Adrian A. Durlester

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Random Musings Before Shabbat-Vayekhi 5771

Trading Places
(Redux & Updated from 5759)

Ki hatachat Elohim ani?" asks Joseph in Gen 50:19. "Shall I take the place of G"d?"

All about us these days is confusion. Moral uncertainty. Selfish and cruel behaviors. Luckily for us. For in these distractions are the things we need to take the focus away from self-examination and spare us the embarrassment of dealing with our own shortcomings. How easily we declare ourselves judge and proceed to find fault with others, with situations, our employers, our families, etc.

We criticize with abandon the actions, opinions and morals of others. Both those like us and unlike us. (Lately, in fact, it seems that the favorite target of our judgments are our own Jewish brothers and sisters.)

In our delusions that our troubles are caused by others, not only do we find fault...we hold grudges, too.

Joseph knows better.

Now, Joseph really was "worked over" by his brothers. Betrayed. If anyone had a right to stand in judgment of others, Joseph surely had that right over his brothers.

"Ki hatachat Elohim ani?" asks Joseph in Gen 50:19. "Shall I take the place of G"d?"

Joseph, of course, goes on to take the teleological approach. The evil that befell him was all part of G"d's plan, and it all worked out in the end. That sure is convenient. Question is, had things not worked out the way they did, would Joseph have been so forgiving? That, I cannot answer. Were he not standing at the apex of power, would he feel the same about not standing in the place of G"d? I'd like to think so. I'd like to think that all people would always ask themselves whether they can or should take the place of G"d. It' something we might well ask ourselves each time we find ourselves standing in judgment of others.

A few weeks ago (back in 1999) I wrote about Vayishlakh and "Don't Get Mad, Get Even." At the time I focused on the "don't get mad" part. In Vayekhi, Jacob teaches us about the "get even" part. He pronounces his oracles for his sons, and Reuben, Simeon and Levi are called to account. In this same parasha, Joseph has the opportunity to exact some measure of judgment on his brothers. But, instead, Joseph brings down a higher form of judgment than he or any human is capable of. He forgives, forgoes, and moves on, refusing to "take the place of G"d." This magnanimous gesture is probably a more effective form of punishment, retribution and judgment than anything Joseph, even with the power of Pharaoh (and G"d) behind him, could inflict upon his brothers. Think about it.

Additional Thoughts Added for 5771

The haftarah, too, seems to focus on the "getting even" part. Even wise David could not escape this all too human need for revenge. He even seeks to circumvent a promise he made to not kill someone who had wronged him by obliging Solomon to do the dirty work in his stead, after he is dead. Not a great example. Fortunately, the rabbis came along and determined that one can't escape one's sins by delegating them to others to carry out after their deaths. As often as I complain about much of what the rabbis did and said, they had some home runs when it came to dealing with some of the unfortunately bad lessons in our sacred texts. (Unfortunately, they also had some really bad strike outs!) In terms of our current situation, perhaps there are lessons to be learned from Joseph's magnanimity. This is perhaps no place truer than when it comes to making peace for Israel and the Middle East. As hard as it is to forgive and forget, medinat Israel is in a place somewhat akin to Joseph's position at the time he was so magnanimous to his brothers. They are a successful democracy with a decent economic situation. They have learned how to weather the perpetual famine of desert lands. They share their wealth with others (albeit for a price, as did Joseph/Egypt.) Yes, like Joseph, their position was always precarious - Joseph, never safe from Pharaoh's whim should he displease him; Israel surrounded by often hostile forces that seek to wreak havoc, create terror. Yet the path to peace in the middle east may require Israel to act like Joseph, and look beyond the wrongs of the past to the future that lays ahead. Here in the U.S.A. we would also do well to learn from Joseph. As political parties wrest power from each other, they too often seek their revenge. It is time to put that all behind, and work for a better future. This lesson also works right here in our own fragmented and divided Jewish community. Let us dedicate this Shabbat and henceforth to being forgiving and magnanimous, in the same way as Joseph. Future generations will thank us.

Hazak Hazak v'nitkhazek.

Shabbat Shalom,

Adrian ©1998, 2010 by Adrian A. Durlester

Some previous musings on this parasha

Vayekhi 5770 - Musing Block?
Vayekhi 5769 - Enough With the Hereditary Payback Already!
Vayekhi 5767-HaMalakh HaGoel
Vayechi 5766-Thresholds (Redux 5764 with Reflections
Vayechi 5761/5-Unethical Wills
Vayechi 5764-Thresholds
Vayechi 5763 - I Got it Good and That Ain't Bad (Redux 5760)
Vayechi 5759-Trading Places
Vayechi 5762-The Wrong Good

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