Monday, December 6, 2010

Who’s Your Daddy!

Parashat VaYigash
4 Tevet 5771 / Dec. 10 – 11, 2010
44:18 – 47:27

Who’s Your Daddy!
by Zvi Bellin, MHHQ

In this week’s Parasha we have the meeting of two national super-giants. The great Emperor of Egypt, Paroah becomes acquainted with Jacob, the Patriarch of the Jewish people. I imagine some high drama at this gathering. Jacob, who has thought his son was dead, goes to Egypt to be reunited with Joseph who is #2 to the ruler of Egypt. The excitement, fear, joy, confusion, and disbelief could only have been overwhelming. Then the moment comes, for Jacob to stand face-to-face with the man that saved Joseph’s life. Paroah nurtured Joseph, clothed and fed him, and gave him a status level that Jacob could never have offered.
What might have Jacob felt looking into the eyes of the man who became the stand-in father for his most beloved son. This man, Paroah, was able to protect and elevate him. Under Jacob’s watch, Joseph was cast-off and sold into slavery.  

The Torah tells us that when Jacob and Paroah meet, Jacob blesses Paroah two times – once upon introduction and the second upon their parting. Rashi (1040 – 1105) comments that this was in the natural way of people who greet royalty. Though he goes on to quote a Midrash (interpretive story) that Jacob blessed Paroah that the Nile River will rise up to meet him whenever he approached it. And the blessings came true. When Paroah would approach the Nile the waters would rise, enabling their crops to be irrigated.

It seems that in offering this power blessing to Paroah, Jacob was reminding everyone (and perhaps himself too) that the source of Joseph’s success was not only the physical gifts and prestige bestowed on him from Paroah, but rather the spiritual gifts that suffuses Jacob’s blood line. One way of looking at Jacob’s blessings is a statement of power – “Hey Paroah! You think you’re such a hot potato latke! Take this.” In this instance (and with Paroah’s willingness) Jacob was able to re-establish his place as the head of his family, and the father of his beloved and praised son, Joseph.

What is the message in this for us today? I feel that in the U.S. we have to be very careful how we appreciate our Jewishness. “It is great to be Jewish, but not greater than any other religion.” (I wonder how it is for you outside of the U.S.) I think that keeping a level-headedness about our Jewish heritage is necessary. At the same time, I recommend taking some time to contemplate the gift of being Jewish. The rich history and blessing that is part of our story and our spirit. Being Jewish engraves practices and ethics like Shabbat, charity giving, and community support into our daily lives. I believe that we should not shy away from honoring our beautiful traditions.


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