The Journeys We Pursue
January 6, 2023 / 13 Tevet 5783
It’s hard to imagine one idea, concept, value, or commandment that might summarize the messages and lessons learned from the Book of Genesis. However, in this week’s Torah portion, Vayechi, which is also the closing parashah of this first book of the Torah, we are presented with the inexplicable scene where Joseph’s brothers panic after the death of their father Jacob, thinking that maybe now Joseph will exact his revenge for having been sold into slavery when he was back in Canaan as a young boy.
The scene unfolds as the brothers falsely speak on their deceased father’s behalf, claiming Jacob left instructions that Joseph should forgive them for having treated him so harshly all those years ago (Genesis 50:17). Then, while Joseph is in tears watching this scene unfold, the brothers up their guilt offering, sharing that they are even “prepared to be [Joseph’s] slaves” (50:18).
As mentioned in last week’s column, Joseph responds to his brothers in the only way he knows how, by reiterating to them that he is simply a messenger of Gd’s will. “Have no fear!” (50:19) Joseph tells them, “Gd intended this for good” (50:20).
Time and time again, throughout the Book of Genesis, we read of decisions being made in hopes of specifically desirable outcomes. We read of our ancestors’ decisions, trying to bring about destinies whose journeys ultimately travel through unexpected and alternative paths. And yet, these experiences are not necessarily better than or worse than what destiny might have planned; rather, they were simply different than what they might have expected.
This is where the lesson to be learned from our first book of the Torah can be found. Our focus should not be on the outcomes, the dreams, or the Gdly promises. The lessons to be learned are on the journeys we pursue to achieve these outcomes. Since the Jewish people’s master story is the Exodus from Egypt, we could rationalize simply starting our biblical canon from this point moving forward. If not for the importance of the journey, we could rightly ask, why would we need the backstory of everything that took place in Genesis?
In my position, I am blessed to have the opportunity to engage with members of the community every day, and in many of those conversations, I hear about the challenges, struggles, opportunities, and frequently about the glorious days of old. As is the nature of these conversations, they typically turn from hopes, dreams, and the abstract to what can we do now, today, this week, and even this year, the burden of personal responsibility and accountability begins to weigh too heavy for some.
Although many of these discussions tend to focus on what our volunteers and community leaders can do and where would their skillsets be most appreciated and impactful across the community, others are often paralyzed by the enormity of what needs to be done. The former group, our “optimists,” see the burden of what needs to be done in incremental and achievable steps. The latter, our less-than-optimistic group, tend to focus on the endgame and are overly burdened with the totality of the journey of how to get from where we are to where we desire to be.
If the Book of Genesis has taught us anything, it is that we cannot solve every challenge in one fell swoop. We cannot magically arrive at our destiny without the multitude of experiences along the way, some positive and some unfortunately not so positive.
When we conclude a book of the Torah, it is traditional to recite the phrase chazak, chazak, v’nitchazek (“be strong, be strong, and we will be strengthened”). Therefore, may we all be blessed as we move into this next book of the Torah, knowing that there are many achievable steps along our journey to advance our San Antonio Jewish community. And, if anyone is looking for an opportunity to share their work (volunteerism), wisdom (experience), or wealth (philanthropy), we will happily find the right place for you to help us continue to build and strengthen our community… because we are better when we are…