Parshat Vayechi, January 11, 2020
For the past few weeks I’ve been unable to stop thinking about what transpired. I’m unable to press an internal pause or delete button or change the channel. The mental images of killings in Iraq and tragedies in Jersey City and elsewhere invade my thoughts and I constantly fear the next crisis. No matter how hard I try to get on with life I continue to revisit these awful events. Rallies and protests may give solace in the short term but long term solutions are of far greater urgency. Inasmuch as I would like to wave a magic wand and create a Utopian environment where only love, respect, and kindness exists, I recognize the frivolity of the suggestion. Thus, I’m forced to deal with the complexities of life, albeit cognizant that it’s easier said than done.
Believe it or not, we Jews are an opinionated people. Nevertheless, I would hope that before expressing personal perspectives, we can formulate acceptable parameters to limit partisan divisiveness. Below are ten statements that I’m hopeful we can all agree on:
1. Qasem Soleimani was an evil man who had the blood of thousands of innocent victims on his hands. His death is a benefit to humanity and he deserves no tears to be shed over his demise.
2. Regardless of what one thinks about the legality of targeted killings, Israel is in the bullseye of an Iranian regime willing and able to wreak havoc on them. When family in Israel is in danger, Jews in the diaspora must overlook political differences and give their unequivocal support to their family. When the threat has passed there will still be ample time for political posturing.
3. In a democracy we have the right to criticize our country’s actions. If our criticisms serve to embolden our enemies, perhaps for the time being, it is best to remain silent.
4. Viewing pictures of Iranian Jews including rabbis visiting the family of Qasem Soleimani highlights how lucky we are to be living in a free country. When residing in a country with an oppressive regime, subservience is demanded of its citizens. The Jews in Iran must hide their feelings, emotions, and beliefs.
5. When a Jew is targeted for being a Jew, they are not Orthodox, Conservative, or Reform – they are just Jews. Dividing us serves the interests of those who benefit from Jews appearing to be divided.
6. Inasmuch as I’m convinced my opinion is absolutely correct, it is indeed possible that an opposing opinion is equally correct. When Joseph acknowledged to his brothers that he was their long lost brother that they sold into slavery, the brothers and Joseph responded in an unusual manner. Instead of the brothers making excuses and trying to justify their actions, they acknowledged their guilt and expressed remorse. Instead of acting belligerent, Joseph explained to his brothers that it was all God’s plan and they were completely innocent. Each side analyzed the situation from the other’s perspective. It’s not a weakness to support a dissenting opinion; it’s a weakness to dismiss an opinion without the willingness to even consider it.
7. It’s very possible that the same act can be construed differently when looked at from a different perspective. When Jacob blessed his grandchildren he placed his right hand on Ephraim and his left hand on Menashe. Joseph sees what his father is doing and immediately tries to rearrange his father’s hand by placing his right hand on Menashe, the first born. While Joseph is correct that his firstborn should get his right hand, from a grandfather’s perspective Menashe is not his first born and thus he has no obligation to look at him any differently than all his other grandchildren.
8. Blessing your children doesn’t necessarily mean that you are telling them what they want to hear. Jacob blessed his children by criticizing their weaknesses and making them aware of his dissatisfaction. If we don’t express our ideals to our children in a clear and concise manner, the probability is that they will hear what they choose to hear. The same is true about our leaders.
9, Antisemitism will always exist but Philo-Semitism will also always exist. It may be prudent to emulate God’s words to Abraham: And I will bless those that bless you and those that curse you will be cursed. God is expressing his priorities. He initially focuses on blessing those that bless us and only then expressing concern for those that may curse us. Indeed, we too should refrain from allowing our pessimism to override our optimism.
10. And finally, analyzing the words of God in number 9 we can come to the following conclusion: bless those that intend to bless us even before they actually bless us, and refrain from cursing others until after they actually curse us. In haste we often rush to condemn before knowing all the facts. And by jumping to unfair conclusions we may make enemies out of potential friends.
I’m sharing my thoughts as it helps me work through my own frustrations. As human beings we were given an ability to think, but we’re not always inclined to work hard at questioning our own thoughts. Our minds should be in constant struggle and yesterday’s mindset shouldn’t automatically be today’s default position. Internal conflict should be a compulsory course for the university of life. I’m aware of life’s inconsistencies but decided to embrace them to gain greater insight into humanity. I now recognize that one can be an advocate for law and order but also be against the death penalty. I’m unsure which sentiment is more accurate: “guns don’t kill, people kill,” or “without guns, less people would be killed.” Of course illegal immigration is wrong because it’s against the law but it may also be correct because it’s humane. While certainly people abuse the welfare system, others rely on the welfare system because they were abused. Highways running north and south go in opposing directions; whichever route helps you to get to your destination is the correct one for you. Grappling with life’s continuous journey is like holding the steering wheel when you drive. Even if you have driven your entire life, letting go of the steering wheel is dangerous. (My apologies to the autonomous vehicle advocates for using an archaic metaphor.) While loving mothers never lie, they often skirt the truth. My mother told me I could be anything in the world I wanted to be, all I had to do was try. Need I say any more? I wonder if Michael Jordan’s mother told him that could be anything in the world, perhaps even a rabbi
Rabbi Jack Engel