Dear WJC Family,
I hope that everyone enjoyed a meaningful and happy Hanukkah. It was particularly nice to get to see many of our WJC family lighting Hanukkah candles, whether you joined us on our virtual evening Zoom minyan or via photos and videos in my Facebook feed. There is a closeness that could be felt knowing that so many of us were lighting our hanukkiyot each evening, sometimes together virtually, sometimes each on our own, but united in a common action of bringing light into the world both literally and figuratively. We could do worse than being a community of light creators!
I hope that many of you felt that closeness over the last few weeks – between Thanksgiving and Hanukkah, many of us spent time with family we haven’t seen in person for nearly two-years. I pray that those reunions were fulfilling and happy, though they inevitably had their bumps too. Family is complex under the best of circumstances and we have hardly been living under those.
Perhaps there is something we can learn about that from one of the most famous family reunions in history, which we read at the beginning of this Shabbat’s Torah portion, Vayigash. In what might be the first coordinated “Reveal” in history, Joseph tells his brothers that he (now the Prime Minister of Egypt) is actually their long lost brother Joseph. The Egyptians love it and despite Joseph’s attempt at privacy the Torah tells us, “His [Joseph’s] sobs were so loud that the Egyptians could hear, and so the news reached Pharaoh’s palace.” In other words, they were trending.
But of course, this is a bit of an awkward family reunion. After all, Judah, the brother now taking the lead in approaching Joseph, is the very brother who had the idea to sell Joseph into slavery in the first place and here was Joseph now a man of incredible power. From the perspective of the brothers, there might be a question as to why didn’t Joseph drop a telegram to let his father at least know that he was alive. And you thought two years of absence, politics and differing opinions about Covid made the last few weeks awkward? Just imagine!
And yet, the brothers and Joseph unite immediately, they are able to connect and move forward as a family with no further strife. What’s their secret? Can we learn it and use it in our families? A midrash on the word Vayigash that begins our parsha explains that it means to draw close to one another, to meet as equals. Though Judah was a starving shepherd from the backwaters of Canaan, Joseph treats him as an equal, a prince among his own people. The word VaYigash implies respect, equality and empathy. Those are the qualities that guide Jacob’s sons through their awkward reunion and through the rest of their lives and those are qualities that will very likely help us out in our own family relationships. Especially when we disagree or are dismayed by our family’s behavior or beliefs, that is the time to meet them as equals and with respect. When it counts, when we need each other, familial connections are more important than all the rest. I know this isn’t always easy, but we can look to Joseph and his brothers for inspiration.
You may have recognized that I like to refer to you all as the WJC family—I know I have addressed this before, but we can draw one more insight from the above explanation. What makes us a family is not that we agree on everything or that there is never an awkward moment. In fact, just the opposite—familial connections are the ones that exist despite anything else—proximity, agreement, even affection. What makes the WJC family great is our diversity of views, varied locations and differing interests—as long as we approach each other like our spiritual ancestors so long ago, with respect, equality and empathy—and generally we are good at that.
Regarding closeness though, I want everyone to feel as close to their WJC family as possible, and I know that is complicated with the pandemic as well. Still, Rabbi Dalton, Cantor Goldberg and I want to have individual meetings with as many of you as possible—just to catch up or get to know you better, hear how you are doing and see if there is a way the WJC family can serve you better—we are calling it “Coffee with the Clergy” (for all you Ted Lasso fans out there). Please drop any of us an email or call and we will set something up as soon as we can – for coffee, in our offices or on Zoom. Whatever is comfortable for you.
In the meantime, for those of you who are comfortable coming to shul in-person (and you can read our COVID protocols on our website), we’d love to see you in shul and/or at Kiddish lunch and we can catch up then—see the times and details for services below.
See you in shul, or online, or at the cafe!