One of the greatest movies of all time, by all objective standards, is The Godfather. If you have never seen this movie, I will not spoil it for you, but you should take the time to watch it (it is available on Netflix). In one scene towards the beginning of the movie, one of the main characters, Clamenza, tries to teach Michael (played by Al Pacino) how to cook. He calls Michael over, “Heh, come over here, kid, learn something. You never know, you might have to cook for twenty guys someday. You see, you start out with a little bit of oil. Then you fry some
garlic. Then you throw in some tomatoes, tomato paste, you fry it; ya make sure it doesn't
stick. You get it to a boil; you shove in all your sausage and your meatballs; heh?... And a
little bit o' wine. An' a little bit o' sugar, and that's my trick.” It is an iconic scene that no doubt inspired many people to learn how to cook meat sauce.
A verse from Psalms reads (84:12) “For the Lord God is a sun and shield/כִּי שֶׁמֶשׁ וּמָגֵן יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים.” The Noam Elimelekh explains that this verse comes to teach us that the Sun is very strong. And in order to see it and receive its light, we need a shield. This is why we have sunglasses, or blinds on our windows. Indeed, we need shade in order to receive appropriate amounts of light. And we have to figure out how to do this in our daily lives. The Noam Elimelekh challenges us, as people who aspire to influence the world around us. He says it is our role to find a way to sweeten what might be too strong and or too savory. Here, he is not referring to meat sauce.
And this is the meaning of the opening verse of our Parsha, Parshat Vayigash, “Then Judah stepped up to him and said, ‘O my lord, let your servant please speak a word in my lord’s ears, and do not be angry with your servant; for you are like Pharaoh himself/וַיִּגַּשׁ אֵלָיו יְהוּדָה וַיֹּאמֶר בִּי אֲדֹנִי, יְדַבֶּר-נָא עַבְדְּךָ דָבָר בְּאָזְנֵי אֲדֹנִי, וְאַל-יִחַר אַפְּךָ בְּעַבְדֶּךָ כִּי כָמוֹךָ כְּפַרְעֹה.” It should not be read, “O my lord/ בִּי אֲדֹנִי/Bi Adoni”, rather, “God is in me/בי אדני/Bi Adonai.” When we let God in, it sweetens us, and thus we are not received with anger. That is Judah’s great accomplishment in this verse. He understands that kindness will soften Joseph and prevent anger from coming out.
We often find ourselves living in a contentious world. Our friends and family are frequently the ones with whom we have the strongest disagreements. This week, let us strive to open our mouths with kindness. Even when we know we are right, and we represent good, too much good can feel overpowering and aggressive. I encourage you to add some sugar to your words. It is not just the trick to great sauce, it's the trick to great relationships.
Rabbi Ezra Balser has been the rabbi at Temple Beth Sholom since July 1, 2016. He received his “smicha” (ordination) in June 2017 from Hebrew College while also earning a Master’s Degree in Jewish Studies. He has also received the iCenter's Certification in Israel Education.