Friday, December 28, 2012

Parshat Vayyechi

Gen 50:19-21 – “But Yosef said to them: Do not be afraid!  For am I in the place of God?  Now you, you planned ill against me, (but) God planned it over for good, in order to do (as is) this very day – to keep many people alive. So now, do not be afraid!  I myself will sustain you and your little ones!  And he comforted them and spoke to their hearts.”

Yosef, who was thrown into a pit by his brothers to be devoured by wild beasts, and later put into the dungeon by Potiphar, could have remained bitter all of his life.  Instead, Yosef was able to learn from his pain and suffering, first to gain insight to interpret dreams, later to advise Pharaoh, and finally to forgive and comfort his brothers.  How was Yosef able to do this? Over time, Yosef learned to listen to and respond from his heart, rather than his ego. While in his youth he brought an ill report of his brothers to his father. In his maturity he wept when he heard his brothers arguing over which of them was responsible for his death (Gen. 42:22-24), when he first saw Benyamin (Gen. 43:29-30), and when he revealed himself to his brothers (Gen. 45:1-2 14-15).

May we, like Yosef, open our hearts, forgive, and comfort ourselves, our families, and our communities.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Parshat Mikeitz

Gen 44:16-17. “And Judah said, "What shall we say to my master? What shall we speak, and how shall we exonerate ourselves? God has found your servants' iniquity both we and the one in whose possession the goblet has been found."   But he said, "Far be it from me to do this! The man in whose possession the goblet was found he shall be my slave, but as for you go up in peace to your father."

In the context of the several deceptions that Joseph has perpetuated on this brothers, is his statement, “But as for you, go up in peace to your father,” sincere? Joseph knows full well that they will not be at ease or at peace while returning to see their father lacking yet one more of the brothers. There seems a great gulf between Joseph’s words and actions.  The parsha ends abruptly with Joseph’s statement. It almost feels like a cliffhanger. Will the brother’s be reconciled? How will they respond to Joseph’s psychological test? Will Jacob die on hearing that Benjamin, too, has been taken from him? We are launched into the week not knowing.

How often we find ourselves in a similar situation of not knowing how things will turn out, not knowing our own true intentions, not knowing how to match up our actions, words, and best intentions. Even sitting quietly in meditation, we sometimes become lost in mind-storms or heart-storms.  By continuing to sit and observe these storms, we learn that we must cultivate a courageous patience to stay steady while waiting for an insight to arise. We saw last week that one of Joseph’s great strengths was his patience to sit and dwell with his thoughts and feelings before acting. Here, the very structure of the parsha hints that in times of great drama and turmoil, a quiet interlude can be helpful in allowing a true intention for peace to be manifested.    

May we be blessed, like Joseph, to have patience with ourselves and others, even in the midst of intense mind-storms and to reflect long enough before acting so that our intention for peace may be skillfully manifested in both our words and our actions.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Parshat Vayigash

Gen 39:7-9. “And it came to pass after these things, that his master’s wife cast her eyes upon Joseph, and she said: ‘Lie with me.’  But he refused, and said to his master’s wife: ‘Behold, my master, having me, knows not what is in the house, and he has put all that he has into my hand, he is not greater in this house than I, neither has he kept back anything from me but you, because you are his wife.  How can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God.”

One of Joseph’s greatest strengths was his ability to sit and dwell with his thoughts and feelings before acting, the patience learned from his time in the pit he was thrown into by his brothers and later the prison he was cast into by Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh’s guard.  The shalshelet is the trop mark with the longest melody (about 30 notes) and is found only four times in the torah.  Joseph’s ability to struggle with and reflect on his desires within before acting is symbolized by the use of the shalshelet over the word “Vayiman” (but he refused) in Gen. 39:8.    

May we be blessed, like Joseph, to be able to hesitate and become aware of our desires before acting so that we can make decisions based on insight rather than as slaves to passion.*

*This drash was inspired by a drash given this week by Rabbi Gil Steinlauf (Adas Israel).  Rabbi Steinlauf and others recently started the Jewish Mindfulness Center of Washington, which hosts weekly meditation sessions free and open to the public at Adas Israel on Tuesdays from 7:30 to 8:45 pm.