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The Essential Component of Jewish Continuity

When We Witness Disgrace

By Rabbi Yaacov Haber

The story of Yosef defies imagination. Picture yourself stuck in a dangerous pit, crawling with poisonous snakes, screaming out for help while catching a glimpse of your brothers sitting down to break bread, ignoring your pleas for mercy. When they finish eating they decide to sell you as a slave. Your screams for mercy pierce the heavens yet they seem to make absolutely no impression whatsoever on the hearts of your brothers. The coldness on their faces chills your heart and vanquishes any love you may have had.

Put yourself in Yosef’s place. Would you ever be able to forgive your brothers? Would you be able to resist the urge to take revenge? Would you ever be able to kiss them and embrace them or even look them straight in the eye? Would you still identify with the name of your family? Would you adhere to all the families laws and customs after they caused you such profound pain? Would you care about them? Would you have stayed in the fold?

Joseph witnessed a scandal but he didn’t assimilate; he didn’t become an anti-Semite. He defied every law of human nature. He didn’t let others dictate his behavior, he didn’t lose his standard, he did the right thing.

Years ago, while living in Jerusalem, I remember speaking to one of our non-religious neighbors. She complimented me by saying that if all the religious people would be like my wife she would become religious. She insisted however that in fact that was not the case. She told me of a memory she had from 20 years earlier of how she was walking through the Meah Shearim section of Jerusalem holding her mother’s hand. She was around five years old and was wearing shorts. A little Yerushalmi boy, offended by the desecration of his neighborhood took the apple core he was holding in his hand and threw it at her leg.

My heart went out to this innocent little girl. But I questioned her thinking. Do you mean to say, that you are basing the most important lifestyle decision you will ever make on a two minute incident that took place between you and another five year old? I understand your pain. I understand your scar, but don’t let your pain of twenty years ago scar you from life. Don’t let all your thinking, philosophies and decisions be influenced by a childish act done by a five year old boy twenty years ago. G-d is the issue - not the kid in Meah Shearim!

Joseph was empowered by one sentence. You didn’t send me here, G-d did! The fact is they did send him there. The Ten Martyrs during the time of the Roman destruction of Jerusalem had to die because the brothers of Joseph sent him to Egypt. But from Joseph’s point of view that was between his brothers and G-d. That was something they had to deal with. As far as Joseph was concerned it was all an act of G-d. He was not the judge, he was not the administer of punishment, he was a brother and he was a Jew. He would act like a brother and he would act like a Jew.

Josephs profound relationship with God allowed him to forgive, make solid decisions and maintain a healthy perspective on life.

The scandalous acts of men too often push our relationships with God to the limits; they profoundly test our convictions and our philosophies.

We have to remember always, as did Joseph, that our choices of right and wrong are not dependent on the acts of others. We must independently trust in God and do the right thing.

This Dvar Torah is dedicated to the memory of my mother, Mazal Tov bas Eliyahu whose yohrtzeit is today. May she be an advocate for our people and our family before Hashem.  May her memory be a blessing.

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