This week’s Torah portion, Vayigash, has always held a special place in my heart and soul. Not only does it include a wonderful story about forgiveness and reconciliation, but on more personal level, it also marks the anniversary of my becoming a Bar Mitzvah. (I’ll let you guess how many years ago!) I enjoyed the experience of reading my parashah so much, that for the next 10 years, right up through college and until the year that I lived in Israel, I returned to my home synagogue to read it from the bimah sporting my multi-colored tallit in the spirit of Joseph’s coat of many colors.
Since entering rabbinic school and my subsequent ordination as a rabbi, I have had numerous opportunities to revisit this portion and study its many parts and themes on a deeper, more scholarly level. I have even learned to chant multiple sections to the delight of my hometown cantor. Yet the message I delivered as a bar mitzvah student still holds true today…
When I became a bar mitzvah, the Ethiopian famine was one of the main foci of global humanitarian efforts. At this season of the year, many of us who listen to nostalgic radio stations are reminded of Band Aide and Live Aide when we hear the now classic “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” which was followed up by the U.S artists call to action through “We Are The World.” What these songs preach(ed) is what I chose to speak about as a 13 year old student: we have the power to give of ourselves and change the world. We have the responsibility to notice inequity and the acts of injustice and reach out to those in need. Indeed, “We are the world; we are the children; we are the ones who make a brighter day so let’s start giving.”
Through interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams, Joseph predicted that there would be seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine. Joseph advised Pharaoh to take advantage of the first seven years and create a stockpile of grain for those devastating years that would follow. In doing so, Joseph and Pharaoh were able to feed the people throughout Egypt and its neighboring territories, enabling all to endure the food crisis. Those with plenty took care of those with little or nothing. And in this week’s parashah, that is exactly was Joseph facilitates.
In today’s world, “in our world of plenty, we can share a smile of joy.” And we can share of our own wealth. There are so many ways that we can and should give to others, and many of us do a good job of this already. But there is a great big world out there, and we should all be painfully aware that it is far from perfect and in great need of our attention. From the Syrian refugee crisis, to the ongoing struggles in the Sudan; from the impoverished and homeless to abused women and children in our own communities and nationwide; from those who suffer through acts of violence and terror, to those who simply have less than we do, we have a moral and sacred obligation to care for others and ensure that they have their basic needs met. And yet so many still suffer and struggle to just get by, while others cannot even do that, and too many people live in fear for their lives.
At this time of year which in our nation has culturally become “the season of giving,” let us not forget to give to others who desperately need our help, our love, our protection, and our voice. Speak up, shout out, open your wallets, serve food, send a gift, join a cause, fight for what’s right. “Do they know it’s [the holiday season] at all?” Let’s make sure that we share the loving spirit that we enjoy on a regular basis and protect the citizens of this earth.
Rabbi Michael S. Churgel, RJE