Jews, Christmas Eve, Chinese Food, and Yiddish — be sure to note the references to ‘Tuches ofen Tish’ and ‘a Shanda fon Der Goyim’ (also known as ‘a Shanda for the Goyim’).
Importantly, please make sure to watch this before Christmas Eve this Friday evening — and importantly before the Aserah B’Tevet or this Friday’s ‘Sunrise to Sundown’ fast . . .
Chanukah and its miracles have passed and yet we are still here (a miracle in and of itself). The fast day of Aserah B’Tevet quickly approaches, a day which allows us a brief, albeit meaningful moment of introspection and intendedly, a moment of both meaning and fast.
And yet, here we are at a moment of crisis, one which not surprisingly is a crisis we often encounter, reminiscent of the rather odd occurrence found in the 5th Chapter of the Book of Daniel. There, as we have previously looked over, we find a hand which mysteriously appears, inscribing the now infamous warning known as ‘the handwriting on the wall.’ While it appears that Daniel is able to read this inscription, not surprisingly very few others are equally able to. The words, as a phrase, ‘the handwriting on the wall’ have passed down through the centuries almost like a clarion call — and yet ‘a call’ we have often been unable to either read or understand.
We are possibly at a similar crossroads today, one in which the unity of the Jewish people is at stake, a unity that pulls us apart and puts us at a new moment of peril, for all of us.
Our History, Ourselves
Two conflicting stories — placed side by side — and directly in front of us.
The story of this week’s Parsha of VaYigash (Chapter 44:18 – 47:27) stands in direct contrast to the Haftara of the Prophet Ezekiel, Chapter 37:15-28) . . .
First, our parsha recounts the crime that shattered Jacob’s family. Joseph’s brothers had seethed at Jacob’s undisguised preference for his wife Rachel. They were hurt and infuriated by Jacob’s manifest favoritism for Rachel’s first-born, Joseph. Their anger turns to hatred when Joseph dreams and boasts that he will rule over them in the future. Through a rather artistic tryptic of events, all of which illustrate the state of the family and its internecine relationships, we soon see exactly just how fractured Jacob’s family has become. Ultimately, when Joseph meets the brothers in Egypt, when they have come hungrily in search of food, he feels no pity or longing for them, even tormenting them.
After further hunger and strife among the brothers and their father, Joseph is ultimately swayed by compassion and longing. He will eventually bring them down to Egypt, restoring the unity of the brothers and their father and providing a new and safe home for the entire family.
Here we might see the beauty of a reunification of Jacob’s broken family and the restoration of its wholeness.
But, no . . .
When the children of Israel took possession of Canaan, the tribal rivalries intensified and continued. Essentially we see the tribes of Ephraim and Judah continuing to compete for tribal and subsequent royal supremacy over each other, to the point that after their split and the destruction of the Northern Kingdom, we then lose all contact with the 10 lost tribes, lost forever.
Sadly, in those times, there were neither rulers great enough nor prophets successful enough to quell the strife nor reunite the two kingdoms or in the interim, to find the lost tribes, even unto to this very day.
By the time of Ezekiel, the ten tribes were hopelessly lost — forever.
This is not just History — This is Now . . .
A lesson for our own time — the message of ‘VaYigash’ placed alongside of the Haftara of Ezekiel.
Today there are two major centers of Jewry in the world, one in Israel and the other, us, the Diaspora. After a century of solidarity and mutual aid, political differences, geographic distance, and religious and cultural divergence all of which have had a splintering effect on the relationship.
This week’s parashah and haftarah, however, constitute a warning not to repeat the errors of the past.
Perhaps as the Prophet tells us, we need a new Jerusalem, a new consciousness, one of a deeper unity and one in which we learn alongside of each other, with each other and from each other. Stay tuned this Wednesday evening at 7:00 PM EST as we explore this question of these competing stories — the very stories that have kept us alive these many centuries.
Our study should yield the same for us.
Learn Study Act,
Rabbi Seth Frisch / מהרש״ר
Lerhaus: A Newshul of Jewish Thought and Learning