The Adult B’nai Mitzvah Class held it’s group celebration during a festive service on December 15. This is the third installment of the seven drashot.
In 1990, eight Jewish leaders were invited by the Dalai Lama to his home in Dharamsala, India. As a part of this summit, Rabbi Yitz Greenberg, an orthodox scholar, explained Judaism to his hosts in the traditional Tibetan way of analyzing a religion in terms of its view, its path and its goal. He summarizes the Jewish “view” as belief in a Creator Who endows creation with an inherent sanctity.
The Jewish “path” involves the study of Torah, the performance of worship or ritual connections to the transcendent, and acts of lovingkindness, our connections with one another. The Jewish “goal” is wholeness, the world to come, and the divine-human partnership in the repair of this world. (Katz 1991)
I thought that this was such a beautiful way to distill Judaism. My participation in the B’nai Mitzvah class and today’s service is an affirmation of this view, path and goal as important in my life. But today you see me at my best. You see me in a setting where it is easy to identify and follow a Jewish path. When I leave these doors, I am a Jew. . .in San Francisco, where countless paths are at my feet, pulling me in many directions. At times, I am proud of the diverse facets of my identity and path. At other times, I feel like the distractions prevent me from being the Jew I should be.
I am comforted, however by the fact that I am not the first Jew to seek a balanced life with diverse influences. The protagonist of our parsha this week, Joseph, is often remembered as the first successful, urban, diaspora Jew. A large part of the book of Bereshit (or Genisis) is devoted to his life’s story, the story of a man who leaves behind the identity of a simple shepherd in the land of his fathers for the identity of a prince in the land of idolatry. When he left Israel it was as a slave, sold by his jealous brothers. When he was reunited with those brothers as an adult, it was as Zaphenath-Paneah, Vizier of Egypt and the man responsible for Egyptian plenty in a time of famine. Our parsha, Miketz, is just one chapter in this story. And at the end of Miketz, nobody’s future is certain. Joseph has met his brothers, but he has not yet forgiven them or ensured their future safety from the famine. Where the narrative focuses on the Joseph’s complex strategy to ensure a safe reunification, I think that several passages earlier in Miketz highlight Joseph’s state of mind when meeting his brothers. Before famine brings his brothers back into the picture, Joseph has two children. (Geneis 41:51-52) “Joseph named [his] first born Manasseh, meaning, ‘God has made me forget completely my hardship and my parental home.’ And the second he named Ephraim, meaning, ‘God has made me fertile in the land of my affliction.’” It is in his children that we see Joseph has not overcome the trials of his younger life. The hatred of his brothers in Israel left Joseph wanting desperately to forget his father’s home. And he came to Egypt, only to find a land of affliction. One affliction can be seen later in Miketz, in the portion I chanted, when Joseph and his brothers must eat separately from his guest Egyptians because to dine with the Hebrews would be “abhorrent” to the Egyptians (Genesis 43:32). How could anyone find any path of righteousness when pinned between cultures that hated and abhorred him?
Not to spoil next’s week’s parsha, but Joseph will not meet hatred and abhorrence with anger or revenge. He will face the hatred and abhorrence of others with love and forgiveness. In his book, Messengers of God, Elie Wiesel describes Joseph as the “first to know how to reconcile his love for Israel with his love of other nations.” As the story unfolds, Joseph will go on to reclaim his place in Israel, saving his family and seeking his father’s blessings. He will also affirm his place in Egypt, with his Egyptian wife and Egyptian children, eventually dying and being embalmed in the Egyptian fashion. Joseph’s eventual balance between Israel and Egypt would not be due to a rejection of both, or a withdrawal from both, but for a love of both.
As Rabbi Greenberg suggested, the Jewish “path” involves the study of Torah, the performance of worship or ritual connections to the transcendent, and acts of lovingkindness, our connections with one another. Joseph’s life of repeated forgiveness to all people in his world, Israelite and Egyptian, was a constant choice to live out acts of lovingkindness in spite of the hatred and abhorrence he found from others, important milestones on his Egyptian-Jewish path. May we follow this example from Torah, finding the best in the diverse influences surrounding us and overcoming hatred and affliction through acts of lovingkindness. In this way we truly become the Jews we should be, walking our own San Franciscan-Jewish paths.
Katz, Nathan, “A Meeting of Ancient Peoples: Western Jews and the Daili Lama of Tibet”, March 1, 1991, http://jcpa.org/jl/hit20.htm
Weisel, Elie, Messengers of God: Biblical Portraits and Legends, 1973