Tag Archives: diaspora

Vayigash: Settling Into Prosperity and Captivity

jewish-handsIn 468 CE, Rabbi Amemar, Rabbi Mesharsheya and Rabbi Huna, the heads of Babylonian Jewry, were arrested and executed 11 days later. The Jewish community of Babylon had existed for 900 years, ever since Nebuchadnezzar had conquered Israel, destroyed the Holy Temple, and exiled the Jews to Babylon. Seventy years later, when the Jews were permitted to return to Israel, a large percentage remained in Babylon — and this eventually became the center of Jewish rabbinic authority. Things began to worsen in the 5th century, when the Persian priests, fighting against encroaching Christian missionaries, unleashed anti-Christian persecutions which caught the Jews of Babylonia in its wake. Eventually the situation improved, and Babylon remained as the center of Jewish life for another 500 years.

-Rabbi Shraga Simmons
“Today in Jewish History, 7 Tevet”

Thus Israel settled in the country of Egypt, in the region of Goshen; they acquired holdings in it, and were fertile and increased greatly.

Genesis 47:27 (JPS Tanakh)

It’s hard not to compare these two events. Both of them describe different points in the process of the Jewish people going down into a land not their own and then making themselves comfortable there and thriving. As we see in the Babylonian example, the “good times” don’t last forever, but from Jacob’s point of view, this isn’t readily apparent. In fact, he had assurances that dwelling in Egypt was the right thing to do.

So Israel set out with all that was his, and he came to Beer-sheba, where he offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac. God called to Israel in a vision by night: “Jacob! Jacob!” He answered, “Here.” And He said, “I am God, the God of your father. Fear not to go down to Egypt, for I will make you there into a great nation. I Myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I Myself will also bring you back; and Joseph’s hand shall close your eyes.”

So Jacob set out from Beer-sheba. The sons of Israel put their father Jacob and their children and their wives in the wagons that Pharaoh had sent to transport him; and they took along their livestock and the wealth that they had amassed in the land of Canaan. Thus Jacob and all his offspring with him came to Egypt: he brought with him to Egypt his sons and grandsons, his daughters and granddaughters — all his offspring.

Genesis 46:1-7 (JPS Tanakh)

God’s blessing upon Jacob as we see above, is the beginning of the process of Israel dwelling in Egypt, multiplying greatly, and thriving there. However, the other end of the story is hardly so pleasant.

A new king arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph. And he said to his people, “Look, the Israelite people are much too numerous for us. Let us deal shrewdly with them, so that they may not increase; otherwise in the event of war they may join our enemies in fighting against us and rise from the ground.” So they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor; and they built garrison cities for Pharaoh: Pithom and Raamses. But the more they were oppressed, the more they increased and spread out, so that the [Egyptians] came to dread the Israelites.

The Egyptians ruthlessly imposed upon the Israelites the various labors that they made them perform. Ruthlessly they made life bitter for them with harsh labor at mortar and bricks and with all sorts of tasks in the field.

The king of Egypt spoke to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, saying, “When you deliver the Hebrew women, look at the birthstool: if it is a boy, kill him; if it is a girl, let her live.”

Exodus 1:8-16 (JPS Tanakh)

rabbi-prayingThe irony in making the above comparisons, is that the Fast of the Tenth of Tevet is just a few days away.

The Fast of the Tenth of Teves marks the day that Nevuzadran, the Babylonian general, laid siege to Jerusalem prior to the destruction of the first Holy Temple. The siege lasted almost three years until the city walls were breached and the Temple was destroyed. This was the beginning of a long line of disasters on the Jewish people, including the first exile, and the destruction of the second Temple.

This day is commemorated by refraining from eating or drinking from sunrise to nightfall.

While the last sentence of this week’s Torah portion is one of hope and prosperity for the Children of Israel, it is ominously foreshadowed by what we know will occur after the death of Joseph and his brothers. This is the fate of the Jewish people that we’ve seen enacted again and again across history since the destruction of Herod’s Temple in 70 CE and to this very day, when the Jews settle in an area, develop a robust and prolific community, and then are persecuted, robbed, maligned, murdered, and exiled.

On his blog, my friend Gene Shlomovich posted an extremely telling example of how Christianity in the “bad old days” expected and enforced Jewish conversion to Christianity. I invite you to click the link I just provided and read the whole story. It’s not a pretty picture, and many Jews chose to be tortured and die rather than to abandon the God of their Fathers and the Torah of Truth, and replace them with the “lure” of the “Goyishe Jesus.”

What am I saying here? That Christians are perpetually bad and that Jews should do anything in their power to blame the church for the hideous way it has historically treated Jewish people? Is that what the upcoming fast is all about? Not according to Rabbi Raymond Beyda

The purpose of fasting almost 2500 years after the events of the destruction took place is to awaken our hearts today to repentance. Our sages teach that anyone who lives at a time when there is no Bet Hamikdash must realize that had he or she lived when the Temple stood that his or her behavior would contribute to its destruction. Should we mend our ways and remove from our lives the behavior that brings destruction we will bring about the construction of the third Temple — the one that will never be destroyed — and the coming of Mashiah speedily in our days. May we all spend the day productively contributing to that end — Amen.

This is not to excuse the church for its crimes or to pardon any of the peoples and nations who have harassed and abused the Jewish people over the long centuries, but we must separate history from current events. Yes, hatred of Jews and hatred of Israel is still rampant in our world and there are many accounts in the media that indicate it is on the upswing. However, there are also many churches that have significantly revised and improved their (our) understanding of Jews and Judaism, and they (we) have repented and seek to understand our “Jewish roots,” while also honoring that God created a unique covenant people and nation in Israel who remain unique and special to the current day.

But the Jewish people have only one nation, Israel. While, in most parts of the world, Jews are welcome, and flourish, and are fully integrated within the countries and societies where they dwell, we see from history that there is such a thing as being too integrated, and certainly assimilation takes Jews to the point of no longer being recognizably Jewish. What the ancient church attempted and failed to do by force is now being accomplished voluntarily.

Judaism is being destroyed by assimilation and integration, which in effect, means Jews are, without realizing it, renouncing all that it is to be a Jew for the sake of national, social, and cultural belonging. But for those Jews who fully retain their unique ethnic, covenant, and halakhic identity as Jews, the danger they face living in the nations is the same danger the Jews faced in 468 CE in Babylon, and the same danger they faced in the 1930s in Germany.

joseph_egyptAnd it’s the same danger we find them facing this week as Jacob and his family settle comfortably in Goshen, which is in Egypt, and ruled by Pharaoh. Today, as we read Vayigash, Pharoah, King of Egypt knows Joseph and seeks to continue the profitable relationship between Egypt and Jacob’s family. Tomorrow, a new Pharoah will arise who does not know Joseph. That’s the way it’s always happened. Jews believe it will happen again.

According to the Talmud, as the Messianic era approaches, the world will experience greater and greater turmoil: Vast economic fluctuations, social rebellion, and widespread despair. The culmination will be a world war of immense proportion led by King Gog from the land of Magog. This will be a war the likes of which have not been seen before. This will be the ultimate war of good against evil, in which evil will be entirely obliterated. (Ezekiel ch. 38, 39; Zechariah 21:2, 14:23; Talmud – Sukkah 52, Sanhedrin 97, Sotah 49)

What is the nature of this cataclysmic war? Traditional Jewish sources state that the nations of the world will descend against the Jews and Jerusalem. The Crusades, Pogroms and Arab Terrorism will pale in comparison. Eventually, when all the dust settles, the Jews will be defeated and led out in chains. The Torah will be proclaimed a falsehood.

“End of Days”
from the “Ask the Rabbi” series

Israel and her people, the Jewish people, will be rescued when Moshiach comes. But until then, we in the church have a responsibility to make sure the Holocaust or anything like it does not happen again in our towns, in our cities, and in our nations. In solidarity, we can also fast on the Tenth of Tevet, which this year is on Sunday, December 23rd.

Peace be upon Jerusalem and may the Messiah come soon and in our day.

Good Shabbos.

Days of Mourning

MourningDuring the 3 weeks from 17 Tammuz leading up to Tisha B’Av, the 9th of Av, the Jewish people mourn the loss of the Holy Temple. The Talmud attributes this loss to the prevalence of Sinas Chinam, baseless hatred, among the Jewish people. While hatred towards others is a serious offense, how does it explain the loss of the Temple, and sending the Jewish people into a bitter, arduous exile for nearly 2000 years? Surely there are much greater crimes!

Recall that our relationship with the Al-mighty is not simply servant to master — it’s much deeper. He’s not only Malkeinu, our King, but Avinu Malkeinu, our Father, our King. A mere servant follows orders, but a child does what he knows his father wants most. While G-d did not record baseless hatred in His Torah as a punishable crime, we know that the deep pain it causes the Al-mighty, as it were, far exceeds even the most cardinal of sins. (Nesivos Shalom, Bamidbar 146)

I encourage you to read the words offered in eulogy (pgs 1 & 16) by Rabbi Binyomin Eisenberg , spiritual leader of the synagogue attended by Leiby Kletzky’s family, and one who had a close personal relationship with the pure, innocent Neshama (soul) summoned back to heaven last week. While one can only speculate what G-d’s message is to us, and undoubtedly there are many amidst such a profound tragedy, Rabbi Eisenberg noted the outpouring of assistance, thousands of volunteers, who helped in the search for Leiby and eventually helped lay his body to its final rest. He then asked a painful question: “Why do we need a tragedy to provide water in the streets for strangers?” “Let’s help each other – always,” he said. “If you pick up the phone, it stops ringing. If we Daven (pray) and help each other, we hopefully won’t need tragedies.”

Rabbi Mordechai Dixler
Program Director, Project Genesis – Torah.org

The three weeks of mourning, which started on Tammuz 17, began on July 19th this year, and will culminate on August 9th; Tisha b’av. The 9th day of the month of Av observes a series of tragic events that have befallen the Jewish people throughout history. It is said that both the First and Second Temples were destroyed on the 9th of Av. The Bar Kochba revolt (133 CE) was ended with the slaughter of the Jewish rebels by the Romans on the 9th of Av. On this same date in 1290 CE, the Jews were expelled from England and Spain banished Jews from their land in 1492 on the 9th of Av. Chabad.org has more facts on this day, which holds so many harsh events for the Jewish people.

Why continue to mourn? What purpose could continuing to commemorate the three weeks serve except as a depressing reminder of so much suffering, pain, and death? Why would the Jewish people want to make this a permanent part of their religious calendar and to relive such terrible times?

What did Rabbi Dixler say?

The reminder isn’t what the world has done to the Jews. The reminder is how they failed God, defining the failure as “the prevalence of Sinas Chinam, baseless hatred, among the Jewish people”.

I don’t say this to insult or denigrate the Jewish people. In fact, we all fail God, each and every one of us, and on a rather frequent basis. What lessons can Christians take from the three weeks of mourning and the fast days of 17 Tammuz and 9 Av? Christianity often focuses on how we are saved from sin and death, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but we have a tendency to gloss over our own faults, mistakes, and errors, all because we are “saved”. In fact, our salvation seems to make some Christians a little cocky and even arrogant. For them, being “saved” means if you mess up, all you have to do is shoot a quick prayer of “I’m sorry, God” up to heaven and you’re good to go.


MourningI think not, but sadly, I do think a lot of Christians proceed on this rather self-satisfied and self-serving assumption. If Christians would take their failures a little more seriously, consider displaying a more contrite attitude toward God and other people they have failed, and humble themselves (ourselves) before God and those people, wouldn’t we be better servants of God and better disciples of Jesus? Jesus emptied himself of all glory and honor and humbly accepted an unjust and undeserved death on a stake as a criminal. Where is our fasting, our mourning, our prayers of sorrow for the failures of our lives?

Rabbi Yehudah Prero offers a description of what observant Jews practice during these three weeks:

We are now in the final days of the Three Weeks, the period of time between the fasts of the 17th of Tamuz and the 9th of Av. These three weeks are spent in a state of mourning. We do not conduct weddings, we do not cut our hair, and we refrain from enjoying music. During the last nine days, we do not eat meat, drink wine, nor do we bathe. The sorrow of our exile surrounds us at every moment during this time of the year. While we are to mourn the loss of the Holy Temple, the Bais HaMikdosh and the destruction of Jerusalem, and pray for the end of this lengthy exile, we must remember that Hashem is with us, watching us, ready to lift the burden of exile from upon us at the proper time.

Granted, this type of observance is more common among Orthodox Jews, but it does set a standard of behavior that includes solumn reflection and prayer among the Jewish people as well as the reassurance that God is with them and, at the right time, that He will rescue them. It commemorates the “incompleteness” of the redemption of the Jewish people from exile and the desire for the coming of the Messiah to accomplish the final return of the Jews to Israel and to God:

We have been in exile for a long time. Our families have been subject to spiritual and physical persecution. During the Three Weeks, our behavior reflects the sadness of this time period, the recognition of the great suffering which we still endure. Although we mourn and lament, we must still keep in mind that Hashem is watching over us. He has already put in place the mechanisms for our redemption. We cannot allow that spark of hope within us to be extinguished. We must recognize that the exile will end. That end has been planned for and provided for by G-d. With our striving to be better people, with our repenting, our studying of the Torah, the redemption, our light at the end of the tunnel, is clearly within sight.

Christians don’t consider themselves in exile, but perhaps we should. Although Christianity doesn’t have the same relationship to Land of Israel as the Jewish people, there is definitely something we are missing. We still live in a broken world. We still live in a world where sin and immorality reign and where the values of God and truth are treated with contempt. When will we be “returned” to our “homeland”, where we will live in peace and be ruled by our just and merciful King? When will Jesus come?

As long as we are waiting for him, we are also in exile. While we celebrate our salvation, let us mourn the fact that it was for our sins that Jesus suffered terribly and died. We share some measure of grief and sorrow for the destruction of the Temple and the exile of the Jews from Israel, because these are all events that are inexorably tied to the death of the Messiah and the spreading of the Gospel of Christ. The Prophet Micah said that someday, all people from the nations will stream to the mountain of God. For that reason, we too must long for the day of its return and for the restoration of the Jews to Israel, as we do for the return of Christ. Let us fast and mourn as for an only son who we have lost and pray for the day when he will come into the world again, in glory and honor and joy. One day, we will all be restored in the courts of our Father and our King.

In the last days
the mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established
as the highest of the mountains;
it will be exalted above the hills,
and peoples will stream to it.

Many nations will come and say,

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
to the temple of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways,
so that we may walk in his paths.”
The law will go out from Zion,
the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
He will judge between many peoples
and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore.
Everyone will sit under their own vine
and under their own fig tree,
and no one will make them afraid,
for the LORD Almighty has spoken.
Micah 4:1-4