These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

[PCJE Dvar Torah] The Driver’s Seat

Posted on December 5, 2013 by Ariel Eliach Forman

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1426320_491317000975903_83993812_nThis weeks Parsha marks the beginning of the Israelites impending enslavement in Egypt. It also happens to be a portion of the Tanach that I have long struggled with. After Yoseph finally reveals himself to his brothers, he reassures them that God in fact sent him to Egypt initially, to be in a position to save his own family in the future. In other words, it was all a part of a larger plan, God’s plan.

Yoseph’s statement to his brothers seems quite puzzling. How can Yoseph honestly believe that the anguish and pain he experienced because of the transgressions of his brothers, was in the end all a plan to save those same brothers? To make the question even stronger, why does Yoseph not seem spiteful or angry when proclaiming that it was in fact God who was behind it all?

The question only deepens when God appears to Yaakov only a few pesukim later in a dream. God tells Yaakov not to fear going down to Egypt to escape the famine, because Yaakov’s people will eventually be made into a great nation: “I Myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I Myself will also bring you back…” As learners and readers, we can only sit back and bask in the irony of this statement. We know the Israelites’ fate to come in just a few parshiot. Yes, Yaakov’s offspring will be made into a great nation, but first they must endure years of slavery, bloodshed, power struggles and a whole lot of traveling. So what does it mean when it says that God will go down and go out with you from Egypt? Should we be comforted by the fact that the Mastermind behind this entire plan will also be the one to eventually “remember” us and lead us to nationhood? What about everything in between?

My husband and I moved to Israel 5 ½ years ago. We came as avid idealists yearning for experience, formation of identity and growth. What we got was a never-ending journey that encompasses all of the above-mentioned dreams, which took on shapes and forms we could not have ever fathomed. Throughout this journey we have questioned the worth of living so far away from our family and friends. We have questioned the purpose of living here all together, and we now grapple with the idea of going back to America. However, I now think and hold to be true, that our lives are a trajectory of millions of different experiences that create a larger picture. I choose to believe that it is our responsibility to make decisions, move forward and follow our dreams. I am comforted by the fact that while there may or may not be a “greater plan” in mind, we are the ones living and we have the power to make changes at every stage in our lives. There are always those who say that once you make X decision you can never go back to Y, or better yet you never will. I think you can go from X to Y and then back to X and maybe visit A, B, C and D along the way. Our lives are fluid, and as long as we embrace being the drivers of our own lives we can steer it in any direction.

Upon reflection of my personal experiences, the story of Yoseph now takes on a different meaning. We are seeing this story in retrospect. Yoseph too is reflecting on his own experiences when he says that God sent him to Egypt for a reason. It is only upon this reflection that he is able to see the greater purpose. Perhaps, he created that purpose in order to justify still living. Maybe he created that reason in order to prove his endurance and will to live to himself and his brothers.

Regardless, it is the people of Israel who are left to grapple with the brutal years ahead of them. God’s presence is promised from the beginning of Israel’s journey to Egypt, to their eventual redemption. The slavery, or the “in between” that we have been discussing, is therefore in retrospect, the Israelites means to an end. Just like Yoseph made the conscious decision to forgive his brothers by seeing his fate as pre-destined by God, our personal beliefs, social responsibilities and individual decisions are in our hands as well. It is within these every day decisions that the end, end’s up justifying the means. Regardless of what one believes or does not believe, we are here living, day-by-day, moment-by-moment, creating and justifying life for ourselves.

Wishing us all ownership over our decisions and deep reflection on our nationhood as we look back and see the lights of Chanukah trailing behind us…

Shabbat Shalom!
Ariel