We are soon coming to the chag Chanukah - the feast of dedication, service of God and education (chinuch), lights, endurance, material miracle with the oil and this will happen for us in a very special year 5768, the 60th anniversary of the State of Israel. This Shabbat Vayeshev - (Jacob) lived (in the land of his father's sojournings, Eretz Canaan), the weekly Torah reading is from Bereishit 37:1-40:23. It is said: "Israel loved Joseph more than all his sons because he was his son born in the old age and he made him a striped tunic (k’tonet pasim). Joseph was talented and passed on the evil gossip his brothers had to their father.
The parashat hashavua is dedicated to Joseph special biography: a seventeen years old shepherd pasturing the sheep; a dreamer: vayyachalam chalom - Joseph had a (leading ahead) dream. Joseph develops dreams that would come to maturity along an long-term extended period of time and somehow still unaccomplished at the present. He was sold by his brothers who were so jealous that they could not get to killing him. Division may at times save the lives of some people endangered by enemies that would not agree on such a simple issue as a murder and thus choose a distorted solution. This is why ransoming the prisoners has been a major mitzvah in all Jewish communities until now. In Israel, this obliges making every possible efforts to redeem and obtain the liberation of Israeli soldiers captured by other armies. It is the kind of mitzvah that is a basic one, and remains an indisputable sign of "love towards our fellow people". Indeed, Jews observing the Mitzvot and developing a loving and caring spirit of love toward God and any human being cannot betray any single Jew the way Joseph was sold by his embezzled brothers. Ransoming is a must as it has always been in force throughout the history of Christianity. It steadfastly supports and immensely helped the Jews in the process of ascending to Israel.
The haftarah is the reading from the Book of the Prophet Amos (2:6-3:8). The main problem consists of considering how we accept or reject the realm of the Mitzvot as a true way to freedom. "For four (transgressions of Israel), I will not pardon them (ashivenu: we shall not give any positive response or change of penance) for their selling of a righteous man for money (michram bekesef tzadik) and a destitute/poor man for shoes (veevyon baavur na'alayim) ... And a man and his father go to a betrothed young girl (naarah) to profane My Holy Name (cf. Tamar) (Amos 2:7).
These are the issues that we have to face this week with regards to history. They envision Joseph's fate and destiny, Judah's affair with Tamar, Potifar's wife harassing Joseph show the development of what is wrong and can be corrected and lead to freedom after false possession or desires and treason.
Once upon a time, we had a woman who was the only man of the Israeli government, Golda Meir aka Golda Mabovitz/Meyerson (1898-1978). Born in Kiev/ Kyiv (Ukraine), she joined her father who had left for Milwaukee (Wisconsin) and worked as a carpenter. She went up to Rome to visit Pope John XXIII who welcomed her: "I am your brother Joseph (you hardly can recognize)". At least her father had a Vatican-valued profession: thus, Jesus' father, Joseph, as hers was carpenter. When she went on mission in Russia (somehow her home country), she had asked an apparent friend to free from jail some of the most valuable Jewish fighters who could help in creating the State of Israel. She was promised they would be released. They were all murdered overnight or so. On the one hand, this shows the treason of false friends; on the other hand, a persistent but honestly confessed substitution declared with much bonhomie - good-nature expressed by the good old Pope who actively did save thousands of Jews during the war.
The mistake that poisons the relationships between Judaism and the Christian Churches is precisely present in this statement. The wonderful and rare pope was a Gentile and not the son of the first Twelve (sons of Jacob). The second Twelve were Jesus’ disciples according to the Christian tradition. But Pope John XVIII asked a meaningful question to Golda Meir, the daughter of the Jewish carpenter. Just as Joseph’s brothers could not recognize their brother they had sold, Golda Meir – in the name of the Jewish people portraying the State of Israel – could hardly imagine or even accept that the Pope could be her brother sold by Jewish brothers who would save her and her new-old State rescued from history and permanent substitution. This anecdote shows that goodness can be too evident and though remain a disfigured usurpation. This is the first spiritual aspect that we must consider from the prophetic haftarah read in Amos: it is clear that the dialogue between Golda Meir and the Pope was very heartfelt and nice. The anecdote shows a substitution. Because the real problem, that could turn to some vitz (joke, a kidding and kind one), is that the Pope might did not recognize Golda Meir as being the real Benjamin and Jacob. This continues in the present in most cases about who is the Verus Israel (true Israel of God) whose substance and nature cannot be changed by vestments or attitudes foreign to the world of the Mitzvot. Similarly, Judah and Tamar came wrongly together by some dramatic mistake and trick. The concern is that blindness does not mean falsification. Blindness means that we do not accept to see what is extant because reality is too much for what we can stand and what the others can accept.
The Talmud has it about the roots machar – to sell, mecher – sale, makkar – be acquainted, friends, mecherut – sales/neighboring friends. Thus, “the seller is presumed to sell liberally, i.e. all except what is excluded (and ought to be defined)” (Bava Bathra 64b). Or, “a man can be sold for his theft, not a woman” (Sota 1c). But Joseph had not usurped, captured or, worse, bought his father’s love. Jealousy remains a spiritual disease or discomfort that was ravaging Joseph’s brothers. Then, Joseph and his brothers could not anticipate the far-reaching spiritual significance of their mutual attitudes and decisions. When the Prophet Amos recounts the events, he envisions something of what history has brought from the limping of Israel and its survival that still stuns or even stupefies the Nations and the Jews alike.
The State of Israel will turn to 60 years old in two major steps. The first one is amazingly occurring just before this Shabbat Vayeshev. November 29 (kaftet), 1947 corresponds to six decades after the UN historic vote accepting the partition of Palestine, on Kislev 16 (tetzayn), 5708. Due to some hazard or sign of the Providence, the civilian 60th anniversary starts in this shemittah year of remittance on Kislev 19 (yodtet) 5768. It is a suggestive and relevant date in the Jewish history. Nobody cares about the Hebrew date of the UN vote that fell on Monday. Anyway, the world is plugged in Annapolis (USA, not in Ancient Greece). Now, the partition vote is still a decision taken by the Nations and this has always been meaningful for the coherence of Israel spiritual history.
The question is whether one can seriously consider that the State of Israel is only a consequence of the World War II with a Western UN vote of false good conscience: the Jews will sink in the hour following their independence. It was both a Gentile and Jewish reflection and our sinking is still en vogue. Is it the consequence of the Holocaust? Joseph’s sale to the merchants is definitely the prelude to a will of extermination. The Shoah is at the present a major European concern and a Western Church interrogation. Jews cannot abstract themselves from community responsibilities in such a devastation that tracks back their experience to the Churban (destructions of the Temple). The State of Israel emerged and develops as the impossible challenge allowing a rescued nation born to bless to be overflowing with unexpected pardon. Things are simple and crude: who is/are my brother/s? Disguised or rescued from flames of passions, ignorance and hatred? We are thus the descendants of Cain who had dared say to God: “…hashomer achi anochi – am I my brother’s keeper?” God said: “What have you done! The voice of your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground.” (Gen. 4:9-10). The same blood continues to cry out. Then, the miracle means something else.
This 60th anniversary of the UN partition vote falls on the 209th anniversary of the “Alter Rebbe” Zalman Schneur of Lyadi’s release from prison where he had spent 52 days in Saint Petersburg upon the denunciation of some Lithuanian Jews (mitnagdim - opponents to Hassidism). He was freed on Kislev 19, 5559. It became the Rosh Hashanah of the Hassidic movement as a spiritual envisioning movement, in particular the Chabad. The point is that two modern hassidic rabbis have been sent to jail because they were denunciated by “brothers”. They were men of charity and pity. How can we build anything if we are not responsible for others, even those who would eventually attack or harm us? On this November 29th/Kislev 19th many elements track us back to Joseph being sold and still pardoning, as Cain had killed his brother; God put a sign of protection on his forehead. The Hassidut celebrate a day of liberation of men who were dedicated to soul freedom. Somehow, the partition vote opened a tiny way to Israel’s freedom and existence. .
The real question we face on this day is that God made something, a dealing – ‘alila (“He is terrible in his dealings with man, Tehillim 66:5”). Whatever faith, philosophical, doubtful attitude, humans seem to miss the chance of really getting to know if God accepts goodwill or exerts a strict determination. Suddenly, Nov.29th/19th events show; they are beyond any human control. We forget this or think we are strong when we are simply looking for some way-out. Freedom is not a way-out. It is life to the full.
This is why let’s cool down about Annapolis, Iran nuking projects… God’s dealings include the hurricanes in the US, the tsunamis in Indonesia, hunger, AIDS and war in Africa, Gaza human hell. What shall we do when the Chinese and the Yuan will rule the world?
This date is like a Passover Seder Dayenu verse: it would have sufficed. We only got a tiny irrational partition, just as the betrayed Master of Hassidut was released from jail. All the disciples of Jesus, to begin with the first one, had abandoned or betrayed him. Israel and Palestine are not juicy scoops. It shows how faith can be twisted and thus leads to redemption.