Vayeshev, Hanukkah and Today’s News

Vayeshev, Hanukkah and Today’s News

Today I want to share two, distinct thoughts.

The first thought concerns Joseph, the featured attraction in this week’s portion of Vayeshev. After Joseph is sold to Egypt-bound merchants, he becomes the servant of Potiphar; Pharaoh’s most trusted official. Living at Potiphar’s, Joseph becomes embroiled in a sexual harassment incident with Potiphar’s wife. In this story however, Joseph is the v ictim and not the aggressor. Unfortunately, Potiphar holds Joseph responsible, and banishes him to prison. Although the Joseph saga concludes happily; no where in the upcoming chapters does our hero speak about the incident. I imagine that Joseph suppressed all of the emotional scars he bore from the trauma.

Over the past months, women (and several men as well) have come forward to share their traumatic stories about sexual harassment. Like Joseph, many of these victims have suppressed their emotional scars for years, if not for decades. They hesitated to step forward; fearing that (like Joseph) they will be branded as liars or as publicity seekers. Only now, as prominent men have been exposed as sexual predators; are the victims willing to speak publicly. Only now, are the true victims confident that society will believe them.

Among the guilty are several prominent politicians; one of whom just announced his intent to resign a Senate seat. Tragically however, even with regard to sexual harassment our national officials are guided by politics and not by conscience. No one deserves a free get out of jail card because his presence is essential to the majority. No guilty politician regardless of party or position should be exempt from accountability (and although I believe in innocent until proven guilty; when several women step forward with accusations the odds are they are telling the truth). When it comes to sexual predators, there is no room for partisan politics. It is time for us to remind our officials of such a principle…

In the beginning of Vayeshev, the Torah narrates how Jacob was settled in the land of Canaan. Although not explicitly stated, we have a sense that Jacob’s settling down was not permanent. As we learn further on in the story, Jacob and clan were forced to leave Canaan because of famine. Commentators observe how at a more advanced stage of life; Jacob should be able to settle down permanently; enjoying benefits from what will later be called the Land of Israel. Unfortunately, events did not allow him such comforts.

Throughout history, events have never enabled the Jewish people to permanently enjoy living in their beloved land. Jews have often struggled to settle in the land of Israel and to enjoy the city of Jerusalem. The Hanukkah we celebrate next week is yet another example of the Jewish people fighting to remain in their homeland. Hanukkah reflects the Maccabee struggle to remain independent and to enjoy the spiritual benefits of their Jerusalem Temple. The Maccabee victory was short lived; two centuries after the Hanukkah story, that Temple was destroyed and the Jews exiled. Once again, the joy of settling in Jerusalem was temporary.

This past week, President Trump declared that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and therefore the US Embassy will eventually be moved (albeit not for several years). Such a declaration is kind of a tautology; restating what should be obvious and logical. Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, as Cairo is the capital of Egypt or Damascus is the capital of Syria. Yet, as in the past, when it comes to Jerusalem or to the Land of Israel in general, nothing is easy for the Jewish people. By rights, every Embassy in Israel should be in Jerusalem. Saying otherwise would be like nations establishing their US Embassy in Boston or Philadelphia; when Washington DC is our recognized capital. As some have argued; no threat of future terrorism should ever be a factor in our decision to leave the Embassy in Tel Aviv.

However, no matter how logical and just it may be to move the Embassy, the political climate requires more than bravado or emphatic declarations. In the short run, a decision to move the Embassy will be applauded by many Jews. A bigger picture suggests however, that moving the Embassy needs to be part of a long term peace plan which will finally lead to a permanent peace between Israelis and Palestinians. I fear that our present euphoria about the Embassy move will only be temporary; unless the Embassy move is part of a more comprehensive plan.

From Joseph through the Maccabees until now; nothing is ever easy for Israel or for the Jewish people. Let us hope that with this Hanukkah, we will not only celebrate the Maccabee victory, but will celebrate the beginning of a permanent peace. Let us also hope that Jerusalem will be honored as the capital of Israel and the Jewish people; within a context that enables Israelis and Palestinians to live side by side in a state of permanent peace.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Klayman