Monday, May 24, 2004

I'm home from my last official weekend of the year at Congregation Etz Chaim in Merced, CA. I'm honored and humbled to be their spiritual leader; it's still a new role for me. I look forward to another year there, to lifecycle events and holidays and the cycle of the year and the normal bumps of life in a congregation. They are my charges and my teachers.

And now back to that exegesis paper! I get some of my best thinking done on the five hours of highway between LA and Merced. I did not get any blazing insights about Genesis 50:15-26, but I do know why I'm so drawn to that passage. It's the final reconciliation of the bruised, battered, fractured, dysfunctional family of Jacob. The next time we meet them, in Exodus, they are still a cranky and intractable bunch, but there are so many of them they aren't just a family anymore -- and clearly the last reconciliation held, because all the brothers have surviving descendants!

All families have troubles. My own family has had its griefs, heaven knows, and much of the tsuris [suffering] in any congregation has to do with ruptures between siblings, or between parent and child, or between life partners. I am drawn to Joseph because he was able to transcend the family misery; he managed to "speak upon their hearts."

Joseph has always seemed to me to be an oddball character: brilliant but forever a little different. As a kid, his judgement was terrible, but he had the good grace to learn from every mistake he made. His heart was enormous: I am astonished by a man who can look at the brothers who sold him into slavery and say, "Lookit, your intentions were not good, but God made it come out OK, so no hard feelings."


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