Short Shabbos Insight: Torah Portion Vayeshev

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Aside from watching in horror what is transpiring around the world this week in San Bernardino and Israel, what else can we do? Hunker down and not go anywhere? Not the answer because there is no rhyme or reason as to where the attacks will take place. One cannot make any sense of someone shooting people in a facility that helps those with handicaps. We know that, whatever form of Islam those people are being taught, it is one that, at the very least, is warped and distorted.

Their ‘leaders’ are adept at finding the weakest amongst their people and brainwashing them until they come to a point where they are ready to abandon their own child and slaughter innocent people. It makes no sense and, frankly, we should not even try to make sense of it.

I have listened to many people saying what we, as Jews, can do. More mitzvahs; be kinder to people; go out of your way to help someone. While all that advice is excellent, in the grand scheme of things, I can’t see, with my human eyes, how that is helping. Yet… read on.

Somehow the Torah always has some words of wisdom at just the right time. This week our reading recounts how Jacob’s son’s plotted to kill their brother Joseph. Judah intervened:

What shall we profit by killing our brother and covering his blood?” argued Judah. “Let us sell him to the Ishmaelites and not harm him with our own hands, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” The others accepted Judah’s reasoning, and Joseph was taken out of the snake-infested pit into which he had been thrown and sold into slavery.

In fact it was Joseph’s brother Reuven who first intervened suggesting that they throw Joseph into a pit instead of killing him. So, the question is: who really saved Joseph – Judah or Reuven? Our Sages say that it was in fact Judah. We learn that Reuven felt terrible for what he had been part of and fasted and repented for many years. It was Judah who acted and did something to save his brother from death.

What is the lesson for us today? When another human being needs us, we must set aside all other considerations and get involved, even if our own motives are still short of perfection. Sometimes, we cannot afford to wait.

Such is the case with our world today. While we may not understand how a mitzvah can do anything to stop extremists from slaughtering innocents, unless you have another idea, at least this is something. I don’t know about you, but I’m not going out to buy a gun. Instead, I will be nicer to someone, have a kind word for someone who doesn’t often hear kind words, and take it upon myself to do one more thing in Judaism that I have been struggling with. It can’t hurt.

I hope that you will put either your candle-lit or electric menorah in the window of your home to light up our world which, right now, seems dark and foreboding.

Happy Chanukah.

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