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Monday was the last day of Khanukah, my mother and uncle's Yahrzeit and it rained all day. And once again, the hole in my roof allowed rain to leak into the house, despite the tarp we tried to put over it. The next morning, the roofers started working on my roof -- they started at 7:15 am. The good news was that the dogs had been exercised and fed and that my husband had left for work. The bad news was that I had not yet davvened.
My personal practice also includes a fairly lengthy meditation period and I am accustomed to quiet during that. And now, not only was there the knocking of their hammers and the indescribable sound of the metal being wrenched out of the wood as the shingles were being pulled free, but there was also the alarmed barking and almost shrieking sound of the dogs as they could not understand why their current home was under attack. They came running to me and looked to see why I wasn't alarmed and then they ran around and just barked as if to say "She's gone mad, we're being attacked. Alarm, alarm Oh!" I tried for a few moments to quiet them and realized that, too, was a futile effort.
I noticed that my adrenalin level was rising and I found that quite interesting. I knew what was going on, but that didn't stop my body from attempting to alarm me. At first I thought that it was my body's reaction to the dogs, who obviously had elevated adrenalin levels and who's barking was certainly vocalizing their sense of alarm. And then I paid more attention -- it was the pounding of the hammers, even though I knew what they were doing. The pounding was relentless and shattering.
Then I wondered what it must be like in the caves in Tora Bora with the bombing and shelling. And there, it is not benign roofers trying to help you stop a leak. And even if you think you are "safe" from the bombs themselves, we know that sometimes they set off other explosives and munitions there.
And my memory returned to a quiet night at an Army base in Jericho. The soldiers had invited several of us from Jerusalem to a party they were having and a group of us had decided to catch some air outside. We could hear the shelling near the Jordan river (the date was the fall of 1969) and even see some flashes now and then. While we were stopped from going to the far edge of the area to get a closer look (no comment about our collective intelligence....), we were not discouraged from walking outside near the buildings. I do not remember being the least bit afraid, and I don't think it was just a lack of common sense. I can remember saying among ourselves that either they were horrible shots or they wanted to keep hitting empty fields.
Then I thought back to other caves, the caves that people hid in 2000-2500 years ago. What sounds frightened them, what sounds made them curious? What was it like to live in a city under siege then? How about during WWII? or even now?
And the pounding and the wrenching and the barking continues. I am not afraid for I know what is going on -- and yet the noise continues. I think of all of the rules of where it is NOT permitted to davven -- such as where the smells are too strong, etc and I can easily see that my regular davvening is not likely to happen in this noise. And somehow, the idea of escaping into my back yard with these four guys watching doesn't sound viable, either.
I checked out different locations in my house and discovered that thanks to my wooden floors, the noise was impressive everywhere. I considered leaving the house for little while and driving to a quieter place, but I looked at the panic stricken faces of some of the dogs and knew that I could not leave them for a while -- I somehow had to convince them that this was just noise and that everything was okay. An unexpected source of an answer came to me. My military past has added to my possessions a set of earphones -- designed for quieting the noise on a firing range -- and they also work great inside noisy airplanes.
So there I was, kipa, tallit, tefillin and large headphones (I would have loved a photo), settling into my usual place to my routine. And I do think the dogs were comforted by seeing this since some of them stopped barking.
Today my classes in Cleveland start at noon, so I am able to do some things before I drive up. I have made a very conscious effort to show the dogs that as unnerving as the pounding and screeching are, today is just a normal day (and I am sure they can smell my elevated adrenalin levels, not to mention their own). After a few panic moments from them as the morning progress, they, too are getting used to it. I wonder if they get used to it in the caves.
1. Parsha details: Gen 44:18- 47:27 [Haftorah Ezekiel 37:15-28 ]
2. Questions and a few observations
Summary: Yehudah draws near to Yosef and delivers an incredible plea for Benyamin's case. Was it worth the wait? Of course! Joseph melts. He reveals himself to them and then sends them off to tell Jacob and bring the whole family down to Goshen to wait out the famine. They come and convince Pharaoh to let them live in Goshen. Joseph sets about 'buying' the cattle, flocks (didn't the Egyptians abhor shepherds??) and land in return for food. Only the priests land is spared. Everyone and everything becomes Pharaoh's in return for the food which Joseph had collected as taxes back in the 'plenty' years.
One of the most powerful speeches and descriptions we can imagine is reported here. It is not lengthy. And the telling phrase is Yehudah's description of the relationship between Ya'akov and Benyamin. "Vnaf'sho k'shurah vanaf'sho" And his Soul is connected, related, attached, tied, bound, allied in his Soul. Such is the power and elegance of the Hebrew in that it carries all of these meanings in a single word.
Yehudah explains that because of this connection, this intertwining of Souls, Ya'akov will immediately assume the worst if he does not see Benyamin with the bothers as they return and it will be enough to kill him on the spot.
And Yosef melts. Can you picture this? Here he is, all dressed up in Egyptian royal finery, the tears and kohol running down his cheeks and the brothers standing around him steeped in their own version of the image so graphically described by Yehudah and Yosef shrieks that those around him should get out.
The Egyptians flee from the room (wouldn't you?) and he and the brothers are standing there. The silence must have been so thick and present. And Yosef says "I am Yosef. Does my father still live?" And the brothers say nothing. Are you surprised?
Yehudah just told Yosef that Rachel's oldest of two sons is dead and only Benyamin is left. They haven't heard a word from Yosef since the day in the pit, 23 years ago. And he says, probably in Hebrew instead of the Egyptian he has spoken in front of them until now, "I am Yosef. Does my father still live?" Can you imagine their faces? What would you say?
Yosef calls them closer to him, and they come closer. Now, would you? Would you trust this guy? On the other hand, would you dare not do what this crazy guy says to do? The looks from brother to brother must have been priceless.
And Yosef starts going on about a lot of the baggage and the brothers are still stuck at "Huh?" And in their minds, the brothers are remembering that this Egyptian-Yosef seated them according to their age and probably did all kinds of other "spooky" stuff that an Egyptian couldn't possibly have known to do... and...all the things that they had said in Hebrew thinking they could not be understood... and... silence.
Finally Yosef notices and says "Look at my mouth -- I'm the one speaking Hebrew to you -- Your own eyes are seeing this, it is me." And he cries on Benyamin and Benyamin cries on him and then everybody cries. And then they talk.
And Pharaoh hears about all this. Are you surprised about that? And Pharaoh is thrilled. This clever kid, Yosef, has a father with a fine pack of sons and they want to come to Mitzrayim. Sounds good to Pharaoh -- happy vizier, local family, not likely to run away or anything like that, local family. Probably has heard from the servants that Ya'akov is wealthy and a major family head. And so he send wagons. Many messages here.
So Ya'akov goes to Be'er Sheva and prays to the Holy One. Should he leave the land again? He probably realizes that he is not likely to return alive -- not with his age and health. And Rachel is buried near Beyt Lekhem and Leah is buried in Machpelah. And Ya'akov is old and not well. But Yosef is alive and doing well and the family could well stand to have good land and ample food at this rough time. And Ya'akov is encourage by the knowledge that Yosef will see him alive and even attend to his death personally.
3. Some Observations
The interchange between God and Ya'akov at Be'er Sheva is interesting -- it is because of the interplay of the names Yisra'el and Ya'akov. It is always interesting to see how the names go back and forth and when he is called Ya'akov, the manipulating, physical being and when he is called Yisra'el, the spiritual, centered being.
With that lens in place, let's look at this vignette in Torah:
45:26. And ... Yosef is yet alive, And Ya'akov's heart fainted, ... And they told him all the words of Yosef, ... and when he saw the wagons ... the spirit of Ya'akov ...revived; And Yisra'el said, "It is enough"; ....46:1 And Yisra'el took his journey ... and came to Be'er Sheva, and offered sacrifices ... And God spoke to Yisra'el in the visions of the night, and said, "Ya'akov, Ya'akov." And he said, "Here am I." ...And the One said, "I am God,... I will go down with you to Mitzrayim...." And Ya'akov rose up ... and the sons of Yisra'el carried Ya'akov their father, and [everything] and came to Mitzrayim, Ya'akov, and all his seed with him;... And these are the names of the people of Yisra'el, who came to Mitzrayim, Ya'akov and his sons; ...
The Ya'akov part of him faints and then, when he revives, sees the wagons and stuff and realizes that Yosef is pretty well off. The Yisra'el part of him says (probably to the Ya'akov part...), "It is enough that Yosef is alive" -- (it is great that I will again see this son of mine -- he doesn't have to be wealthy and successful....) And the spiritual Yisra'el offers sacrifices and the Holy One talks to that spiritual being, but he calls to the Ya'akov part -- twice, to get his attention. Now most of the time, a person only has to be called by name once -- other notable repeats include the Akedah as Avraham's hand is poised with the knife above Yitzkhak's head.
In fact, this is the only time that Torah records the Holy One talking to Ya'akov (or Yisra'el for that matter) after he is renamed. Between the two renaming accounts, God calls him Ya'akov and tells him to go to Beyt El.
Another interesting point in these visions of the night is that God tells Ya'akov "I will go down with you to Mitzrayim". There are not many accounts of where God says anything like this to anyone. Why does the Ya'akov part of him need this reassurance? What part of you needs reassurances?
4. Contracting Perseverance
It is interesting that this Parsha is about Contracting Perseverance. There is certainly an element of Persevering in that Ya'akov is reassured that his seed will prosper and continue, even in Mitzrayim. But why is it about restraint and contracting?
What part of the going down to Mitzrayim is about restraint? Perhaps it is precisely because the children of Yisra'el will be "on their own" and this is about getting to that place? In the distant land, will the family survive and even prosper? Perhaps this is an indication of the test of what becomes of us in lands where we can flourish but are more about the worldly than about the spiritual? Was this the real test of Mitzrayim, that narrow place to which Ya'akov now takes his family and everything that he has?
Perhaps that is why he needed an assurance that the Power would, in fact, bring them back, even if they fail the test? Perhaps that is why the Holy One knew to make the deal with the business part of him. And it is the Power, the Might of the One that will bring them back. At least this time.
1. Night: In this hemisphere, we are at the longest night. There are visions in the night. Night can be scary, unsettling or it can be comforting. Ponder the night and prepare for it. We can make the night a time of wonderful visions of promises made and kept. Settling out the day and even writing down the tasks for the next day before going to sleep can help clear the night for rest. Consciously hand over your concerns and troubles to the One and accept the comforting rest of sleep.
2. Names: We are given a name and we are given new names as we grow. How do you grow into a new name? What does a name mean? How do we live up to our names? What does our name do for us? What does it do to us? Why do names change?
3. Tears: Tears flow when we are sad, pained, grieved or happy. What do tears mean? What happens to you when you cry? What happens to you when others cry? Tears can be part of healing -- they come from the well of healing. The way to heal from the pains inflicted on us is often through tears. Sometimes, when we stop the tears, we stop the healing. The path to healing if often through the sharpest pain -- tears help us face the pain and wash us in healing waters. Consider the tear and see its shape. Taste the salt of life in the tears. When you cry, you are alive.
ADS: ALEPH -- the Alliance for Jewish renewal. www.aleph.org If you aren't a member yet, please give very serious consideration to joining. The magazine, New Menorah, alone, is worth whatever you give. (Plus it helps pay for the rabbinic program where I am studying!)
You can order the Torah Cards and my jewelry through Mercaz at (216)595-0707 -- ask for Larry)
There are many traditional interpretations of the parsha that I neither talk about nor mention. That is done from a position of space. I trust that the average reader is either familiar with these or can find many of them easily in other commentaries readily available.
Thanks for reading this. If I have offended you, please forgive me -- that was not my intention. If you found some joy or happiness in reading this, thank you for allowing me to be a part. If you found a reason to think about something more deeply - kol hakavod and thank you!
And to the people giving me feedback thank you so much! I enjoy all of it. (Including the typos) You have made this weekly practice wonderful.
(c) 2002 Candy Lobb All rights reserved