Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Talk About Your Plenty, Talk About Your Ills (Robert Hunter & Jerry Garcia, Phil Lesh "St. Stephen")

It never ceases to amaze me that just when I can catch my breath, when there is a lull in the schedule:, no major events to plan, no carpooling, and things seem pretty quiet, and I sigh and think to myself that I have a respite from problems, from enormous expenses, or a busy schedule; in a blink of an eye that lull is gone and the next storm, the next crisis, the next batch of hurt feelings, misunderstandings tears me away from the quiet and the calm. Yes, being the parent of adolescents sometimes feels like being an eyewitness to a horrible pre-teen soap opera. “She was mean”, “they didn’t invite me to the party”, and “she was supposed to study with me but went with another friend instead”. All these ups and downs seem associated with our daughter and her friends. Cynically speaking, it seems to me that maybe if she had no friends, then there would not be so many dramatically emotional ups and downs.

This morning we read from Parshah Vayeishev. The focus of the narrative now shifts from Yaakov (aka. Israel) to his most beloved son Yosef. Contextually, Yaakov is at a point in his life where he has finished his spiritual and personal struggles. He now is at a calm and settled point in his life, hence the name of the Parshah: Vayeishevand he settled. We learn that Yaakov, like his parents, played favorites. He showered Yosef, Rachel’s son, with a beautiful Kutonet PasimCoat of Many Colors. Yosef was a bit arrogant. This was manifested in his dreams that portrayed his greatness and the subjugated his brothers and his parents to his power. Needless to say, no one appreciated his dreams, neither his brothers who wanted to kill him but instead threw him into an empty pit, nor his father who sent Yosef back to his brothers knowing that they were angry with him (Gen. 37:10-14). Yosef is then removed from the pit, sold as a slave and worked in home of one of Pharaoh’s courtiers. The brother’s explain to their father that Yosef was killed by a wild beast. As a slave, Yosef proved invaluable to the welfare of the Courtier’s business dealings. Yosef managed everything and the courtier profited greatly. The courtier’s wife however was a bit bored and made a pass at Yosef. Yosef put her off and then was accused of sexual harassment and even rape. Yosef was removed from the home and sent to prison. While in prison, Yosef again helped run the prison and the prison did well, and the warden did well. Yosef became known for an ability to interpret dreams. So there, in prison, Yosef did well and managed to make a life for himself.
Phew! Yosef’s life sounds like a soap opera. Yosef’s life is full of ups and downs.  Yosef was up as a favored son, down when he was admonished by his father. Yosef was down when he was thrown into a pit by his brother, and then he was quite literally up when he was removed from the pit. Then Yosef was quickly down when he was sold into slavery. However he went back up again when, as a slave, he was also the manager of the courtier’s business dealings. Yosef was then literally brought down by the courtier’s wife, and then went further down when he was thrown down into the prison. Yet even in prison, he enjoyed an elevated status because of his abilities. Yosef’s life has a certain roller coaster quality to it. He is an individual who has enjoyed success and experienced failure. He has tasted the joy of life as well as its bitterness. He has had tremendous gains as well as losses. The ups and downs are not only confined to the fortune and misfortune of Yosef’s life. Frequently we read of Yosef going up and going down, ascending and descending in terms of direction and not only his spirituality. VaYishlcheihu M’Emek Chevron V’Yavoh ShChemaSo he [Yaakov] sent him [Yosef] from the depth of Hebron, and he arrived at Shechem. Hebron is in the south and Shechem is in the north, so from the perspective of direction, Yosef going from south to north or up. However the phrase Emek Chevron is very problematic. Rashi explains that V’Eilah Chevron B’Har, “VYaalu B’Negev Ad Chevron (BeMidbar 13:22) – Hebron is situated on a mountain as it says in Numbers 13:22they ascended in the south up to Hebron’. Clearly the language is confused. Clearly the text is geographically challenged. Maybe those two simple words, Emek Hebron, and those contradictory concepts Emek Hebron are supposed to teach us something about the nature of Yosef’s life and our lives.
Maybe it is too much for me to wish my children’s lives to be quiet and boring. While “quiet” and “boring” suggests that there is calm and even problem free; the reality is that human beings are far too complex to have “quiet and boring”. We engage in relationships, we are social beings, we are spiritual beings. We think and we feel. As one daughter has started adolescence and one is on the brink, let’s just say that they socialize more, think more and definitely feel more than those of us who are a little grayer and a little wiser. Life will always have its ups and downs. However what Yosef teaches us is that sometimes a perceived down might really be an up and a perceived up might really be a down. It seems that the key is how we look at the ups and downs and how we handle those ups and downs. 

Rav Yitz

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