Tag Archive | Joseph

At the intersection of life and Torah

Please, God, not this week. 

I see my daily life through the lens that Torah provides as a construct in time. The parashat hashavua (weekly Torah portion), divided into seven parts, often provides daily insights and a thematic through line for the seven days of my week. There was a time when I considered the connections of my life with Torah teachings as coincidences. But that is no longer the case. Now I look for the connections, and they are usually pretty easy to find.

But this week, I don’t want the connections to be made. This week, I don’t want the story to fit my life. 

This week’s parashah, Vayechi, reads: “Vayikrevu yemei Yisrael la’mut,” “The time approached for Israel to die….” After Jacob/Israel gathers the strength to bless his grandsons Ephraim and Menasheh, he offers insights into his sons’ lives, and he dies.

My grandfather Israel has reached the end of his years at 100, possibly the end of his months, maybe the end of his weeks. His children and grandchildren have given him their final blessings. His soul knows it has  our blessings to be joined with his ancestors and loved ones, to take its leave when it so chooses.

But please God, not this week. 

After all, Israel is 147 when he dies. My grandfather Israel is only 100.

Israel calls his son Joseph to his bedside, then fails to recognize Joseph’s children. My grandfather Israel saw his son Joey on Sunday, and recognized his grandchildren without a prompt.

Israel blesses his sons with the prayer that their offspring should multiply for generations to come, having lived only to see two great-grandchildren. My grandfather Israel has lived to see great-great-grandchildren, and has no such need for such prayers. His have been answered.

Israel dies in a foreign land, his descendants about to spend centuries in exile and enslavement. My grandfather Israel brought his family out of exile and enslavement to a land of freedom and prosperity.

Israel looks back on his life as difficult and frustrating, filled with challenges and suffering. My grandfather Israel considers himself the luckiest man alive, blessed with a wonderful life despite having lived through the Holocaust, illness and loss.

My Israel, son of Abraham has so little in common with the Torah’s Israel, son of Isaac. My Israel is a man of generosity and vision; the Torah’s Israel is a man of limited sight and spirit. My Israel is a patriarch who has been loved and respected by the generations that have followed him; the Torah’s Israel spent most of his days as Jacob, forging a twisting path through difficult relationships.

So you see, God, this week’s parashah Vayechi (“And he lived”) should stop right there as far as any connection with my grandfather Israel goes. Next week we’ll begin reading the story of Moses. As far as I’m concerned, his is a story that is a far better parallel to that of my grandfather Israel. Especially the part that we’ll read at the end of Moses’ life:  “For there never arose in Israel another prophet like Moses, whom God knew face to face.”

Ken y’hi ratzon, so may it be Your will.

Rabbi Craig Scheff

Joseph and Anakin, children of grace

Long ago, in a galaxy far away…. The glue has once again been provided to connect the generations with one another. The themes are as eternal as they were before; the myths are as powerful as ever. The child within the oldest of us is awakened, and the wisdom of the ages enters the heart of our youngest.

These moving narratives are treasured by us, in part, because they imaginatively capture the metaphors that give expression to our truths. The battle between forces of light and dark, the struggle between our innate inclinations (the yetzer ha-tov and the yetzer ha-ra), the propensities we carry towards hope and despair—these most basic conflicts play out in the scroll and on the screen before our eyes in living color.

I admit that I am slow to admit that anything is coincidence. It is a gift that the newest installation of the Star Wars saga hits the silver screen as we are immersed in studying the portions of the Torah retelling the story of Joseph and his family. I can’t help but see the parallels between the narratives of Anakin Skywalker and Joseph.

Both boys discover at a young age that they have abilities that distinguish them from others. Both sense that they are destined for something greater than their stations in life. Both are sold into servitude. Both will ultimately rise up to be second in command of their respective empires. Both live with the loss of a mother and with separation from family.

anakin young

joseph coat

Their paths, however, diverge due to the ways in which they confront their respective circumstances. Driven by the anger generated by his sense of loss and by the fear of losing those he holds dear, Anakin is drawn to the Dark Side. Joseph, on the other hand, recognizes that his gifts are but an instrument of God, to be used for the furthering of the Divine Will (also known as the Force?). He is moved beyond his selfishness and ego by his faith in the goodness of God and his trust in the desire of others to redeem themselves through righteousness.


Joseph 2

Ultimately, Anakin redeems himself. It is a sign for all future generations that they, too, can overcome the Dark Side to choose a path of grace. Is it coincidence that the name “Anakin” can be translated to “child of grace”? (Okay, I made that up, using the Hebrew root for “Ana,” or Hannah, meaning “grace,” and the Germanic origin of “kin,” meaning “give birth to.” Thus, child of grace!) Joseph redeems himself as well, and teaches his brothers and all future generations that they can redeem themselves through acts of faith. The seemingly endless battle between good and evil is perpetuated by those who give in to anger, fear and loss. While I won’t see the new movie until next week, I am fairly certain that the narrative will remind us, during these troubling times, that our actions cannot be dictated by fear, and that our actions of faith and trust may sometimes give way to betrayal, but ultimately are the only way to forge a path towards redemption.

May the Force be with us,

Rabbi Craig Scheff

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