Rabbi Feingold's D'var Torah


This week’s parashah contains the dramatic conclusion of the Joseph cycle of Torah readings when Joseph reveals himself to his brothers and welcomes the family to Egypt. Just before this revelation, Judah seems to now regret his actions in throwing his brother into a pit and selling him into slavery years before. Truth be told, Judah doesn’t actually apologize, and it may not be remorse that motivates him. But, he seems to be sorry about something. (Gen 44: 32-34) How do we know if someone’s statement of regret for past deeds is truly sincere or is merely a verbal exercise to save face? This question is important for our own relationships. It is also relevant to the statements of those accused in the rash of sexual boundaries violations that has consumed our nation in recent weeks. I will take up this theme in my sermon tomorrow evening.

Perhaps you have noticed the Jewish custom of ending a letter with the word “B’shalom” or L’shalom, “in peace” or “toward peace,” respectively. “B’shalom” seems closer to the English usage, but actually “L’shalom” is more appropriate in Hebrew, and an explanation finds its source in this week’s parasha.  When Joseph sends his brothers back to Canaan while keeping Benjamin as a slave, he bids them farewell with “Alu l’shalom,” usually translated as “Go up in peace.” (Gen 44:17).  But, a better translation is “Go up toward peace.”  The Talmud states that to say “l’shalom” always means to go forward to a peaceful life, while “b’shalom” is associated with eternal peace, that is, death. (Tractate Berachot). That is why letters should be concluded with “L’shalom” rather than “B’shalom,” unless one is expressing condolences.

Vayeshev is the beginning of the story of Joseph, which continues through a total of four Torah portions.  Chapter 38 of Genesis, however, interrupts the focus on Joseph for a side-story about Judah and Tamar.  This is the point at which the brothers have sold Joseph to a caravan that passed by and then bloodied Joseph’s special tunic and lied to their father that Joseph was dead.  Jacob was inconsolable over the supposed death of Joseph. It is here that Chapter 38 begins with:  “At that time Judah left his brothers….” The Midrash explains that Judah left the others because they blamed him for what had happened to Joseph and the grief it caused their father. They accepted no responsibility. (Torah Shelema 38:6-8) The time-worn excuse of “we were just following orders” appears here as it has so many times in history. 

May FOOD OF THE MONTH: canned or dried beans

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