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Why Should Leaders Get Close to Those Who Suffer?

After the individual sagas that comprise so much of Genesis — Joseph’s story alone consumes the better part of 19 chapters — the speed at which the Israelites’ fortune reverses at the beginning of Exodus is stunning. And all it takes is one verse. In this week’s portion, Parashat Sh’motwe read: “A new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.” (Ex.1:8)

D'var Torah By: 
There Are No Strangers, There Is Only Us
Davar Acher By: 
Stacey Zisook Robinson

I’m a middle-class Jewish kid from the suburbs of Chicago, raised with all the white privilege that ran rampant and quite unconscious in the 1960s and 1970s. It took a long time for me to actually get close to people different from me and to stand up for their rights. IRabbi Alexander discusses two people in Parashat Sh'mot who took the risk to help others who were less fortunate.

Can You Find the Good in a Catastrophe?

As we begin Parashat Vayigash, Joseph is seated as second in line to the pharaoh in Egypt. His brothers had come down to Egypt seeking food as there was a famine in the land of Canaan. Joseph concealed his identity from his brothers, and in last week’s portion, Mikeitz, he framed them for stealing and held his brother Simeon for ransom until they return with Benjamin.

D'var Torah By: 
How Many and Difficult Are the Years of Your Life?
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Elana Nemitoff-Bresler, MAJE

In his commentary on Vayigash, Rabbi Moskovitz writes of Joseph and his brothers reconnecting. I’d like to discuss some other connections that take place in this parashah: the reunion of Joseph and his father Jacob, and Jacob’s introduction to Pharaoh, which reveals Jacob’s suffering. When Joseph brings his father to meet Pharaoh, his boss and CEO, Pharaoh asks Jacob a simple question, “How many years have you lived?” (Gen. 47:8). Jacob answers the question with an elaborate spin.

Understanding the Exodus as a Spiritual Journey

These concepts have played—and continue to play—their part in history, but they are based on readings of the text that, I believe, do not ring true today. 

D'var Torah By: 
Focusing on Morality in Building a Thriving Homeland
Davar Acher By: 
Chelsea Feuchs

In his commentary on Parashat Sh’mot, Rabbi Reuven Greenvald focuses in part on the issue of demography. The growth of the Israelites described in the Torah portion is threatening to Pharaoh, but many years later this type of expansion would come to be lauded by the Zionist movement. A single-minded focus on population growth led to Pharaoh’s murderous decree, and it also led to exploitative policies toward Mizrachim by the Ashkenazi elite in Israel. The old adage may state that demography is destiny, but a relentless focus on demography at the expense of morality has a far greater impact on the destiny of a nation.

Finding Guidance and Direction from the Voice Within

Joseph, then viceroy of Egypt, decides to hold Benjamin to pressure his brothers to bring their father Jacob to Egypt. His true identity is still hidden from his brothers. But Judah steps forward to intervene (Gen. 44:1-14). As Vayigash opens, in an impassioned plea, Judah offers himself in place of Benjamin (Gen. 44:18-34). Where does Judah, who once lacked strength to protect Joseph, finally find the courage?

D'var Torah By: 
The Challenge to Find Meaning and Connection
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Zachary Shapiro

“You’re Zachary, right?” Grandma asked. “What do you do?” “I’m a rabbi,” I answered. “What do rabbis do?” ... Thirty seconds later, she asked, “What do you do?”  My grandma's repeated questions were difficult to understand and to respond to. In Parashat Vayigash, Joseph reaches out to his brothers, taking a chance to reconnect, even though theirt responses may have been difficults to understand and respond to.  I

The Limits of Control

In Parashat Sh’mot, we learn the Israelites have been enslaved in Egypt by a pharaoh who did not know Joseph. To gain some small degree of control, the Israelites examine their behavior for flaws that may have caused the situation.

D'var Torah By: 
The Power to Affirm Humanity
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Sara Y. Sapadin

In Parashat Sh'mot, the text describes the Israelites in a degrading manner, saying that they were so numerous they swarmed (like creatures that crawl on the ground). This dehumanizing description is countered by the text's favorable treatment of the Israelite midwives, who took individual initiative to save lives.

The True Measure of Repentance

In Vayigash, Joseph now a powerful man in Egypt conceals his identity from the brothers who had sold him into slavery years ago. In so doing, he allows them to confront their past mistakes.

D'var Torah By: 
Taking a Step Toward Renewed Trust and Conflict Resolution
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Ted Riter

What if Joseph, after so many years of separation from his brothers were to write a letter to communicate with his brothers in Parashat Vayigash. What would that letter say?

The Formation of a People

Parashat Vayak’heil/P’kudei is a double Torah portion that concludes the Book of Exodus. The paired Torah portions describe the building of the Tabernacle and the anointing of the priests. The parashiyot are primarily contain many verses of detailed plans and descriptions of rituals, some of which are hard to visualize sitting in such a different world today. 

D'var Torah By: 
Finding Humanity and Divinity in the Other
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Linda Bertenthal

Parashat Vayak'heil/P'kudei describes the process of building the Mishkan (Tabernacle), which serves as a model for building Jewish community. The cherubim on the kaporet (ark cover) of the Mishkan that faced each other remind us that we should face one another and listen. 

The First Heroes of Exodus

The Book of Exodus opens by creating a picture of the Israelites’ life in Egypt: who was there, where they came from, and what their connections were to the stories of Genesis. Then, we read the famed words, “A new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph” (Exodus 1:8). In this single statement, the Torah signals the end of a period of peace and the beginning of an era oppression and slavery.

D'var Torah By: 
Rebels Who Are Actually Women of Valor
Davar Acher By: 
David Spinrad

As we near the end of the episode of Shiphrah and Puah’s bold defiance of Pharaoh’s decree to kill all the male babies born to Hebrew slave women, the Torah teaches that God “dealt well [vayeitev] with the midwives” (Exodus 1:20). Because Shiphrah and Puah’s reverential awe for the Eternal was greater than their fear of defying Pharaoh’s awful edict, the text explains that God made households for them as their initial reward. 

Revealing Oneself in Order to Heal

As Parashat Vayigash begins, Joseph still has not revealed his identity to his brothers. With Joseph having framed his younger brother Benjamin for stealing his divining goblet, and consequently declaring that as punishment, Benjamin will be enslaved in Egypt, his brother, Judah, now beseeches Joseph to enslave him instead (Genesis 44:33). His plea comes after Judah reminds Joseph that he has an elderly father and describes in detail, why Benjamin did not initially go down to Egypt with the brothers and why, should he not return to Canaan, their father literally would die (Genesis 44:31). 

D'var Torah By: 
Taking Initiative on the Road to Peace
Davar Acher By: 
Jeremy Simons

Joseph’s reconciliation with his brothers is not an obvious outcome. This is, after all, the same Joseph who “brought bad reports of [his brothers] to their father” (Genesis 37:2) and the same Joseph who had no compunction about telling them of his dreams in which he was the star of the show. And that was all before he found himself alone in an Egyptian dungeon as a result of their actions. Between his ego and their actions, it’s pretty extraordinary that 20 years later he can make peace with them. 

How Humble Is Too Humble?

When we open the Book of Exodus this week, and turn to Parashat Sh'mot, we find that the Israelites are suffering under the tyranny of ego. Pharaoh, a despot who believes himself to be more powerful than God – indeed, he believes that he is a god himself – has enslaved the Israelites in order to secure his own power.

In this context, I find it particularly fitting that the leader who emerges to help the Israelites escape from Egyptian slavery is Moses, whom the Torah describes as "a very humble man, more so than any other human being on earth" (Numbers 12:3). While Pharaoh's first words in Exodus are focused on oppressing the Israelites to consolidate his own power, our introduction to Moses in this week's Torah portion highlights Moses' humility and his doubts about stepping into leadership. No one can accuse Moses of being a rival to Pharaoh, of leading the Jewish people for his own self-aggrandizement. When God calls to Moses at the Burning Bush and charges him with the mission of going to Pharaoh and demanding the Israelites' freedom, Moses humbly shrugs off the mantle of leadership five times (See Exodus 3:11, 13; 4:1; 4:10; 4:13).

D'var Torah By: 
This Little Light of Mine
Davar Acher By: 
Stephen J. Weisman

Rabbi Kalisch challenges us to explore the balance between ego and humility. Her message recalls the words of the noted author and spiritual teacher, Marianne Williamson – "Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, . . . born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us."

These words connect the challenge here at the start of Exodus to difficult concepts in Genesis 1, among them, the creation of humanity in the "image" of our incorporeal God. When we embrace the spark of the Divine that is within each of us, letting it out from within ourselves to enlighten the world, then we begin to take on God's "image."

To do this requires us to let our own light out for others to see and to be aware that all the people we meet have a Divine spark within them, equally worthy of being shared. As we grow into our roles as God's partners in Creation, ceasing to shrink from either challenge or opportunity, we must be careful not to violate the borders of others, allowing them the space they need to grow and shine.


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