Thursday, August 30, 2012
Years ago, before Rabbinical School, I was at a conference with a friend of mine who was working for Ramah as a recruiter. We had a great time at the conference and we met some very interesting people. I remember there was one girl who we met who had tattoos and body piercings all over her, and she talked to my friend and became interested in Ramah. Dani gave her some information, we both told her about our experience at Ramah, and we went on our way.
About a year later, my friend Dani called me and she told me an interesting follow up. She told me that she was at another conference and she saw that girl again, and the girl looked at her and started crying. She told my friend Dani that meeting her at that conference brought her to Ramah and changed her life. She told Dani that Dani was an angel. When Dani told me this, we both started laughing. One of us, an angel?!?
Has anyone met someone, you don’t even have to know their name, who later turned out to be someone who led you to be the person who you are today?
This week’s parashah, Va-Yeshev, is the next chapter in the story of our forefathers. Jacob’s children are now the focus of the story, especially the story of Jacob’s most beloved son: Joseph. As soon as we are introduced to Joseph and his background, we see a very interesting scene that is all too familiar. The text states:
“And a man came upon him – here, he was roaming in the field; the man asked him, saying:
What do you seek? (Mah Tivakesh)?
He said: I seek my brothers, pray tell me where they are tending sheep.
The man said: They have moved on from here, indeed, I heard them say: Let us to got Dotan.”
What continues, the story of Joseph in Egypt, is one of the most intricate and interesting narratives in the Torah. The language is rich with commentary, but before we get to that, we have to look at this scene. Why even look at this scene when basically Joseph receives directions? Can you imagine if you were telling a long story about a trip that changed your life and you spoke about getting directions at a gas station? The Rabbis look at this scene as vital to Joseph’s narrative because the Torah does not contain extra and unimportant information. It’s a very strange story and it involves an unnamed, anonymous man, an איש, much like the man who wrestled with Joseph’s father, Jacob when his name was changed to Israel.
Visualize this, Joseph is roaming around in the field and an anonymous man approaches him. Joseph does not begin the conversation, rather, the man does. Rashi and Ramban, two medieval commentators, claim that this was not a man, rather, an angel, in other words, a divine messenger.
This angel asks a question that can have so many answers, what do you seek? Joseph seems to be focused only on the task at hand: finding his brothers. The angel points him in the direction of Dotan where Joseph’s life and the life of his family, and his people for the future, changes. It is in Dotan where Joseph is brought as a slave to Egypt, which led to Joseph becoming a leader in Egypt, which ultimately led to the settlement of Jacob’s family in Egypt, which led to the slavery of the people and the Exodus from Egypt, the seminal story of the Jewish people.
But let me ask you something: what would have happened had Joseph continued to roam the field and just come home to his father? Would the story ever have occurred?
It makes you wonder about your own life. How many people here found their way to Judaism because they were roaming aimlessly and a person approached them asking: what do you seek?
So many of us have found our future we could not have imagined in Judaism, and in this synagogue, but did we know at the time what we were getting ourselves into. We could have been searching for something small – an afterschool education program for a child, a place to pray for the high holidays, a class on prayer that seemed interesting. Many of us entered the gates here not thinking that it would lead to anything life changing, but so many of us have found a greater destiny.
But someone directed you through that gate that led you on a path, and that someone was an angel. In Judaism, an angel is considered a messenger of God, so if you think about it, there are times in our lives where we have been angels, where we have brought the message of Judaism to those who have yet to hear it.
Ramban, the commentator I mentioned before, brings up an interesting idea. That “איש” that man who directed Joseph to Dotan, even though a divine being, did not know the ultimate result of the directions he gave.
Sometimes, you may think you know the path that someone should take, but the truth is, you can only point them in the right direction. The path that they take is between them and God, just like Joseph’s path.
You have the ability to be that “איש”, that person, you have the ability to be the angel, the messenger, that directs someone on the path of their Jewish journey.
Every time you speak to someone who is unaffiliated, someone who is roaming in the field unsure of what they are REALLY looking for, you can show them the way. You can approach them and ask them a vital question: What do you seek? Maybe you will show them a path by inviting them to services, maybe inviting them to come to a Shabbat meal, or even join us as members of Shaarei Kodesh, but each little interaction you have can change history.
The truth is, you may not be remembered by this person, but your reward is knowing that you have made our congregation and our people are stronger because of your actions, your directions.
The commentators say Joseph’s story was in order to fulfill the prophesy that God gave to Avraham, “your seed will be brought to a far away land.”
Much history has passed, and we have had many prophecies, both positive and negative, and it shows something: the future is yet to be written. I have heard on many occasions that the future of Judaism is bleak, assimilation is too strong, the birthrate is too small, intermarriage is too pervasive, the list goes on and on.
But we have the power to change our destinies, as did the Maccabees did when they ensured that Judaism would survive despite the overwhelming force of Hellenism and a great empire. It was something that seemed impossible at the time, but God was with them, just as God was with Joseph through his trials in Egypt, and just as God is with us today.
The Sefat Emet wrote that Hanukah is a special time that Israel merited by their own actions. This holiday is a witness that Israel chose God and created a new sacred time because of their actions. Because this holiday was brought about by Israel’s own actions, their own deeds, every Jewish soul can be restored through this holiday.
That “איש” was a small light in the darkness that led Joseph to his destiny. You too can be that “איש,” a small light to lead others to their destinies to restore their Jewish souls.
Be a Malach, an angel for us, be a messenger for this shul. You are an angel of God. Find someone who is roaming and bring them here so they can find their destiny.