Leah Jacobson

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

It is my firm belief that there are no coincidences in life. Therefore, not only am I not surprised, but I’m delighted that the swearing in of the 37th Knesset of the State of Israel has taken place in the weeks surrounding Parshyiot VaYigash and VaYechi in our weekly Torah portion cycle.

The dominant theme of these portions, in Bereisheet 44-49, as well as one of the accompanying Prophetic readings from Yechezkel, is leadership. We witness, annually, what extraordinary, effective leadership is capable of.

It behooves us as the Jewish people, in all shades of practice and political leaning, to read these stories in the prism of present day.  In this way, we may ensure that this new government surprises us all with an enduring, productive, positive legacy which we so sorely need.

Spoiler alert, the bottom line is:
Learn humility from Yehudah. Surely, we all make mistakes. The shame is not only in making them, but more so in not owning and rectifying them. Admitting you are wrong is a strength, NOT a weakness. This sets you up for future success.

Learn faith from Yoseph. Remember that God is actively involved in your life’s journey. Any successes or failures are there to help you reach your personal potential as part of Am Yisrael. We ALL have something to contribute. Recognizing the divine nature of your skills is a strength, NOT a weakness. He gave them to you for a reason!

Our strength lies in our unity.

The exchange between Yoseph and Yehudah surely does not happen in a vacuum. Fraternal strife and global crises have brought these two epic figures together, giving each of them their moment in the spotlight. These images ought to be burned into our psyches, inspiring us to emulate them. Alas, that is easier said than done, and the moments where we need those powers the most are often the ones where they evade us.

To somewhat understate and summarize, Yoseph had been sold by his jealous brothers some twenty years prior. Driven by mad jealousy of their father’s preferential treatment of Yoseph as the son of his favored Rachel, they could no longer abide his arrogant premonitions of royalty and dominance and conspire to kill him. Reuven steps in briefly, then Yehuda ultimately convinces the brothers not to shed blood, but to be rid of him no less and they sell Yoseph to a caravan heading south.

If they thought this would mollify their jealousy, they were wrong. Yaakov proceeds to mourn Yoseph in melancholy, surely a constant reminder of their cruelty and pettiness. Yehuda temporarily takes leave of the family and undergoes a transformative era, where he is schooled by his daughter-in-law in humility and ownership of actions.

Yoseph proceeds to ride a roller coaster of success and failure until he ultimately recognizes that God Himself has been actively guiding him through his entire journey. When the brothers show up in Egypt, Yoseph must determine if they have come to the same realization. He tests them to see if, when faced with the same opportunity to be rid of Binyamin, the remaining son of the beloved Rachel, they would grab it, or shun it.  He is only convinced when Yehudah steps forth and declares as much. They have truly repented. They can now reunite and become the whole, complete nation they were destined to be.

This takes us to VaYechi, where Yaakov bestows “blessings” upon each son.
If you consider calling them out on their shortcomings and failures a blessing. And we should.  Yaakov sets each of them on a path to recognize their individual strengths and weaknesses. Implicit in his blessing is the charge to understand how each of those strengths can and must contribute to the entirety of a nation.  There is a place, nay a NEED, for those who fall short, and those who rise up. For the zealot and the complacent. The student and the merchant. The warrior and the dove. The cool kid and the misfit. The privileged and the challenged.

As Jews, our entire mission in life is to figure out a way to work together to be a light among the nations. Yechezkel, in chapter 37 (!!!), divinely prophecies that the leader with the face toward the nations of the world (a la Yoseph) and the internal leader (Yehudah) become one. It is not necessarily one individual that will accomplish this in our day, but surely a body of leaders with a mandate to lead our Jewish state, based on divine values of mutual respect and collaborative triumphs, should strive to achieve this.

Mutual respect does not mean that you condone someone’s behavior. It does, however, demand that you honor their right to exist and leave their consequences up to God, the Ultimate Judge. We are all flesh and blood. We are all brothers and sisters. There is nothing new under the sun in the strife that stubbornly rears its head in every generation.

The real Chiddush, epiphany, should be our ability to prevail over that tendency to deride the other. Look in the mirror and consider your personal actions. Honestly assess your behavior and recognize that just because you may not have been caught or indicted (how much more so if you have), you have erred. Own it and make the decision to try to improve. Then, look at your colleague. See the positive in them. Understand that allowing and enabling them to do what they do best is a strength, NOT a weakness!

It is not just our leaders who require introspection and personal growth. The recent looting of the shipwrecked containers off our southern coast is an appalling sign that, as a society, we are sorely lacking in personal accountability and regard for other’s lives and belongings. The road rage culture corroborates this further.

Let’s take the lessons of these parshiyot to heart. Let’s start now and build up the nation and state we are poised to be. How fine it will be to look in the mirror and like what we see.

About the Author
Leah Jacobson made aliya to Raanana from Seattle with her husband and children in 2011. She is an artist, a Madrichat Kallot and a Jewish Educator. Her passion is integrating Torah learning with personal expression to keep our ancient texts relevant to modern life.
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