December 19, 2019


12.20.2019 Weekly Torah Portion

This coming week is a momentous one for many of us.  In addition to the coming holidays of Chanukah and Christmas, this week takes on even more meaning.  Some of us have been looking forward to this weekend with joy and trepidation for years if not decades.  Because this weekend is the culmination of decades of storytelling.  We have seen a dysfunctional family battle back and forth through so much.  We have followed them through so many of their trials and tribulations.  No, I am not talking about the family of Jacob, Joseph and his eleven brothers.  I am talking about another family – a family who lived a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.  I’m talking, of course, about the Skywalkers.

This weekend the Skywalker saga comes to an end with the release of the last in the nine-movie saga, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.  Throughout the series, we have seen how the actions of a couple of people have affected their children and future generations of their family.  We see more than one hero and heroine attempt to do things differently than the people who have come before them.

Like the Skywalkers, we see how parents and grandparents affect their descendants.  When we begin the parsha, we see that Jacob has one child he favors above all.  We see that Joseph has been indulged and given gifts that set him apart from and above his brothers.  Seeing how his father dotes on him, Yosef feels no embarrassment in telling his brothers all about the dreams he has in which they bow down to him.

It might seem surprising that Jacob would behave like this.  He witnessed what happens when favoritism infects a family.  He saw his father favor his brother over him – you would think that he would make sure to not inflict the same damage on his own children.

Unfortunately, it happens all too often that families repeat the mistakes of their ancestors.  As we grow up, we see what a certain style of parenting does to us and to our siblings, and we vow that we’re not going to do the same thing.  We say that we’re going to right the wrongs done to us and be better parents and families than those in which we grew up.

Here’s the problem: when we grow up in a toxic or abusive family, or a family that shows favoritism, we stop seeing the dysfunction of our families as bad or good.  Eventually, the toxicity or abuse just becomes familiar, and there’s comfort in that.  In the Torah, we read that God is “a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation.” We see that the sins of the parents will be returned onto the children.

In truth, it’s not God that delivers the sins onto future generations; we do it ourselves.  We have to consciously choose every day a different path than the one our parents walked.  We have to be mindful in the choices we make to ensure that we are not inflicting the sins of our parents onto our children.  It’s only through deliberate actions we take that we can start to choose a different path.  As the great sage George Lucas wrote, “It takes strength to resist the dark side.”  If we are not careful we will inflict the same sufferings we experienced onto our children.

But just like the Star Wars saga, the story told in our parsha has a happy ending.  Yes, Jacob favored one child over the rest, and yes, Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers.  But (SPOILER ALERT) they are reunited later in the story.  And even though he has the opportunity to take vengeance on his brothers, Joseph chooses to forgive them and to start a new family dynamic.  We have the power, too.  We have the power to choose a new path for our own families. We have a power to create a new hope.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Ben