Madrid, the Palacio Real de El Pardo (Pardo Palace) dates back to the early 15th century. Devastated by a March 13, 1604 fire that claimed many works from its priceless art collection, the Pardo Palace and its vast gardens were used as a hunting ground by the Spanish monarchs. The palace was decorated with works of art that represented a variety of mythological and historical scenes, from Bartolomeo Carducho’s Agamemnon and Achilles to Francisco López’s Surrender of Boabdil, Sultan of Granada, to Ferdinand of Aragón and Isabel of Castile, January 3, 1492 (circa 1607-12).

Gallery of the Queen, Pardo Palace. Hall of the Biblical Joseph by Patricio Caxés.

But two series are particularly unusual. If one turns left immediately after passing through the ground floor’s main entrance, one arrives at the queen’s hall, which is decorated with a series on the biblical Esther by Patricio Caxés. And elsewhere on the ground floor, a series on Joseph by Jerónimo Cabrera can be found in the queen’s gallery. What was it about the stories of Esther and Joseph that was deemed so appropriate for Spanish queens? And why were subjects from the Jewish, rather than Christian, scriptures selected for the summer hunting palace?

The queen’s hall also contained individual works that portrayed Judith (with Holofernes’ head), Ruth, Deborah, Rebecca (or Miriam), Sara (or Naomi), Yael, and Rachel, but it’s clear that the program on Esther was given particular prominence. With Purim looming on the horizon, this article focuses on the Esther works and leaves Joseph for a different occasion. The Esther program, which appeared on the ceiling of the queen’s hall, includes the following scenes: Esther’s coronation, Esther reporting the assassination ploy to Ahaseurus; Esther standing with outstretched arms in front of other figures; Esther collapsing before Ahaseurus, Esther and Haman at Ahaseurus’ dinner, the insomniac Ahaseurus with attendants, Mordechai on the king’s horse, Haman pleading at Esther’s feet, and Mordecai counseling Ahaseurus.

Jerónimo Cabrera, Esther faints before Ahasuerus, Queen’s Room, Pardo.

Although a frequent scene depicted in biblical art, the only episode from Cabrera’s program that doesn’t appear in the Book of Esther is the fourth work—Esther falling before Ahaseurus. It’s reasonable to assume that Esther may have bowed before the king, but the biblical tale has Esther standing rather than prostrating herself. It’s worth noting that Mordechai had refused to bow before Haman earlier in the story, but clearly the bowing wasn’t the entire extent of the problem, as Joseph’s brothers bowed before him in Egypt.

Queen’s Room, Pardo Palace. Ceiling Frescoes of Esther by Jerónimo Cabrera.

In the most comprehensive English study on the subject of the Esther and Joseph works, “Old Testament images defined by the Spanish catholic empire: the story of Esther and the story of Joseph in the Pardo palace” (submitted to the faculty of George Washington University in 1996), Abby Krain locates Esther and Joseph within a framework of Christian symbolism. To Krain, Joseph and Esther represent ideal models for kings and queens, particularly for the patrons of the projects: King Philip III and his wife, Margaret of Austria. Esther, who epitomizes humility and obedience, is a stand-in for Mary, while Joseph’s honesty makes him a proxy for the Christian savior, Krain suggests. Although Krain makes a sound argument, it’s worth pondering whether there might have been something more colorful and provocative in the Pardo biblical commissions.

That the king and queen would have believed that figures from the Jewish Bible foretold the characters of Christian scriptures is undoubtedly true. But even if one concedes that point, Joseph and Esther are odd choices as regal role models. Joseph was clearly righteous, but he is also perhaps guilty of vanity, which, according to rabbinic traditions, one of the reasons he deserved to spend time in an Egyptian prison. And although Esther also emerges as a heroine in the Purim narrative, Mordechai rebukes her for seemingly caring too much about her own regal station rather than her people. This is not to incriminate Esther and Joseph, but there might have been more apparent role models that would have made more sense in the Pardo Palace.

According to Krain, the Persian King Ahaseurus selected Esther “for her beauty and, more significantly, for her obedience and loyalty to both her people and her adopted kingdom.” And not only would Phillip III have seen Esther as a role model for Margaret, but Krain also observes that there were political reasons why the arranged marriage between Esther and Ahaseurus was a parallel to the king and queen’s marriage, which “reinforced the exclusive control of the Spanish Empire by the Hapsburg family.” With Protestants questioning whether the divine endorsement of monarchical lines was passed from father to son, Phillip III may have marshaled the story of Esther as a response to the Protestants; just as God had selected Esther for royalty, the argument would have gone, so was Margaret, Esther’s contemporary protégé, selected by God to be queen.

Menachem Wecker

Closeness And Distance

Thursday, December 29th, 2011

What do porcupines do in winter? asked Schopenhauer. If they come too close to one another, they injure each other. If they stay too far apart, they freeze. Life, for porcupines, is a delicate balance between closeness and distance. It is hard to get it right and dangerous to get it wrong. And so it is for us.

That is the force of the word that gives our parshah its name: Vayigash (and he came close).

“Then Judah came close to him and said, ‘Pardon your servant, my lord, let me speak a word to my lord; do not be angry with your servant, though you are equal to Pharaoh himself’ ” (Genesis 44:18).

For perhaps the first time in his life, Judah came close to his brother Joseph. The irony is, of course, that he did not know it was Joseph. But that one act of coming close melted all of Joseph’s reserve, all his defenses, and as if unable to stop himself, he finally disclosed his identity: “Then Joseph said to his brothers, ‘I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?’ ” (45:3)

How can we be sure that vayigash is the key word? Because it contrasts with another verse, many chapters and many years earlier. “But they saw him in the distance, and before he reached them, they plotted to kill him” (37:18).

Right at the beginning of the story, when Joseph was sent by his father to see how the brothers were doing tending the sheep, they saw him from far away, from a distance. Imagine the scene. They can’t see his face. All they can see is the richly ornamented cloak, the “coat of many colors,” that so upsets them because it constantly reminds them that it is he – and not they – whom their father loves.

From far away we don’t see people as human beings, and when we stop seeing people as human beings and they instead become symbols, objects of envy or hate, people can do bad things to one another. The whole tragedy of Joseph and his brothers was distance. They were too far apart in every way. Which is why it was only when Judah came close to Joseph – vayigash – that the coldness between them thawed, and they became brothers, not strangers to one another.

Too much distance and we freeze. But if we get too close we can injure one another. That was the story of Jacob and Esau. Think about it. Jacob bought Esau’s birthright. He stole his blessing. He wore Esau’s clothes. He borrowed his identity. Even when they were born, Jacob was clutching Esau’s heel.

It was only when there was a distance between them – the 22 years in which Jacob was away from home, with Lavan – that the relationship healed, so that when they met again, despite Jacob’s fears, Esau embraced and kissed him and treated him like a brother and a friend.

Too close and we hurt one another. Too distant and we freeze.

How then do we make and sustain relationships if the balance is so fine and it is so easy to get it wrong? The Torah’s answer – already there in the first chapter of the Torah – is: first separate, then join. The verb lehavdil, to separate, appears five times in the first chapter of Bereishit: God separates light from darkness, the upper and lower waters, sea and dry land. Separation is at the heart of Jewish law – between holy and profane, pure and impure, permitted and forbidden. In Judaism kadosh, holy, means separation. To sanctify is to separate. Why? Because when we separate, we create order. We defeat chaos. We give everything and everyone their space. I am I and not you. You are you and not I. Once we respect our difference and distance, then we can join without doing damage to one another.

The most beautiful symbol of the problem and its resolution is the ceremony of Havdalah at the end of Shabbat – and especially the Havdalah candle. The wicks are separate but the flame they make is joined. So it is between husband and wife. So it is between parent and child. And so it is, or should be, between brothers. Distance damaged the relationship between Judah and Joseph. Vayigash – Judah’s act of drawing close – restored it.

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).

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/parsha/closeness-and-distance/2011/12/29/

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