D’var Torah for January 3, 2020

In this week’s Torah portion, Vayigash, we find the culmination of the Joseph narrative. His brothers are now standing before an unrecognizable Joseph, pleading for mercy for their brother Benjamin. At this point, Joseph inquiries about his/their father. After learning that Jacob is still alive, but that if anything happened to Benjamin, he would be devastated, Joseph chose this moment to reveal himself to his brothers.
It is an amazing story of reconciliation, forgiveness, and acceptance. When the news reached Pharaoh’s ears, he offered the sons of Israel prime land in Egypt. He also gave them all the assistance they could need in order to go to Canaan in order to bring Jacob and the rest of the family to Egypt.
Throughout our history in the Diaspora, we Jews have depended upon the kindness and generosity of merciful and welcoming royalty and rulers. We have also suffered tremendously when the offers of protection and assistance were revoked. As the old joke goes, “they tried to kill us. We won. Let’s eat.” However, as history teaches, more often than not, we didn’t win, but instead, found ourselves in exile time and again through no fault of our own except that we were Jews. This is one of the classic antisemitic narratives.
Today’s narrative is a little bit different. We do not simply look to the kindness of benevolent authorities to protect us. Instead, we as individuals, congregations, organizations, and communities have worked to forge, sustain, and build upon our relationships with local officials and the interfaith community. The response this past Monday as well as the planned gathering on Sunday are a demonstration of the importance of such relationships.
Sadly, antisemitism and violence often go hand in hand. But we as a community are resolute and strong. We are also grateful to have so many allies in the community as well, willing to shine the light on hatred, anger and fear.
We also note that we are not Jewish because of antisemitism. We are Jewish because we celebrate life, Torah, mitzvot, community and family. As we read in Vayigash, Israel’s family could have fallen apart at this moment of great crisis. Instead, they overcame their animosity and distrust, to become one family again. The Torah is not pollyannaish, there was still strife between the brothers. But they were able to set aside their differences to establish what would become the everlasting foundation of the Jewish people.
So too for us, as we enter into 2020, may we find strength in our community, both Jews and non-Jews alike, and may we embrace our heritage, and may we never let hate or violence decide how we choose to celebrate what it means to be Jewish.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Benjamin Sharff