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Parshah Vayigash

12/10/2021 12:15:48 PM


Rabbi Hearshen

I love to read. A good book is such a great find. A book is something that must be read to the end. The author purposely chose to begin in a certain way and they chose to conclude in a specific way. The artistry behind an author’s work is usually all about “bookends.” The book opens with some sort of introduction and then the goal is to conclude in some way that answers all the conflicts and brings us back to the beginning.
The Torah is the most masterfully put together “books” ever gifted to the world. The Torah is divided into five distinct books,
בראשית/Genesis, שמות/Exodus, ויקרא/Leviticus, במדבר/Numbers and דברים/Deuteronomy. The first book, בראשית, is its own unique story beginning with creation and ending with our descent into Egypt. At the beginning of the book, there’s the story of Adam and Eve’s sons and the very first homicide. When God witnessed the murder, the question was asked of Cain אֵ֖י הֶ֣בֶל אָחִ֑יךָ /Where is Abel, your brother? And Cain responded ולֹ֣א יָדַ֔עְתִּי הֲשֹׁמֵ֥ר אָחִ֖י אָנֹֽכִי׃/I do not know, am I my brother’s keeper? Those words are not responded to directly by God. There is a hanging space there in which no answer is given. We almost read it as a sarcastic question by Cain, “I don’t know… Am I my brother’s keeper?”
I have always explained that there is an answer to the question that God provided… it’s called the entire book of Genesis. The entire book repeatedly tells the saga of a broken family that cannot learn from its mistakes. A broken family that cannot see that they have obligations to each other. A broken family that never stands up for each other and allows jealousy to be the power in their lives. This is true brokenness and something that must be healed. Abraham struggled as a father in favoring one son over the other. Isaac struggled as a father as Jacob and Esau were constantly measured against each other. Jacob and Esau had a completely broken relationship. Jacob passed this brokenness on to his sons as he favored Joseph and led a family of bitterness and jealousy. This led to the selling of Joseph into slavery. This led to bitterness and divisiveness.
This week, the perfect ending to the book of Genesis begins with this parasha – Parashat Vayigash. As the brothers stood before Joseph, he had the opportunity to punish them and get his revenge. It would have been totally characteristic of Joseph and his personality of great ego centered worldview. But Joseph made the hard choice to move on without revenge. He made the hard choice to forgive and move forward. This forgiveness didn't happen in a vacuum. He tested his brothers to see if they would stand up for each other or if they were still the same brothers who sold him into slavery. Incredibly, both parties had learned and grown and changed. Joseph saw that they stood up for each other and that they recognized their role as being “brothers’ keepers.” Joseph recognized that he needed to be better as well.
This all brings me back to the important symmetry of the book of Genesis. We all need to learn that we MUST be there for other people. That we have obligations to other people. That we are not in this world for ourselves but for our communities. Judaism is a religion that demands we step up and do for others. Judaism as a religion demands each of us see our role and be there for other people. That is the message of the book of Genesis and the root of our people. It’s a community of people and not individuals on their own. It’s a people that sees each of us needs to step up and do better and do more. The Torah has an answer to the question of Cain: we are in fact our brothers’ keepers. Each of us has a sacred task to make this a part of daily lives and our consciousness.

Sun, May 22 2022 21 Iyyar 5782