TORAH MINUTE - VAYESHEV NOV, 1994
The evolution of the ethical standards of our religion is chronicled in the book of BERESHIS (Genesis) through various episodes in the lives of our Patriarchs. Many commentators are of the opinion that these stories are Medrashic in nature. Not precise historical records of our fathers,, but caricatures conceived by ancient sages designed to illustrate these fundamental moral precepts. I must confess that I share that opinion about some of the later principles of the TANACH (Old Testament), but as to the BERESHIS, I harbor not the slightest doubt that these are real accounts of real people. I believe this because, throughout the generations of our Patriarchs, there arises not a single individual that can be referred to as anything other than an ordinary human being. BERESHIS attributes to our forefathers, every possible human failing - dishonesty, greed, jealousy, adultery, alcoholism - in short, all the weaknesses that define us as mortals.
How then, can such individuals be considered the parents of our Faith? It is the simple fact that unlike their contemporaries, they were the first to realize that there could be more for humanity than just being human. The presence of the Creator was revealed to them, not as a manipulative, self-serving power like human leaders, but through the far-from-human ideal of universal brotherhood that they felt within themselves and knew was shared by all people. Endowing humankind with the ideal of a perfect existence, while leaving it for humankind to create that existence for itself, is the greatest manifestation of the power of HASHEM because it is the greatest manifestation of the potential power of humanity.
With this concept in mind, I would like to discuss the modern implications of the opening verses of VAYESHEV which recount the kidnapping of Joseph. I keep a copy my amateur radio and pilot's licenses on my wall at work because they required a great deal of study and financial sacrifice to obtain and are naturally a source of great personal pride. When some event happens that causes me to feel entirely defeated, a glance at those documents is usually enough for me to begin to regain my self-respect. But what respect would I command if were to believe and, much worse, to boast that I am better than anyone else because I can copy radiotelegraph signals or land an airplane in a crosswind?
Joseph, however, did exactly that - and with terrible consequences for himself and the nation founded by his parents. Joseph's first dream of dominance over his brothers might have been a youngest brother's subconscious struggle for respect or might have been a sign from Hashem as to his future importance to the emerging Hebrew people. In any case, it is difficult to believe that Joseph's revealing that dream could have any other effect but to evoke the ire of his brothers. The revelation of Joseph's second dream, which now had both his brothers and his parents subservient to him, was simply too much for his brothers to bear. They hatched their plot and sold Joseph, and eventually all the Children of Israel, into slavery. Had Joseph simply kept his knowledge - or delusions - of superiority to himself, this traumatic episode in our history might never have happened.
Many sages teach that the kidnapping of Joseph was part of Hashem's master plan for Jewry, setting the stage the miracles of emancipation that would follow. I have difficulty with the concept that Hashem requires us to endure cycles of suffering and redemption in order to be reminded of His greatness. I can't help but feel that it is easier teach the benefits of Islam to a young Saudi Arabian, whose people possess the world's richest deposit of oil, than it is to convince a young Jew to accept his religion when all we can claim is two thousand years of misery.
Perhaps a better interpretation of these verses is that, like Joseph, Judiasm is its own worst enemy. I realized this sad fact when contemplating the recent movement which proclaimed the Lubavitcher Rebbe, of Blessed Memory, as the MOSHIACH. As I saw how a group of Jews took it upon themselves to ignore all tradition and create their own Messiah, I was instantly reminded of similar events that happened during the Roman occupation of Israel. I then came to the bitter realization that two millennia of Jewish suffering at the hands of disciples of THAT Messiah was entirely a self-inflicted wound.
Clearly, the worst of all the Jewish People's self inflicted wounds is the Silent Holocaust of American Jewry. The end our oppressors have sought throughout history is at present occurring, without a single act of violence, in the most benign of our many host nations. Some say that the only answer to the problem of intermarriage and assimilation is a return to a strict, fundamentalist observance of Ultra-Orthodoxy, in effect constructing an ideological wall which excludes all those who ascribe to more liberal interpretations of the Torah. I join with those who contend that this concept reveals the same chauvinism displayed by Joseph and will yield the same result. Judaism will destroy itself from within through a process of fragmentation we are already witnessing - as each sect proclaims itself as more Jewish than the next. I fear this disunity will cause us fall into the same predicament as Joseph - to be carted off as slaves on a caravan of Ishmaelites.
It is my fervent belief that the future of Judaism and ultimately of the world, lies in a return to the fundamental precepts first recognized by our Patriarchs who showed us that we could rise above our weaknesses, ever nearer to the perfection of Hashem. We instinctively know that Hashem loves all His creation - let us emulate this love through a movement to unite OUR people as an example for ALL peoples, and strive towards the ideal of brotherhood so beautifully stated in the first verse of the 133'rd Psalm, "Behold how good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity."