Thursday, December 20, 2012

Vayigash

I am not in a very forgiving mood.

Joseph, by contrast, demonstrates extraordinary forgiveness. Some of his brothers want to kill him. Others decide to sell him into slavery and then tell their father that Joseph was killed by wild beasts. All throw him into a pit and then callously sit down to a meal while Joseph suffers in the darkened pit. Now, in this week’s portion, Joseph is given the opportunity to exact revenge. His brothers stand before him begging for food. There is a famine in the land of Canaan but the Egyptians, because of Joseph’s capable leadership, have ample food.

Instead Joseph forgives his brothers.

It is a remarkable moment. Joseph says, “Now, do not be distressed or reproach yourselves because you sold me here; it was to save life that God sent me ahead of you…. With that he embraced his brother Benjamin around the neck and wept, and Benjamin wept on his neck. He kissed all his brothers and wept upon them…” (Genesis 45:5, 14-15)

Too often we do not follow Joseph’s example. We remain angry at family. We harbor a grudge against brothers.

In contrast, we quickly forget atrocities. How many mass killings will our nation suffer before we pledge never to forget? Months ago there was Aurora and now most recently Newtown. But in order to move forward and return to the normalcy of our lives we push such unspeakable evils far away. Soon we forget.

Atrocities are often pushed aside. We fill our hearts with anger at family. We have it reversed. Instead we should forgive the wrongs committed against us by family. And remain angry at the gun violence that happens too often in our country. We should allow the tragedy in Newtown to forever burn in our hearts.

That is the only way we might affect some measure of change. Anger has a purpose. When it spurs us to action it serves a greater good. When it pushes brothers away from each other it creates a lasting emptiness. We need to hold family close. There are bonds that only family share. Joseph understood this. He forgave. He forgot. He redeemed his brothers’ evil and rescued their atrocities.

For Newtown, however, and for all the other victims of senseless violence my heart continues to burn with anger. For too long I looked aside. I did not get involved. I reasoned that our political system is too broken and the second amendment too ingrained for there to be effective change. Never again!

We must change. We cannot prevent all gun violence. We cannot write laws that will prevent all atrocities, but we can change. We can do a better job of protecting ourselves and our children. There are limits that can be enacted. There are background checks that can be made.

If one more life is saved then perhaps, like Joseph, we can redeem evil and give the deaths of these precious young lives lasting meaning. Perhaps their deaths can save others. Perhaps they can make our country safer.

The Talmud teaches that if you have the ability to prevent a wrong from being committed and refrain from getting involved, then you are complicit in the offense. I will not stand guilty again. I pledge to remain angry!

My hope and prayer is that this is the moment. Newtown’s tragedy will become the event that history later records was the earth shattering occasion when ordinary Americans became so enraged that our country finally changed, that the political order was at last shaken and the right to bear arms gained some sensible limits. And then everyone remained safer.

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