Vayechy - weekly Torah portion

January 13, 2017

It has only been a short while ago that we have read about Joseph being the great reformer of the Egyptian economy in a way that helped it overcome a period of major crisis. He changes the entire economic structure for achieving that goal. Now, with his father on his death bed, he brings his two sons to receive a blessing from him. “When it was told to Jacob, “Behold, your son Joseph has come to you,” Israel collected his strength and sat up in the bed.” He briefly tells Joseph the story of his life up to the point where his mother, Rachel, dies and is buried in Bethlehem. Then it is said, “When Israel saw Joseph’s sons, he said, ‘Who are these?’... Now the eyes of Israel were so dim from age that he could not see.” At this point there is a change of reference, a change from the man being “Jacob” to being his new self, “Israel”. Joseph approaches the old man with his two children so that it will be easy for him to give the blessing, laying his right hand on the elder brother, Manasseh, and the left hand on the younger brother Ephraim. “ But Israel stretched out his right hand and laid it on the head of Ephraim, who was the younger, and his left hand on Manasseh’s head, crossing his hands, although Manasseh was the firstborn.” Joseph is alarmed to see that, “it displeased him; and he grasped his father’s hand to remove it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s head. Joseph said to his father, ‘Not so, my father, for this one is the firstborn. Place your right hand on his head.’” But the father refuses and says, “I know, my son, I know; he also will become a people and he also will be great. However, his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his descendants shall become a multitude of nations.”

It is not the first time that we find this change in precedence in the book of Genesis. In fact, it seems that change rather than stagnation is the norm. It happens with Isaac, not being the first born to his father Abraham, something which so much worries his mother Sara that she makes sure that Ishmael and his mother Hagar will be removed from their presence. It happens again in the case of Jacob and Esso where trickery is used, induced by Rebecca, Jacob’s mother, to have Jacob receive the blessing of the firstborn from the aging father Isaac. It may be against the wish of the father himself but not against the spirt of the story. It seems that the bible time and time again demands from us to move out of our tendency of stagnation, the clenching to the past, and demanding a forward-looking thinking, which is different, creative and willing to change what we have known from yesteryears.

 

In 2014, a rabbinical court of the city of Safed, headed by rabbi Uriel Lavi, determined that a divorce may be given to a woman whose husband was severely injured by a car accident some seven years earlier. Lacking any known chance to return to cognition, the court determined that in such a case the husband would have used the “right” to divorce his wife had he been conscious to his state. Therefore the rabbinical judges could divorce the wife from the husband as his representatives. Rabbi Lavi’s court, while making the decision based on Halachic foundations, has surely gone a step forward, if not more, from the traditional and more conservative approaches. Lately a person who has nothing to do with the case filed an appeal and the president of the court, one of the chief rabbis of Israel, decided to have a hearing of this case, despite the upfront lack of standing appellant, before a session of no less than 11 rabbinical judges; it is therefore that the case has now landed before the Supreme Court of Israel.

 

Cases like this where there is someone who tries to set us back, just like the uninvolved appellant in the case of the divorce, is something that we experience time and time again. There are always forces that try to take us back to a supposedly glorious past so as to cancel life advancements. The Torah teaches us exactly the opposite. It creates a framework but demands from us to challenge it, live it, find ways and interpretations, and, fight those who try to avoid progress, those who want to prevent us crossing our arms when the time comes. Those who do not understand that we are both Jacob and Israel, partly old, partly new.

 

Our struggle related to the Western Wall is no different from these other struggles. It is a continuous fight against the continued injustice, immoral and unacceptable situation there. It is a struggle that requires change from what one may have been grown to accept as the norm, so as to create a much better future. While those who fight to place the hands according to the decaying old order, Israel’s Supreme Court has temporarily issued a restraining order determining that searches of the Women of the Wall shall be restricted to security checks alone. This issue is moving forward slowly, step-by-step. This time last year we thought we have reached the difficult but acceptable compromise and hoped for decency and respect. Unfortunately the Charedi leadership, for its internal reasons, decided against the appropriate crossing of the hands. To me it seems that the court is repeating the voice of the past to the rabbi of the Wall, “I know, my son, I know; he also will become a people and he also will be great. However, his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his descendants shall become a multitude of nations.” It is upon us to make sure that this also happens.

 

Shabbat Shalom.
Reuven Marko, 13 January 2017, 16 Tevet, 5777

 

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