Friday, December 30, 2016

Parashat Vayeishev

Wrote this but forgot to post last week:
Shabbat Shalom! In this week's Torah portion, Parashat Vayeishev, we learn about Joseph and his Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. If you're unfamiliar with the narrative, the entire rock opera by Andrew Lloyd Webber is available in one free YouTube video.
Joseph's troubles mostly start from his own inability to read a room, but they certainly escalate quickly when he goes to check in his brothers shepherding in Shechem, where they plot to kill him. The Talmud, Sanhedrin 102a, says that Shechem was "a place predestined for evil: in Shechem Dinah was violated; in Shechem Joseph was sold by his brothers; and in Shechem the kingdom of the House of David was divided." There is also a bloody battle at Shechem in the book Joshua as the Israelites concur the Promised Land. That situation and the one in the book of Kings are many generations away and it is hard to say what the connection is. I've tried to find some literary reason for all the terrible things that have happened in Shechem, and also tried to come to some conclusion that helps me understand the continued violence there (Shechem is Nablus in modern-day Palestine). There's no satisfying reason. There's nothing particular about that spot on the geography that makes it a good battle ground or any reason that it should be an important stronghold to fight over.
But for Joseph and his brothers, it's a little odd that they are even still there so soon after they have slaughtered all the men of Shechem. Maybe the place has a presence of violence for them because they have already wrought violence there. I can't speak for all of the evil that seems to emanate from or fall upon Shechem, but for this week's Parasha it might be a case of not learning a lesson. After Simeon and Levi slaughtered all the men of Shechem, is Dinah really vindicated? We never hear from her again so it's hard to assume that she has been truly avenged, that this violence in her honor has helped her in any way. Similarly, after the brothers plot to kill and then decide to sell Joseph, it doesn't solve the problems that Jacob's favoritism of Joseph has caused. Their lives continue to be hard, cast in the shadow of Joseph's loss rather than his presence.
For us, perhaps we can learn from this that revenge is not the same as justice. Sometimes we may feel impulsive and we may lash out against those that cause harm to ourselves or the people we love, but if we cannot learn to curb that impulse, we will only get in our own way to achieve true justice or a fair change to a bad situation. As long as we continue to choose revenge over justice, as long as we choose to perpetuate senseless violence, any place we live will seem like a place predestined for evil. May we learn to not blame a venue for human actions, may we take responsibility for our own impulses, may we hold others accountable in a way that can lead to true change.

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