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fredag 19 december 2008

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Här har ni också Torah Thoughts, skriven av min bror, Jeremy, till en församling som han jobbar med i North Carolina. Hans tankar är ALLTID läsvärda!

Torah Thoughts – Parashat Va-yeishev 5769

In 1687, Sir Isaac Newton compiled three laws of physical motion in his famous work, Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (I'm sure that, like me, you've all read it! ☺). According to Newton's third law, for every action force there is an equal (in size) and opposite (in direction) reaction force. Forces always come in pairs - known as "action-reaction force pairs." Identifying and describing action-reaction force pairs is a simple matter of identifying the two interacting objects and figuring out who is pushing whom.

Why the short science lesson? Because I believe that in this week's parasha we begin to see the "action-reaction force pair" that is the basis of Jewish history.

Newton was talking about laws of motion, and I am talking about religion and history, but nevertheless we are dealing with the same phenomenon – For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. The question for us is, what are the interacting objects causing the two opposing forces?

I am going to outline some of the main actions and reactions that I see happening; see if you can discern what the underlying forces are:

The story begins with Jacob loving his son Joseph and pampering him excessively, even showering him with gifts (Action). As a result, Joseph's brothers cannot stand him to the point where, "they hated him so that they could not speak a friendly word to him" (Genesis, 37:4). Eventually, they kidnap Joseph and sell him into slavery (Reaction).

Joseph is bought by Potiphar, a courtier of Pharaoh's in Egypt, and he becomes the overseer of the whole household (Action). Unfortunately, Potiphar's wife takes a liking to him, and, when rejected, accuses him of making sexual advances at her! (Reaction) Joseph is thrown into prison where he interprets the dreams of his fellow prisoners (Action). Word of his interpreting skills reaches Pharaoh and Joseph is brought out of prison, eventually becoming the right-hand man to Pharaoh himself! (Reaction) Because of Joseph's dream-interpreting-abilities, Egypt is the only nation to prosper during a region-wide famine (Action). Joseph's brothers come to Egypt in search of food (Reaction).

There's more to the story, and I'm even sweeping over details a bit, but in broad strokes, that's it. There are two more cause-effect cases worth mentioning, though they are both on a more macro-level: The tribes settle in Egypt (Action), and are eventually enslaved (Reaction). Through Moses and the 10 Plagues, the slaves are freed, but they have to wander through the desert for 40 years (Action). As a result, they become a unified nation, a people, and eventually settle the land of Israel (Reaction).

There's a lot going on here, I know. But I see a pattern. I see all the action forces as Divine Providence. Generally positive forces, but sometimes posing challenges to Joseph or the Israelites. The dreams, the interpretations, the famine, the 10 plagues; these are all instances of Divine Providence, guiding human history and the Jewish people.

The opposing force is Human Need, both emotional and physical: Jealousy from the brothers, coveting from Potiphar's wife, the seeking of food that brought the tribes to Egypt, Pharaoh's fear and paranoia that made him enslave the Israelites, and eventually the ability of the people to bond together, work as a people, and settle Israel.

These two forces, God and human beings, work in partnership. Sometimes one is "good," and the other thwarts it. Sometimes the first poses a challenge, and the second answers it. But like Newton taught us, the two are constantly in relationship with one another. And that is indeed the way we interact with God, and always have throughout all of Jewish history. I wonder if we can identify these forces at work in our own lives?

Shabbat Shalom!


Summary of the Torah Portion Va-yeishev:
The parasha begins the concluding drama of the book of Genesis, the story of Joseph and his 11 brothers, their estrangement and eventual reunion. Jacob is now settled in Canaan with all his family around him. Joseph is the favored son, and to show his favor Jacob presents him with the multi-colored coat. Because of his haughty attitude, and their own jealousy, Joseph's brothers conspire to kill him. But big brother Reuben intervenes, and they decide instead to sell him into slavery. They grab him, throw him into a pit, and then sell him to a passing caravan en route to Egypt. They then tell their father Jacob that his beloved Joseph was attacked by a wild beast, presenting the bloody coat to him as proof. The Joseph narrative is then interrupted by the story of Jacob's son Judah, who is experiencing some problems of his own. His son has died, leaving his wife Tamar a childless widow. Following the tradition of Leverite marriage, he gives his next son to her to father a child, but the next son perishes childless as well. Having already lost two sons, Judah refuses to give his youngest son to Tamar to provide her with a child. Tamar then decides to take decisive action. She dresses like a prostitute, entices Judah to sleep with her, and thereby becomes pregnant. Judah is outraged when he finds out what has happened, but, in the end, Tamar is vindicated, and gives birth to twins. Joseph ends up in Egypt, serving in the home of Potiphar, the King's chief steward, and he quickly makes his way up the ranks of the servants to head up Potiphar's household. Potiphar's wife notices Joseph, and tries to seduce hum. When he refuses her advances, she has him thrown into prison, where he puts his skills as a dream interpreter to good use. He ends up interpreting the dreams of Pharaoh's servants, which eventually brings him to the attention of Pharaoh himself.
Ja, jag är stolt över lillbrorsan... ;-)

Kol tuv,

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