Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Searching for our brother

This week's Dvar Torah appears here in the Jewish Star

Parshat Vayeshev
by Rabbi Avi Billet

Issue of December 11, 2009/ 24 Kislev 5770

Before the infamous sale of Yosef — in which the role of Yosef’s brothers is the subject of much debate — Yosef is on a mission.

Walking around near Shechem, looking lost, Yosef encounters a “man” (the rabbis identify him as an angel) who says two words to him, “Mah T’vakesh?” — What do you want? What do you seek?

Yosef’s answer is “I am looking for my brothers.” (37:15-16)

It seems like such a trivial conversation. Q: What are you looking for? A: I heard my family was around here. Can you direct me to them?

The Kotzker rebbe said, “You need to know what you want. The man/angel was teaching Yosef that he must constantly express his goals to himself.”

To take it a step further, what should those goals be? We ought to be seeking and looking out for our brothers.

In lieu of sharing comments on this statement from the commentaries, let us give our own answers this week. What do we want? What do we seek?

I will not presume to speak for you, but here is my wishlist.

I want Jews to be left alone. I want the Jews in Israel and the rest of the world to be given a real chance to honestly live in peace with their neighbors. Let each side live and let live and pursue opportunities to make our lives better — within our communities and collectively — without bothering to make the others’ lives worse.

I just read Will Eisner’s graphic novel, “The Plot,” a telling of the never-ending saga of the proven forgery of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. I wish anti-Semitism and those who harbor it will cease to play a role in this earth.
“I am looking [out] for my brothers.”

I wish that all those who are actively or desperately seeking to find and marry “the right person” will be successful in their search. In the right time. Sooner rather than later.

I wish that all those who are trying to build families will merit the benefits of G-d’s blessings, so their child and children can be born, and ultimately live beautiful lives having “found their brothers.”

I wish that all those who are looking to find direction in life — how to relate to G-d; how to relate to people; what profession to choose; where to live; what kind of lifestyle to lead; and how to come to peace with choices and decisions, will find all of these and more in their efforts to make their lives the best that G-d will give them.

“I am looking for my brothers.”

Let all Jews accept that we may have differences in the ways we observe, worship, and believe. Let us also agree that every Jew was born with a holy soul who yearns to come close to the Divine in some way, and that there is room for each person to find a way that works for the individual.

And that there will never be “one way” that works for everyone. And that intolerance — whether it be of the right for the left, or of the left for the right — will never be a good ingredient in promoting “Ahavat chinam.” And that our political beliefs — whether they are in politics themselves or religious politics — should remain hotbeds for debate but should not resort to personal differences, hatred and invective.

The chips on the shoulders would do us all a lot of good if they were cast away into a fireplace to warm our cold hearts which have ceased to care enough about one another.

Chanukah is a widely marked holiday in the American Jewish community. This is most likely due to the commercialization of the “holiday season,” which allows many Americans to get in touch with a religious side, no matter how secularly they may observe their respective holidays.

This is an opportunity to open new and positive relationships with our neighbors. All Jews who put a menorah in the window “come out of the closet” over this holiday. Some of us know more and some know less about the national, historical and social significance of the holiday. The laws related to the menorah are essentially the only laws of the holiday — the most important one being “publicizing the miracle.” Not everyone knows the significance of the defeat of the “many in the hands of the few.”

If we can be like Yosef, however, who, despite knowing full well that his brothers did not like him, actively sought them out, to be in their presence, to make peace, we will only benefit from the experience.

Chanukah falls in the beginning of winter, when the nights are longer and darker than they are all year. Ironically, the lights of the menorah cannot be used to light up the room — they are only to be lit for us to look at, so we might draw inspiration.

Let us all be inspired to seek out our brothers, no matter how far they (or we) may seem to be.

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