Vayigash: Joseph, I am Your Father!

Menorah— by Rabbi Richard F Address

This week’s Torah portion, Vayigash, is one of the most profound and meaningful readings of the year. It continues the Joseph cycle and, in a dramatic scene, Joseph confronts his brothers and reveals his true identity. For a while Joseph has played his brothers, almost toying with them, refusing to reveal who he was. At the end of last week’s reading (Genesis 43:27), Joseph even casually asks about the brothers’ father “of whom you spoke”. But in this week’s portion, it is time for truth. Imagine what he must have felt. Here were his brothers who cast him aside, rejected him, thought and wished him dead. Here they stand before him, bowing to him and his position, offering gifts, pleading for food. Who could blame the story for taking a revengeful track!

Joseph recognized by his brothers, oil painting by Léon Pierre Urbain Bourgeois, 1863.

Joseph recognized by his brothers, oil painting by Léon Pierre Urbain Bourgeois, 1863.

But in a most powerful scene we read:

Joseph could not longer control himself before all his attendants and he cried out “Have everyone withdraw”, so there was no one else about when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. His sobs were so loud that the Egyptians could hear and the news reached Pharoah’s palace. The Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph. Is my father still well? But his brothers could not answer for so dumbfounded were they on account of him. (Genesis 45:1-3)

You can almost feel the emotion leaping from the page. Look at what Joseph says. Of all the questions he could have asked, of all the things that he could have said, the first words are about his father. How is my father?

The Hebrew and its various translations are interesting. In some versions, the Hebrew Ha Od avi chai? is translated as “Is my father still well”, seeming to refer back to that question from last week’s portion (Genesis 43:17) However, if we look at the more literal translation, it seems to ask “Is my father still alive?” I think this latter approach is the more powerful. But remember, Joseph’s first concern is his father. Despite all the trappings of power and fame, success and influence that he has achieved, Joseph’s concern is his dad!

There are a myriad of interpretations about this story and the fact that Joseph’s reunion and his story was part of a Divine plan for the Jewish people. We alluded to this a few weeks back. All of that is great and worthy of much discussion. Yet, for me and for our generation, I think it is a powerful statement that the immediate reaction upon this revelation of identity is to restore that family relationship. Joseph has grown from that narcissistic teen to a mature man. Life has tested him and molded him onto a man of power and influence. But still, in his soul, was that void, that loss of family and “home” and so maybe we should not be surprised that when the time came to “settle the score”, so to speak, he rushed to try and fill that relational void. How many of us, as we journey through life, still yearn for those basic relationships of parents and family. We often still hear their voices, even if they have died. How often have we wished “they” could be with us to share a moment. I suggest Joseph’s question “Is my father still alive” I suggest, is much more than a simple question. It is, for many of us, that internal and intimate pull to belong, to be “home”, to feel part of family.

Shabbat shalom.

Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the founder and director of Jewish Sacred Aging. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a regional director and then, beginning in 1997, as founder and director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011 to 2014.

Book Review: Renee H Levy’s Baseless Hatred

— by Rabbi Goldie Milgram

Do you appreciate a good collection of Jewish sources on a topic, presented in a very readable way? One that guides you toward reflection upon your own prejudices and predilections? One that provides a review of the related research literature and a psychological approach to helping you to evolve into a better, more aware person? Then Baseless Hatred by Renee H. Levy might draw you in during the first half of the volume, and that would be a dayenu, i.e. it would be enough to justify encountering it.  

More after the jump.
Levy’s thesis is that:

… hate is triggered because our primitive neural system reacts to events from the perspective of our own preexisting insecurities, because we make generalizations (which may be positive or negative) and confuse associations (additional but not necessarily relevant information) with causality. We will see that once hate has been triggered it is difficult to extinguish. We will understand the rapid switch that occurs when a person who initially feels victimized into a vindictive perpetrator of hate.

The primary focus of Baseless Hatred is on preventing and resolving hatred between individual Jews, based upon Leviticus 19:17-18, is that “you shall not hate your brother in your heart.” The Bible offers examples of such hatred: Esau’s hatred for Jacob and that of Jacob’s sons for their sibling Joseph. Traditionally, the loss of the Temple and exile of the Jewish people from the Land of Israel are attributed to sinat hinam, “baseless hatred” between Jews. The lore of the Talmud includes a story (Yevamot 62b), that one of the great rabbis of the second century, Rabbi Akiva, had 24,000 students, and a terrible plague struck the students as Divine punishment for the utter lack of respect they showed to each other. When the plague finally ended, only five remained, and they are credited with carrying the learning from this trauma forward and saving Judaism in their time.

Contemporary case examples of how hatred arises between individual Jews are given in a clinical fashion in Baseless Hatred, along with potential approaches to avert and/or resolve such hatred. This facilitates readers in finding their own life parallels, and trying on the awareness methods that the author provides. One might call this section of the book an experience of mussar (moral), training in interpersonal awareness and personal change.

Arvevut, the mitzvah of mutual responsibility between Jews, is at the core of Levy’s approach to encouraging peace within the Jewish tent, under the heading: “Judah’s Legacy: The Judah Principle”. Judah was Jacob’s son and he offered his life as hostage to Joseph in place of his youngest brother in the Biblical story.  She explains: “Judah taught that in order to return and live in Israel, the Jewish people must reestablish its commitment to mutual responsibility. They did so at the covenant at Sinai.” And on the next page, in a way similar to how she will later quote Rabbi Jonathan Sacks she explains that: “…hatred between two Jews results in a tear that does not stop at their relationship. It reverberates and ultimately destroys the unity and integrity of the national fabric.”

Indeed, but what of the human fabric and the narratives and feelings of all the other peoples and nations? The volume continues, unfortunately, into a blindly self-indulgent view of the Jewish people, accounting us as vastly more saintly than we are, or any humans could be.

“Jews will understand that acceptance and respect by other nations will eventually come when the latter will see that Jews have used their freedom and sovereignty to become moral individuals. At that point, anti-Semitic voices that accuse Israel of being a terrorist or outlaw state will have no echo and will be silenced.”

Were Rene H. Levy to have applied her theories and analysis with empathetic and authentic care for those beyond the Jewish people, this could have been a great book. Instead, in the second half of the volume she falls into the trap of speaking of Jews as great and essentially everyone else as perpetrators that do not appreciate us. The wisdom and process recommendations of finding empathy and understanding from the first half are so quickly lost. What a shame and ironic reflection of the prevailing human condition. We are all responsible to evolve, individually and as peoples. In the words of Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch:

“An “art” is any skill that is not innate but must be acquired by constant training and practice. To our thinking, therefore, being good is surely an art.”

URJ’s New Jewish Science and Technology Camp

The Union for Reform Judaism is proud to announce new directors for its two specialty camps. Eric Lightman will direct the new URJ 6 Points Science and Technology Academy and Alan Friedman will oversee the already highly successful URJ 6 Points Sports Academy.

More after the jump.

Both camps aim to attract a new cohort of campers, who, were it not for the sports or science components of the programs, would probably not enroll in a Jewish camp. Funding for both URJ 6 Points Academies is made possible by the Foundation for Jewish Camps (FJC) Specialty Camps Incubator grants, jointly funded by The Jim Joseph and AVI CHAI Foundations.

“The URJ is thrilled to have both Alan Friedman and Eric Lightman as new members of our team,” said Director of URJ Camping and Israel Programs Paul Reichenbach, “They are leading the effort to grow and establish specialized camping for young people who want camp experiences in sports or science and technology, that are filled with fun, friendship and skill acquisition, but that are also intentionally and joyfully Jewish. Alan and Eric join an exceptional group of URJ camp professionals who are creative and entrepreneurial leaders in their field.”

Lightman to Head 6 Points Science and Technology Academy

Eric Lightman, a long-time camping professional with an impressive background in computer science, will become founding director of the URJ 6 Points Science and Technology Academy, to open near Boston in summer 2014. The camp will serve upwards of 600 campers entering grades 6-10 and will build on the growing interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics to attract unaffiliated and currently unengaged Jewish families.

URJ 6 Points Science and Technology Academy will not only engage campers’ curiosity about the world through hands-on scientific exploration; it will immerse them in a vibrant community filled with Jewish experiences and connections to Israel. Judaism will infuse all aspects of the camp experience through song sessions, blessings at meals, Shabbat celebrations, and the presence of Israeli staff. Campers will develop meaningful Jewish friendships and create shared Jewish memories.

Lightman is an experienced Jewish communal professional who was a long-time camper and staff member at Capital Camps in Maryland. He has a degree in computer science from the University of Maryland and worked as a software engineer for MicroStrategy, Inc., an international business intelligence firm. Lightman participated in Project Otzma, a 10-month volunteer and learning experience in Israel, and served as teen services director at the Weinstein JCC in Richmond, VA. He received the prestigious JCC Association Graduate Scholarship and the Taub Foundation Fellowship, which enabled him to pursue graduate studies at New York University in public administration and Hebrew and Judaic studies. Most recently, Lightman was the director of the 2012 JCC Maccabi Games in Rockland County, New York.

“I am incredibly excited to begin work on the new 6 Points Science and Technology Academy, which will require tackling not only the logistical challenges of running a summer camp, but also the task of crafting a program that melds Judaism and science into a single, cohesive experience,” said Lightman. “I look forward to sharing these meaningful and impactful experiences with hundreds of Jewish teenagers each summer.”

Friedman to Direct 6 Points Sports Academy

Alan Friedman, the former director of a leading sports camp and a thriving Jewish residential camp, will assume the helm at Six Points Sports Academy, a Reform Jewish sports camp in Greensboro, NC. At 6 Points Sports Academy, Jewish children entering grades 4 to 11, participate in top-level sports training alongside the beloved traditions of Reform Jewish camping.

Friedman was active at Camp Mah-Kee-Nac, a private boys’ sports camp in Lenox, MA, since he was 12 years old – first as a camper and then as a CIT, group leader and finally director. In 2006 Alan took his passion for informal Jewish education and summer camping and became the executive director of Camp Mountain Chai, a Jewish residential summer camp and year-round retreat center in Southern California, where he grew the camp from 125 to 550 campers. Friedman was active in NFTY throughout high school and spent ten years working as senior youth group advisor at four Reform congregations in the northeast. He earned a degree in Communications and Business Management from Ithaca College and has had a successful advertising career.

“I am excited to join the 6 Points Sports Academy team,” said Friedman. “I look forward to building on the huge success of the past three years as we continue to offer campers the unique opportunity to develop athletic skills while being part of a caring Jewish camp community. I will ensure that 6 Points Sports continues to be a special place where campers and staff can become the next generation of proud Jewish athletes.”

URJ Camp and Israel Programs serve more than 11,000 young people each summer. Responding to demand, the overall URJ camping program has dramatically expanded in the past few years. For morinformation, visit their website.

Joe Sestak is a friend of Israel

The smear campaign that suggests otherwise disserves voters and Israel

By Peter Joseph

A smear campaign, led by a group titled Emergency Committee for Israel, wants Pennsylvania voters to believe that Rep. Joe Sestak has anti-Israel views and does not recognize Israel’s security concerns.

At first glance, the attacks on Mr. Sestak’s record on Israel appear as the usual mudslinging Washington politics in the midst of a hotly contested Senate race. But this misguided campaign is especially troubling not only in its falsehoods, but in its reckless use of Israel as a political tool to divide Pennsylvania voters.

The charges against Mr. Sestak have no merit whatsoever. In fact few members of Congress can match Mr. Sestak’s intimate understanding of Israel’s legitimate and significant security concerns and appreciation for the U.S.-Israel relationship.

To continue see the Pittsburgh Post-Gazzette.

Photo: Congressman Joe Sestak and Israel Chief of Naval Operations Eli Marom.