November 30, 2018

 

11.20.2018 Weekly Torah Portion

Occasionally, we hear the sentiment “Go with G!D”; but what does it actually mean? Is it a fancy way of saying, “Don’t get stuck; draw upon your faith; keep moving forward”? Or maybe it’s, “Chose the path of Holiness; follow your Divine intuition.” Often, it’s offered at the ending of a conversation, as a simple means of encouragement and opportunity to offer a blessing.

This week’s parashah provides a deeper understanding of what it means to “go with G!D.” We find ourselves in the beginning of the Joseph narrative, with the Torah describing key aspects about Joseph’s personality and the (strained) relationship he has with his father and brothers. In these early verses, Joseph is described as the favored child, behaving – much like one would expect – with an accompanying sense of entitlement. He has moments of immature stubbornness, unwilling to listen to the advice of his father and elder siblings. He’s further described as a dreamer, as one who intertwines the fantastical world of sleep with the mundane activities of day-to-day living. It’s also obvious that Joseph has been endowed with special gifts of cunning intelligence and skills, but we’re unsure whether his arrogance and self-centeredness will eclipse his ability to channel these gifts for a higher purpose.

As the story goes on, we observe Joseph’s enduring struggle to develop his innate abilities, bearing witness to the process of growth and maturity. There are moments when the strengths of his personality ground him, allowing him to uplift and help others. And there are times when we see Joseph’s self-assurance overwhelm his ability to look beyond his own perspective, render him unable to consider how others may have different views.

Even in the midst of his early immaturity, Joseph shows us that we need not be perfect to “go with G!D.” Joseph models that we draw upon our inner-sense of Holiness when we step into uncertainty with grace. Initially, we see this when Joseph responds to his father’s request to scout the well-being of his brothers, who had left town to tend to their flocks. Knowing the degree of familial dysfunctions that have long persisted, Joseph’s mission was not without risk and danger. Nonetheless, Joseph responds to Jacob unequivocally, “Heneini/Here I am/I am ready!” In doing so, Joseph shows his capacity to step into uncertainty with spiritual clarity and faith.

A short while later he has an unusual encounter with an unidentified man, which ends with him asking for help to locate his brothers. Many commentators have noted the inclusion of this seemingly innocuous interaction within the Torah narrative. Rashi, the famous medieval commentator, cites this man as an angel, sent to re-direct Joseph’s Holy mission (and, as an extension, the course of Jewish history). Regardless of whether this being was angelic or human, this simple encounter demonstrates how Joseph approached the unfamiliar and the unknown with openness, compared to being closed by doubt and fear.

Finally, even after the ensuing ambush by his brothers, when Joseph finds himself in a dark, empty, and lonely pit, and later, when incarcerated for a crime he didn’t commit, he maintains his composure, grounded by his faith. Never does he fall into a sense of victimization and despair.

In the later chapters of this parashah, the Torah states several times, “The Lord was with Joseph….” We are led to understand that even throughout the trials and tribulations he endures, these ordeals are part of a larger G!D-directed plan. However, it’s in Joseph’s earlier experiences that I find greater insight into how we can “go with G!D” in our daily lives. There are times when it’s hard to sense that G!D is with us, and Joseph’s earlier experiences show us a pathway to Holy living, regardless if we’re “feeling it” or not. Even if we are engulfed by fear, each of us has the capacity to answer “Heneini/Here I am/I am ready” to the challenges of our lives. We each have the capacity to approach interactions with strangers as potential encounters with angels. Lastly, there will be times when each of us finds ourselves in the dark, empty, lonely pits of life. Are we able to draw upon our best selves, our Holy Souls, and “go with G!D”? Joseph shows us how to start moving in that direction.

Shabbat shalom.
Chaplain Adam Siegel