Parshat Vayechi

Torah Reading for Week of December 12 – December 18, 2010

“Redeeming Ourselves and Others”

by Rabbi Cheryl Weiner, PhD,’07

This week, we encounter the death of Jacob and the end of the archetypal ancestral story of Abraham and his family. I believe that this narrative is a cautionary tale. It is a compilation of stories of confrontations between our siblings and ourselves, of battles with authority between fathers and sons and between humans and G-d. Each one of the characters is flawed and needs to grow spiritually in order to survive the twists and turns of life. Some even say that G-d grows in the Book of Genesis— creating one world and destroying it in the flood — and creating a family that consistently fights within itself over birthrights and favoritisms and finally redeems the family through forgiveness.

The last passages are so poignant as Joseph’s brothers ask for forgiveness in the name of their father… “Forgive, I urge you, the offense and guilt of your brothers who treated you so harshly.” And Joseph was in tears as they spoke to him. And later, when they offer to be his servants, Joseph says to them “Have no fear! Am I a substitute for G-d?”(In other words, who am I to judge your actions?) “Besides, although you intended me harm, G-d intended it for good, so as to bring about the present result— the survival of many people. So fear not. I will sustain you and your children.”

In this final act of forgiveness, Joseph acknowledges that the family dynamic was a catalyst for him to go out into the world and make something of himself and to get beyond his personal story. He was now the vizier of Egypt and in charge of the greatest nation on earth, not the younger arrogant brother who flaunted his coat of many colors as a sign of his father’s favoritism. Through being thrown into the pit and service in the court of the Pharaoh, Joseph had to overcome his arrogance and deal with his personal power in a way that would save the world not destroy it. In this last speech, Joseph demonstrates that he has redeemed the dynamics of hate that were part of the family drama and substituted a dynamic of hope. He will take care of not only Egypt, but his brother’s children as well.

We too can turn our lives around and change the family dynamics that we are often trapped in. We do not have to live out the script that we were given. This time of year often re-ignites family feuds that go back decades. As a Chaplain, I often see these dynamics played out around the bedside of a parent who is dying. A second wife who is fighting with the children for control over the funeral. Siblings still fighting for authority or recognition or who loved whom best. We can change the script even at the end of the story.

As you go about your week, contemplate the story that was given to you and the one that you compose about your life. See if you can re-frame your narrative to promote forgiveness and redemption. Again, as a Chaplain, I wrestle with the phrase “G-d saves”. What does this mean? Perhaps, it means that G-d saves us from the pit, that G-d saves us from those who would harm us in Pharaoh’s court with lies and untruths. Perhaps G-d saves us from ourselves by taking away our coat of many colors, so that we can clothe ourselves in a humility that better serves humanity. Each of us has been given the potential to be a redeemer in the world, reflecting G-d’s heavenly role on earth.

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