Genesis, the first of the five books of the Torah, is somewhat like a roller coaster ride. It is powerful and grand, yet there is also something so personal and intimate about it and the stories that it tells. What makes it so powerful? Well, one rabbi has a possible answer. He notes: “I can go through every single parsha in Breishit and show the good guy and the bad guy and set them against each other as moral lessons, of good versus evil.” There’s a lot of truth there—think about what we’ve read thus far. We have Adam and Eve VERSUS—the snake. We have Cain versus Abel. We have Avraham VERSUS Pharaoh. We have Jacob VERSUS Esav. And we heard last week of Jacob VERSUS Laban.
So far, it’s pretty easy to see the world in very stark, very black and white terms.
But let’s think a bit about this week’s parsha, Vayeyshev. It’s probably easy to think right off the bat that it’s Joseph VERSUS his brothers. Right? Our children’s stories and the Broadway show might set it up that way, but I think we should work to make this a more complex tale.
Can we really claim that the brothers of Joseph—the leaders of the twelve tribes of Israel—are really evil? Can we really think that Yehudah—who gives our people its name—is evil? Of course we recognize that they are flawed, but so is Joseph. These are ALL righteous people. Not perfect, but righteous. This is a good lesson for all of us. What the brothers should have realized is that there is room for all of them, that there is room for them to have differences of opinion and to co-exist without rancor.
People are NOT one-dimensional, thank God. And if we keep that in mind, then we will recognize that we can co-exist and that we can perhaps even learn from each other. And strengthen our community in the process. A community built not on sameness of belief but on a commitment to a vision.
I was privileged to see the play Hamilton a few years ago. There’s a great line in it that reminds me so much of this week’s parsha. At the end of the show, Aaron Burr—spoiler alert: he kills Hamilton—Aaron Burr sings: “I should’ve known that the world is wide enough for both Hamilton and me.”
Joseph’s brothers should have known that, and they were allowed by God to learn that later in life, when they were finally reconciled with their brother.
May that be so with all of us.
Best wishes for a wonderful Thanksgiving and a great start to Chanukah!
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