Hello, My Name Is – Parshat Vayigash 5778

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I have quite the collection of name tags. Some of them are nice metal ones from former positions, and some are stickers I’ve collected on my bookshelf or closet door after an event. And because I have a title that goes with me, the names range from simply “Eve” to “Rabbi Eve” to “Rabbi Posen” to the occasional “Shiri’s mom.” Each of these pieces of my identity is important to me and represents a different facet of my daily life. In certain circumstances, like performing a life cycle event or working on a rabbinic project, I am clearly Rabbi Posen. In other places I am Rabbi Eve, playing with the kids in Foundation School or our young families group Shoreshim. For simplicity I introduce myself as “Eve” when I go to an exercise class or an event for my husband Duncan. Of course when I’m in my mommy role for Shiri or Matan, I am simply that – Mommy.

How you introduce yourself to others tells at least a portion of the story of your identity. Every setting and situation, from parent/grandparent mode to professional environments to a casual night with friends, might require a different side of you.

The theme of names and the identities they carry with them is part of the focus of this week’s parshah, Parshat Vayigash. This week we read about how Joseph and his brothers have many moments of heartfelt joy. Joseph’s brother Yehudah tries to redeem himself by asking to be imprisoned instead of Benjamin, and Joseph reveals himself to his brothers and heroically invites the whole family to Egypt to save them from the starvation they face in Israel. In addition, Joseph and his father Jacob are reunited, and Joseph is able to finally reveal his new-found position of power.

Joseph makes a deliberate choice when he reveals himself to his brothers. He says, “I am Joseph.” He had achieved a level of fame and notoriety in Egypt, so he could have identified himself by his Egyptian name and title, but instead he simply shares his name. “I am Joseph.” He knew he would need to rediscover his brotherly identity if this was to be a successful reunion.

Sometimes it feels like we’re wearing multiple name tags all at the same time as we carry different aspects of our identity with us. The challenge is always to figure out which one is best suited for any given moment. What’s important to remember is that having these multiple names doesn’t dilute or diminish who we are; it forms and strengthens who we are able to be.

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Know Thyself – Parshat Vayigash 5777

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As the parent of a feisty and sometimes defiant three-year-old I often find myself in battle mode, having to make constant tactical adjustments based on the situation. There are two forces at play in our house: what we, her loving parents, would like to see happen, and what she, the stubborn, strong-willed daughter, would like to see take place. I’ve found that one of the hardest parts of parenting at this stage is acceptance. I’m always reevaluating and changing my expectations based on her mood, behavior, and capabilities. And although we do our best to mold and influence our children by setting positive examples, ultimately I cannot change her, I can only change my reaction to what she’s doing.

The same lesson is learned in our parshah this week. Parshat Vayigash is the continuation of the saga between Joseph and his brothers. Yehudah, one of the master perpetrators of the evil against Joseph, stands up for his brothers and requests to be imprisoned rather than Benjamin. Later, Joseph reveals himself to his brothers, and his brothers tell Jacob that Joseph is still alive. Following this the 70 members of Jacob’s extended family and community follow him down to Egypt and the family is officially reunited.

There is an interesting moment of reflection between Judah and Joseph. “Then Judah went up to him,” the text reads. Literally from the Hebrew, Judah came to know him. The S’fat Emet interprets this as Judah coming to know himself. That is to say in recounting the events that lead to this point in our narrative, Judah comes to recognize that he is not the same person he was when he let his brother get sold into Egyptian slavery. In recounting what has transpired, he also recognizes that he cannot change his father. He realizes and accepts that Jacob may always be partial to Joseph, and that the only thing he can change is how he copes.

The lesson that we cannot change others, only our own actions and reactions in certain situations, is one of the hardest lessons to learn and something many people struggle with well into maturity. Sometimes other people do change on their own, but Parshat Vayigash reminds us that the most important thing we can do is to know ourselves.

Hard to Believe – Parshat Vayigash 5776

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Growing up watching the Tanner family on TV’s Full House, can you understand why I have mixed feelings about Netflix’s upcoming reboot of the series? Fuller House, which debuts February 26, follows the same format as the original, but with the kids now in the grown-up roles raising the next generation. The idea is tantalizingly nostalgic, but the secret recipe of the late 80s/early 90s series simply can’t be replicated. Sitcoms of that era had a cozy, comforting cheesiness that current television has evolved away from. I’m not sure that today’s audiences appreciate the signature catchphrases or the easily solved storyline problems as much as we used to. What made the show magical twenty years ago was that it was all just too happy to believe.

Life rarely feels like a sitcom. While we all experience moments that feel too good to be true, most days are mixes of highs and lows. Some things work out in our favor, some things don’t. However, there are moments of ultimate joy – the ones when we have to pinch ourselves to make sure they’re real. One of these for me was shortly after finding out I was expecting our daughter. The confirmation in the doctor’s office and seeing and hearing Shiri’s heart beat for the first time felt surreal. She’s already two years old, and I still have a hard time wrapping my head around the power of that moment.  

Parshat Vayigash, which we read this week, is about such a “believe it to see it” type of moment.  In fact, Joseph and his brothers have many moments of heartfelt joy.  Joseph’s brother Yehudah tries to redeem himself by asking to be imprisoned instead of Benjamin, and Joseph reveals himself to his brothers and heroically invites the whole family to Egypt to save them from the starvation facing Israel.  In addition, Joseph and his father Jacob are reunited, and Joseph is able to finally reveal his newfound position of power.  Joseph is given high praise in this parshah as a leader in Egypt, the saving grace to the people of Egypt and Israel, a loving brother, and a forgiver of past indiscretions.  

But when this news is first revealed to Jacob, it’s too much for him to believe. In chapter 45, verse 26, the brothers return from Egypt with the exciting news that their brother Joseph, whom they had presumed dead, is not only alive, but is the pharaoh’s right-hand man.  The brothers try to explain this to their father, and the text describes his reaction, saying: “His heart went numb, for he did not believe them.”  And why should he believe their fantastical story? After all, Jacob had been deceived before (and even did some deceiving himself).  Rather than take their word for it, Jacob demands to see with his own eyes if there is truth to their claims.  

Even though the miraculous events in the Torah aren’t regular occurrences in our modern lives, the emotional highs and lows we experience every day are not unlike those in our biblical narrative. That’s not exactly the case in the sitcoms of my childhood. The Tanners provided an entertaining escape because all conflict was neatly resolved in half-hour intervals. For us, the unbelievable high points we do have are made that much sweeter because they are part of a complicated, intricate tapestry of experiences.

Two Wrongs; Make it Right – Parshat Vayigash 5775

IMG_1425.JPGIt is human nature to want to reciprocate actions, whether good or bad.  When someone does something nice for us, we want to pay them back or pay it forward.  When someone is horrible or mean, we want to be equally mean back.  But an “eye for an eye” isn’t always right or fair.  In our world where we work towards fairness and equality, it can be truly difficult to stand up and do the right thing when we really want others to feel our pain.

Parshat Vayigash, our Torah portion for this week, is the continuation of the saga between Joseph and his brothers.  Yehudah, one of the master perpetrators of the evil against Joseph, stands up for his brothers and asks to be imprisoned to spare Benjamin.  Later, Joseph reveals himself to his brothers, his brothers tell Jacob that Joseph is still alive, seventy members of Jacob’s people follow him down to Egypt, and the family is reunited.  At this point the narrative takes pause.

In the first lines of the parshah, we see Yehudah stand up for his brothers, we see him try to right the wrong he did against Joseph, leaving Joseph with a choice.  Joseph can continue to imprison Benjamin; in doing so he would certainly inflict pain on his brothers, the kind of pain he felt years earlier when he himself was sent off.  But, he would also cause more pain to his father, something he could not stomach.

Joseph is ultimately moved to tears by the speech his brother Yehudah gives.  He realizes that keeping Benjamin would be acting as his brothers did, stooping to their level.  Instead, he decides to rise above it and do what is right.  And in a sense, Joseph is still reciprocating.  He’s not reciprocating the pain he felt much earlier in his life, he’s reciprocating the positive step forward he sees from Yehudah.

Siblings know how to push each other’s buttons better than anyone else.  It would have been easy for Joseph to wrong his brothers as they had wronged him, but instead, Joseph gathers his inner strength and is able to rise above the pettiness and past negative of their relationship.  What better reminder that while it is easy to commit a wrong in retaliation for a wrong, righting a situation will always yield the better outcome.

photo credit: The Hamster Factor via photopin cc