Vayechi: End of a cycle

Now Israel’s eyes were dim with age (Gen 48:10)

When Isaac was old and his eyes were too dim to see…(Gen 27:1)

Two old men with failing eyesight.  A father and son. When Isaac’s eyes were too old to see, he mistook his younger son Jacob (Israel) for his older son Esau, when he was preparing to give the oldest son’s blessing.  Jacob had tricked his father into thinking he was Esau, by presenting his dad’s favorite meal and donning a costume of animal skin to appear like his hairy brother.  He had total support from his mother in this deceit.  As a result of stealing his older brother’s blessing, Jacob and Esau were separated in hatred for 20 years, reconciled with one embrace, saw each other again at their father’s funeral, and that was the end.

Now it’s Jacob that is old, feeble, and blind.  Once again, two young boys come to his deathbed to receive blessings.   It’s Joseph’s sons Ephraim and Menasseh.  Joseph was Jacob’s favorite, and long-lost son, who had been in Egypt for decades; not dead but Jacob had been told he was dead.  Ephraim and Menasseh had been born to Joseph in Egypt – Jacob makes note of this, “Now your two sons, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you (before they were reconciled)”  (Gen 48:5) The rest of the sentence is, “[they] shall be mine”  Jacob was accepting these boys as his own, to be included in his inheritance.

Unlike with Jacob and Esau, Ephraim and Menasseh appear together, and though the younger was blessed before the older, there was no estrangement, no feud, no life-long brother hatred. They are both included in the inheritance, in honor of Joseph’s mother Rachel, “I do this because….Rachel died, to my sorrow…” (Gen 48:7)

The rabbis say the curse of feuding brothers that started with Abel and Cain, ended with Ephraim and Menasseh, and that’s why their names are invoked every Shabbat in blessing one’s sons: May you be like Ephraim and Menasseh.  Perhaps the enmity cycle was broken because these two young men were accepted, brought into the family as equals, after years and years of estrangement, the children of an interfaith marriage.  Joseph had married an Egyptian woman, not a Canaanite, not a woman from home, like his father and grandfather before him.

We don’t necessarily know how Jacob felt about the 20 year estrangement between himself and his brother.  We do know that being separated from his family pained Joseph deeply.  Two fathers, blind with age, yet one could see clearly that keeping hatred and animosity would only continue to destroy families.  Jacob had a favorite son, as did his father…and it wasn’t Jacob.  The wisdom he learned by thinking his dear son was dead taught him that ultimately, favoritism had to stop.

 

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Vayigash: Two sets of brothers

joseph-and-benjamin-embraceAfter years of separation, two brothers are finally reunited, falling on each others’ necks and weeping.
Yes, you did read about this recently, when Jacob and Esau reconciled in parasha Vayishlach, only a few weeks ago.  Jacob had run away when he tricked Esau out of the first son’s blessing, and Esau threatened to kill him.  Twenty years went by, during which time Jacob married (twice) had 13 children, and did quite well for himself.  After a night alone before seeing each other again, struggling with an angel, Jacob met Esau on the field, as if for battle.  Jacob bowed low to his brother, and Esau ran to Jacob and embraced him, kissed his neck, and wept.
In this week’s parasha, Joseph has also been separated from his brothers for twenty years, starting from when the brothers sold Joseph as a slave….instead of killing him. They lied to their father about Joseph’s fate, however. Joseph ended up in Egypt, at first imprisoned, and then as the most trusted advisor to the Pharaoh.  During the drought foretold by Pharaoh’s  dreams, which Joseph correctly interpreted, the remaining sons of Jacob came to Egypt in search of food.  After going back and forth, framing his younger brother Benjamin for a “stolen” cup, and keeping his identity hidden, Joseph finally revealed who he was. “Joseph could not bear anyone standing near him, and called out, “Take everyone away from me! So no one stood with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers.” (Gen 44:1)
And then, he went to his little brother Benjamin, the only full brother he had among all his siblings, the one whose birth coincided with their mother’s death, ” he fell on his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept and Benjamin wept on his neck.” (Ber 44:14)
Two sets of brothers, weeping on each other’s necks, bridging a gap of years and old hurt feelings. But a careful read suggests a difference. In the case of Jacob and Esau, the encounter seems more one-sided; Esau “fell on his neck and he kissed him, and they wept.” (Gen 33:4) Esau had wanted to kill Jacob because he cheated him. Joseph may have been an annoying, self-centered little brother who kept talking about his own dreams, but he didn’t cheat or deceive his brothers.  They were the ones who plotted against him. Jacob probably felt more relief than actual love when Esau embraced him; they never saw each other again until their father died.  With Joseph and his brothers, though he was the one whose life was in danger, he always hoped to find his family again.  We don’t get that sense from Jacob at all.  When Joseph told the brothers who he was, his first thoughts were of his father, and his brothers’ welfare.  He immediately made arrangements to bring the family to Egypt, and made sure they were taken care of.
Joseph knew what it was like to be a target of his brothers’ hate.  Benjamin had been unjustly accused and Joseph saw that his brothers protected him, speaking of the injustice to the powerful vizier, not knowing it was their brother.)  Joseph and Benjamin sought each other out at just that moment of revelation, could hold each other, and each weep with the other for the return of their family unity, in a way that Jacob and Esau never attained.
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Chanukah 5777: 8th candle

chanukah 8Years ago I found an article in the Chicago Jewish News that laid out eight gifts for Chanukah, none of which cost a thing.  I don’t know the author;  I wish I did.  But for at least a decade, our children have heard one of these every night, in no particular order.  Sometimes it was the only gift they got, but even if there was something to unwrap, they got these gifts first.  In the interest of changing times, community, and adult children, I have edited these slightly.

Tonight, the gift of OPTIMISM

This includes both a sense of perspective and a sense of joy.  Life will be hard enough, so relish the good moments.  Our other gifts will help you stay strong in the face of adversity.  This one will help you savor its absence.  Focus on hope, equanimity, and a positive outlook, instead of on worry and pessimism.  And when you feel despair or pessimism, take that as a sign of what work needs to be done next.  There is always work to be done in this world.  Be a joyous presence.  Count your blessings. Have fun.

Chag orim sameach;  Happy Chanukah!

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Chanukah 5777: 7th candle

chanukah-7Years ago I found an article in the Chicago Jewish News that laid out eight gifts for Chanukah, none of which cost a thing.  I don’t know the author;  I wish I did.  But for at least a decade, our children have heard one of these every night, in no particular order.  Sometimes it was the only gift they got, but even if there was something to unwrap, they got these gifts first.  In the interest of changing times, community, and adult children, I have edited these slightly.

Tonight, the gift of SECURITY

Well, at least as much security as we can give you.  Physical security is no longer guaranteed in this world; violence is random and raging.  But we send you into the world with a deep personal security of who you are.  Your true, long range security has to come from within yourselves, from being and becoming trustworthy.  Meanwhile, we will do all we can to give you the foundation of composure, of knowing without question that you are able to do good things in the world.  We are proud of your innate abilities, your goodness, and your good sense, and of your willingness to try.  You do not need to compete, or to follow the crowd to gain self-esteem, because you already have, from us, and from within yourself, the seeds of true confidence.  Just nurture them.

Chag orim sameach;  Happy Chanukah!

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Chanukah 5777: 6th candle

Years ago I found an article in the Chicago Jewish News that laid out eight gifts for Chanukah, none of which cost a thing.  I don’t know the author;  I wish I did.  But for at least a decade, our children have heard one of these every night, in no particular order.  Sometimes it was the only gift they got, but even if there was something to unwrap, they got these gifts first.  In the interest of changing times, community, and adult children, I have edited these slightly.

chanukah 6

Tonight, the gift of FREEDOM

Freedom came within boundaries that stretched as you got older, and it seemed to have come in painfully measured doses. We always intended you to know and experience freedom within guidelines you can keep using as you’ve matured.  You have become an adult and out in the world of nearly unlimited independence,  so we hope you will know how to use this freedom, and how to be true to your own standards. Freedom didn’t mean just doing what you wanted.  We also hope you realize we gave you this gift  so you would be able to recognize lack of freedom in others, and work so that they too will be free.

Chag orim sameach;  Happy Chanukah!

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Chanukah 5777: 5th candle

Years ago I found an article in the Chicago Jewish News that laid out eight gifts for Chanukah, none of which cost a thing.  I don’t know the author;  I wish I did.  But for at least a decade, our children have heard one of these every night, in no particular order.  Sometimes it was the only gift they got, but even if there was something to unwrap, they got these gifts first.  In the interest of changing times, community, and adult children, I have edited these slightly.

Chanukah-Night5

Tonight, the gift of HOME

As in, you can always come home.  As in, you can bring your friends home.  As in, this is your home. You may have moved away, and call another place “home”, but we hope this is “home home”.  You have a place in the world, with us, a shelter, both physical and psychological.  It looks just like any other home, maybe more chaotic than some, but it is your home, your safe place, where you started and where you can always come back to.

Chag orim sameach;  Happy Chanukah!

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Chanukah 5777: 4th candle

chanukah-4

Years ago I found an article in the Chicago Jewish News that laid out eight gifts for Chanukah, none of which cost a thing.  I don’t know the author;  I wish I did.  But for at least a decade, our children have heard one of these every night, in no particular order.  Sometimes it was the only gift they got, but even if there was something to unwrap, they got these gifts first.  In the interest of changing times, community, and adult children, I have edited these slightly.

 

Tonight, the gift of JUDAISM

We give you Judaism, your own personal connection  with the Source and Spirit of the World.  This great gift includes spiritual strength, heritage, a strong moral code, and an incredible gift for survival.  Judaism gives you inspiration, scholarship, protection, compassion, a way to live, and a people to belong to, wherever life takes you. We give you this gift, hoping like us, you will unwrap it throughout your life,  and find new joys and questions, new ideas and old friends.  Sometimes this gift gets complicated, and sometimes downright confusing.  But we hope we are showing you how it may change in practice, not presence; how it continues to be a source within your soul.

Chag orim sameach;  Happy Chanukah and Shabbat Shalom!

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