Tidbits of Torah

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Joseph, Judah and Justice

December 23, 2017- 5 Tevet 5778

Dear Friends,
Our Torah reading continues the Joseph story. Only, Joseph is not the only character in the story. Judah plays a leading role in this week’s Torah portion. Judah, not yet knowing that Joseph is his long lost brother, approaches Joseph and speaks. He pleads with Joseph to spare Benjamin and to spare the feelings of his elderly father, Jacob.
What led up to all of this drama?
In an earlier Torah portion (Genesis 37:4), we read about Jacob favoring Joseph. We read about Joseph sharing his dreams of his family bowing down to him, with his father and with his brothers. How did the brothers react? The Torah tells us that Joseph’s brothers “lo yachlu dabro l’Shalom” – that the brothers were unable to relate to Joseph and to speak with him or about him in a friendly way (l’Shalom).
I feel for Joseph’s brothers. How many times might we feel frustrated, slighted and/or dismissed by others within in our family or within in our community? And how easily might we too find it difficult to speak in a friendly way to, or about, those who disappoint us?
Yet, years later, Judah stepped up to the plate and spoke well. He accepted the responsibility of taking care of his brother, Benjamin, even as he admitted that over the years Benjamin had become the new favorite of his father. Judah even offered to sit in jail, in return for the release of Benjamin!
What a beautiful message for all of us!
Pure justice might allow us to speak ill of those who disappoint us. But the Torah, through the moving story of Joseph and Judah, suggests to us that our strength, and the strength of our community, depends on our ability to speak words of connection, of caring, and of compassion, along with words of truth, in a friendly way – not only to our best friends but, perhaps, even especially, to and about those who may disappoint us.
Justice is important. Truth is most certainly a value. But, peace (Shalom), though perhaps the most difficult value to achieve, is no less important for all of us.
As we learn in the Ethics of our Fathers (Avot 1:18):
Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel says: The world endures on three things – justice, truth, and peace (Shalom), as it is said (Zechariah 8:16): You shall adjudicate the verdict of truth and peace (Shalom) at your gates!

May our hearts, our minds, and our words reflect our quest for justice, for truth, and ultimately for peace (Shalom)! May our words be words of connection, of caring, and of compassion as we strive to increase Shalom in our individual and communal worlds.

Shabbat Shalom!
Rabbi Gilah Dror