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Revelation of Universal Design

Sally was excited to go to camp as a new camper. At the same time, she was anxious to see how it would work in light of her being deaf. She was hopeful that it would not be a problem because she knew how to read lips. Sadly, some things just did not work for her. Evening programs that were held outside were alienating. She could never really trust the blindfolded trust-walk. At night with her bunkmates in their cabin she was left out of conversations happening in the shadows. Camp was supposed to be a place where she could belong, but that was not her experience. While she knew it was not her peers’ intention, she felt less than; she surely did not feel like she belonged. 

There are echoes of this feeling among the Israelites when Moshe tried to free them from slavery. In an effort to win their emancipation, Moshe went to Pharaoh to ask if the Israelites could go on a holiday outing. Instead of granting the Israelites a celebration in the wilderness, Pharaoh increased the burden upon them by maintaining their quota of brick production while cutting their supply of straw. Frustrated by their increased work load the Israelites complained to Moshe and Aaron. They said, “May God look upon you, and judge; because you have made our very scent to be abhorred in the eyes of Pharaoh, and in the eyes of his servants” (Exodus 5:21). Prior to this decree they were slaves, but they could at least take pride in the fruit of their labor. It seems that the last straw was not the lack of straw, but the degradation of working all the time and not being productive. They thought that they smelled worthless. They felt less than; they did not feel like they belonged.  

We are left wondering why the Israelites perceived that the Egyptians saw their odor? This blending of sight and smell indicates a deep insight into their perceived lack of value. They were embarrassed that the shoddy quality of their work reflected some lesser quality of their being. We see a similar synthesis of senses in last week’s Torah portion, Yitro. At Sinai they saw the sound of thunder (Exodus 20:15). In Egypt their odor was exposed, at Sinai the sublime beauty of God was revealed. 

What did not work for the slaves making shoddy bricks and did not work for Sally at camp might offer us a deep understanding of the nature of revelation. When we feel excluded, we are embarrassed, and we feel that we do not belong. When we look past the content of revelation to the modality, we see a profound call for Univeral Design. Universal Design is the design of buildings, products or environments to make them accessible to all people, regardless of age, disability or other factors. The synesthesia at Sinai was designed to be inclusive without diminishing the experience for anyone. While Sally might not have been able to hear the sound of thunder, she would have been able to see it. If someone could neither see or hear they could have felt the vibrations. Universal Design is not a synonym for compliance with accessible design standards, rather the aesthetic of synesthesia at Sinai is a standard of beauty, spirituality, and communication to all.  

In describing the Israelite’s experience at Sinai in Deuteronomy it says, “those who stand here with us this day before the Lord our God, and also with them who is not here with us this day”. (Deuteronomy 29:13-14) What does this mean if revelation at Sinai happened thousands of years ago? What does it mean that this day there was revelation with the people who were not even there? Rashi cites the Midrash Tanchuma to explain that this is the source for the tradition that all Jews, from all generations, stood at Sinai. We were all there to experience revelation.  

Every soul is unique, every Jew has their place at Sinai, and everyone belongs in our community. By adapting Universal Design strategies, we can make sure that everyone has an extraordinary experience. As we celebrate JDAIM, Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance and Inclusion Month, we need to reconnect to the lesson from the synesthesia at Sinai. As we learn from Rabbi Joshua ben Levi said: every day a heavenly voice of revelation goes out from Sinai (Avot 6:2). Designing with every soul in mind is not easy, but we get to work on it every day. No one should feel less than, or left in the dark. 

– Links to other posts on synesthesia

I am Me: Modeling Authenticity

In Yitro, this week’s Torah portion, we get the Ten Commandments. In simple terms it seems that the commandment are directives as to what we should or should not do. For this reason that first commandment seems complicated. There we read, “I the Lord am your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, the house of bondage.” (Exodus 20:2) This seems more like a PSA than a law. Most interpret this as a negative precept “not to entertain the idea that there is any god but the Eternal.” ( Rambam Minyan Mitzvot) Clearly the belief in God is foundational to the Bible and I know that they believed in other gods in Egypt, but I have trouble imagining that this was first message that God wanted to give this band of recently liberated slaves. If this is the case,, what is the true meaning of this commandment?

At the simplest level in this first commandment God is identifying God’s self to the Israelites. As if God is saying, “I am Me”. In this context, it is less of a injunction against believing in other gods and more of God showing up as God’s authentic self. It resonates with the words of Polonius when he said:

This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Farewell, my blessing season this in thee! (Hamlet, Act-1, Scene-III)

To these slaves who have been told who they are and who they are supposed to be this is a powerful message. God is modelling what it means to be free. Show up as who you want to be. As Brené Brown says:

Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing we’ll ever do.

That must have felt liberating. This ideating set a foundation of authenticity upon which to build the rest of the commandments, Torah, and Jewish life.

I have been thinking about this recently during the entire Bernie Meme experience after the inauguration. Most people might have been offended by being the butt of all of these jokes, but not Bernie. He is the model of authenticity. Bernie knows exactly who he is. He was right on brand. Not only was Bernie not offended, he used the moment to get attention for the causes he believes in and the meme to sell merchandise which earned over $1.8 Million for Vermont charities he supports.

Image
Forget it, Donny, you’re out of your element!

On another level there might be deep connection between being true to yourself and the prohibition to believe in other gods. As Oscar Wilde said, “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” If God knows who God is and we know who we are, everything else is already taken.

The Art of War: Rethinking Our Political Pickle and the Parsha

Like everyone else, I have been replaying the terrorist attacks of January 6th over and over in mind. How did this come to be? What were they thinking?

Seeing that it was an act of war, in thinking about this I got to rereading the Art of War by Sun Tzu. There in the chapter on maneuvering he wrote:

Do not interfere with an army that is returning home. When you surround an army, leave an outlet free. Do not press a desperate foe too hard. ( Art of War 7:35-36)

The Sun Tzu attack theory, the Russian and Chinese hybrid strategy

Reading this not not excuse the actions of these terrorist, but it does help me better understand them. I appreciate that they felt cornered and that they did not have a choice. I also see how for the faction there that we white nationalist, they feel that the new diverse administration is an impediment to their “returning home”. They have a mythical belief that America was a white country. Make America Great Again is their battle cry. I can understand this feeling, but can I sympathize with it?

As we see in B’Shalach, this week’s Torah portion, we see that soon after allowing the children of Israel to depart from Egypt, Pharaoh chases after them to force their return. The Israelites find themselves surrounded. They are trapped between Pharaoh’s armies and the sea. Instead to trying to fight the Egyptian army, Moshe is instructed to raise his staff over the water. A this moment the sea splits to allow the Israelites to pass through evading the pursuing Egyptians. The lesson is that despite the feeling of being cornered, there is always a plan C. We just need to be creative.

I can strive to understand and even sympathize with the insurrectionists, but that does not preclude my need to stand up against them and what they stand for with all of my might. They need to believe that there is a way out. This does not mean that the enemy is allowed to escape. They all need to be held accountable for their actions. The object, as Tu Mu, 9th Century poet, puts it, is “to make him believe that there is a road to safety, and thus prevent his fighting with the courage of despair. After that, you may crush him.” But we need to do that in the courts. Adopting military or pugilistic language will only fuel their imagination that they are cornered making them more viscous. While it might seem like we need a miracle, we need to pause and think about creative ways through the pickle we find ourselves.

Tu B’Shvat Time: Turning the Corner

I am sure that I am not alone in my experience of time being distorted during Covid and the Trump Administration. I have the peculiar feeling that a day lasts a week, but in retrospect a week passes in what feels like a day. I often have had the feeling we are stuck in an endless road trip. I find myself peering out the window looking for road signs. I am waiting to see any indication that we are getting closer to the off ramp from this highway. And did I mention I have to pee?

Colorado Changes 420 Mile Marker Sign to Ward Off Heists

With vaccines in circulation, it seems that we might turn the corner on Covid-19 at some point. Since the shockingly peaceful transfer of power on Inauguration day, it feels these Bernie Memes are road signs indicating that we are almost there.

With the advent of Tu B’Shvat, the New Year for the Trees, we get our first glimpse of spring. We see the end of the school year and the start of the camp season are on the horizon.  In the Chasidic community, there is a custom where some pickle or candy their etrog (citron) from Sukkot and eat it on Tu B’Shvat. The Bnei Yissaschar, 19th Century Chassidic master, shares an interesting lesson. He teaches:  

On Tu B’Shevat one should pray for a beautiful, perfect, kosher etrog at the time it is needed for the mitzva. This is the day when the sap rises in the trees according to the merits of each member of Israel, and how good and pleasant it is that one pray on this day, the foundational moment of new growth. (Shevat, Discourse 2:2

We should plan in Sukkot for Tu B’Shvat and pray on Tu B’Shvat for an etrog for Sukkot. If we plan and pray we will be rewarded with sweetness and beauty.  There is splendor in this practice that is inviting us to be intention with our time year-round. What an important lesson to awaken us from the malaise of our Covid stupor. That itself seems to be something important to learn for our current situation. This attunement is a Covid-Keeper- something I would like to keep long after Covid is vanquished.

Have a wonderful time on Tu B’Shvat- Shana Tova 

Good Riddance

At the start of this week’s Torah portion, Parshat Bo, we hear God instructing Moshe to go to visit Pharaoh to warn him of the plague of locusts. It is curious that God does not tell him to go, rather, to come to Pharaoh. We read, “God said to Moshe, ’Come to Pharaoh, for I have made his heart and the heart of his servants stubborn so that I can put these signs of Mine in his midst.’” (Exodus 10:1). It is even more confusing for Moshe who grew up in the house of Pharaoh assuming the Pharaoh himself was a god. What does it mean that God might be with Pharaoh?

This question gets even more complicated next week in Beshalach. There we see that it is Pharaoh who sent the Israelites from Egypt and God that did not allow them to take the most direct route to the Promised Land. Is it possible that Pharaoh has the power to release the Israelites and God is the obstruction?

It is clear that God is everywhere, and that Pharaoh is not a god. But it is still challenging to think that God stands with evil or next week God gets in the way of a clear path toward justice. It would have been much easier for Moshe to exact the plagues against Pharaoh, his court, and all of Egypt without having to be reminded that God is to be found in evil people. Even if Pharaoh is evil he can be a source of redemption. We are all created in the image of God. Evil when confronting injustice we must be reminded of the divine potential of the oppressor.

Moshe loyally follows God’s directions, but that does not absolve him from having to navigate his own moral compass. Yes, we need to find a way to speak truth to power. In life’s journey, we can never forget our sense of direction. If we forget this, we will not know if we are coming or going.

Pictures Show Donald Trump Leaving the White House for the Final Time As  President

Like many others I am relieved and even thrilled that we had a peaceful transition of power and Trump is gone. In the spirit of this lesson we contemplate the good in saying, “Good Riddance”. He is no righteous person, but still he deserves a blessing. I am reminded of something my Oma used to say, ” Gehe mit Gott, aber geh! – Go with God, but please do go”.

Speech Impediments: Words of Justice

Today Amanda Gorman became the youngest poet to read at a presidential inauguration, reading her poem “The Hill We Climb” at the inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. If you have not listened to it you should:

“The Hill We Climb” reads, in part:

The loss we carry

A sea we must wade

We braved the belly of the beast

We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace

And the norms and notions of what just is

Isn’t always justice

And yet the dawn is ours before we knew it

Somehow we do it

Some how we have weather and witnessed a nation that isn’t broken but simply unfinished

On a day filled with tons of anticipation, anxiety, and emotion, her hopeful poetry won the day. A reluctant prophet, like Jonah, her vision of justice asked us to join her in our needed repentance and rebuilding.

Reading more about Gorman I learned that like Biden, she had a speech impediment as a child. Biden had a stutter; Gorman had difficulty pronouncing certain sounds. She told NPR’s Steve Inskeep that her speech impediment was one reason she was drawn to poetry at a young age. As I have explored in the past, there might be a connection between Biden’s stutter and his long career in public life. Regardless of the nature or cause, a speech impediment is highly stigmatized disability. It is easy to imagine them both silenced due to their speech impediments. Through this lens we see that Biden and Gorman have tremendous courage to step up and speak to and for this nation. What is the nature of this courage?

When Moshe is called to be God’s messenger, he resists saying, “Please, O Lord, I have never been a man of words…. I am heavy of mouth and heavy of tongue.” (Exodus 4:10). From this the Rabbis concluded that Moshe had a stutter.  Rashi  explains k’vad peh, “heavy of mouth,” and k’vad lashon, “heavy of tongue,” by which Moshe describes himself, as stuttering. Rashi translated it into medieval French word balbus, stuttering or stammering (from which comes the modern French verb balbutier, to stutter).

In Shoftim we read about the establishment of the court system and the most famous quote:

Tzedek Tzedek-Justice, justice shalt you pursue, that you may live, and inherit the land which the Lord your God gives you. ( Deuteronomy 16:20)

Why the repeating word, “Justice”? Most commonly it translated to assume that it is emphatic. As to say, “Justice you will surely pursue”. But, I think this reading overlooks the speaker. As we know, Moshe had a speech impediment. This is the text recording his stammer.

If this is true, why does the Torah represents Moshe’s stuttering in print at this moment? Maybe it has something to do with the pursuit of justice itself. Biden’s leadership is founded on his empathy born out of personal hardships. Gorman’s poetry is born out of her working on pronouncing certain sounds correctly. We all know bullies prey on people who are different or weak. To truly pursue justice we need to connect to our own experiences of being marginalized. Biden, Gorman, and Moshe share the experience of overcoming the challenge of communicating which is the root of their pursuit of justice.  Their courage is founded on a profound strength of leadership founded on vulnerability.

We should never make fun of people just because they are different than us. We can disagree, but there is a never a reason to be a bully. We must always strive to understand each other, especially those we do not understand. To work for justice we need to have empathy for those who are experiencing hardship and those that are silenced.  Justice we shall surely pursue. We cannot just accept the status quo. Inspired by the remarkable words of Gorman, Biden, and Moshe we all need to come together to do it and play our part in making process in this unfinished nation.

-Also see Stammering Justice

-Also see Revisiting Stammering Justice

-Also the Stuttering Club: Empathy and Leadership

Merit of Female Leadership: Exodus and Our Generation

Recently I have found myself listening to to Kings & Queens by Ava Max. Yes it is pop, but I do think it has a powerful messages here about female leadership. Give it a listen:

But why have I been thinking about this song? Yes, I am also excited for Vice President Harris’s inauguration. There is also the line “Disobey me, then baby, it’s off with your head” is taken from the 1865 book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by the Queen of Hearts . This is resonating for me with Pelosi‘s handing Trump his second impeachment. And how much do we owe Stacey Abrams for getting Georgia to give the Democrats the Senate.

In light of the insurrection in DC this song took on new meaning after the I heard U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-Illinois) speech on January 6th. A combat veteran of the Iraq War, Duckworth served as a U.S. Army helicopter pilot. In 2004, after her helicopter was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade fired by Iraqi insurgents, she suffered severe combat wounds, which caused her to lose both of her legs and some mobility in her right arm. She was the first female double amputee from the war. Despite her grievous injuries, she sought and obtained a medical waiver that allowed her to continue serving in the Illinois Army National Guard until she retired as a lieutenant colonel in 2014. Standing in the Senate floor in front of her “Law and Order” Republican colleagues she said:

I earned my wounds, proudly fighting in a war I did not support, on the orders of a president that I did not vote for – because I believed in, and still believe in, the values of our nation… I regret that I have no rucksack to pack for my country, no Black Hawk to pilot, nor am I asking for any grand gesture to my Republican colleagues. All that I’m asking of you is to reflect on the oath that you have sworn, the damages done to our union today, and the sacrifices that have given so much to this nation.

Hearing the depth of what she was saying I found myself singing the line from Kings & Queens when she sings:

And you might think I’m weak without a sword
But if I had one, it’d be bigger than yours

In the Torah portions we read around now we read about the lives of the Israelites in slavery and their exodus from Egypt. We learn in the Talmud:

In the merit of the righteous women who were in that generation, [the children of] Israel were redeemed from Egypt. (Sotah 11b)

Again it is clear that redemption will come from the merit of the righteous women female leaders of our generation. Thank you.

The Righteous of Sodom: A Glimmer of Hope After the Insurrection

A week ago we saw something grievous in the Washington D.C. The events of January 6, 2021 were not a protest—it was a seditious insurrection again democracy. It brought to our attention the evils and consequences of unchecked reality of white supremacy and the power hungry perversion of truth. For most of us, seeing this reality makes us doubt in the future of the republic. Will our democracy survive?

Related this question I got to thinking about God’s judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah. Three men came to Avraham in the plains of Mamre. After the angels received the hospitality of Avraham and Sarah, the Lord reveals to Avraham God’s plan. God will destroy Sodom and Gomorrah “because their sin is very grievous.” Avraham boldly steps forward and argues with God. There we read:

Will You sweep away the innocent along with the guilty? What if there should be fifty innocent within the city; will You then wipe out the place and not forgive it for the sake of the innocent fifty who are in it? Far be it from You to do such a thing, to bring death upon the innocent as well as the guilty, so that innocent and guilty fare alike. Far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly? ( Genesis 18:23-25 )

It seems to be essence of human agency is our capacity to argue for justice. The argument continues, will God spare the city should fifty righteous people be found within it, to which the Lord agrees. Avraham then pleads for mercy at successively lower numbers—first forty-five, then forty, then thirty, then twenty, and finally ten—with the Lord agreeing each time.(Genesis 18:23-32) The city was evil, but God would have spared it if there were ten righteous people.

Sodom and Gomorrah
Jacob Jacobsz. de Wet 

On January 6th we saw a violent invasion on the seat of our democracy in an attempt to overturn a free and fair election. It was a failed coup—our democracy is in peril. 

Today we saw a glimmer of hope. The Congress held the President accountable for his role in inciting this violent attack on democracy. Trump will be remembered as the only President to be impeached twice. The article of impeachment charges the President with “incitement of insurrection” for “spreading false statements” about the election and challenging the Electoral College results. Though Republicans were united in opposing the first impeachment of Trump in 2019, a record number stepped forward and broke ranks when they voted alongside Democrats to impeach the president. They included the third-ranking House Republican, Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming. She was joined by:

  • Rep. John Katko, R-N.Y. 
  • Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich.
  • Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash.
  • Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill.
  • Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash.
  • Rep. Peter Meijer, R-Mich.
  • Rep. Tom Rice, R-S.C.
  • Rep. David Valadao, R-Calif.
  • Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, R-Ohio

Trump is a problem, but he is only a symptom of a much larger evil in our midst. While there is still a tremendous amount of work we need to do to heal our republic, there is a glimmer of hope when we have 10 righteous Republicans who voted for accountability and justice. We need to all step forward to demand that we do not “sweep away the innocent along with the guilty”.

Defiling the Pure: 1/6/21 In Light of Chanukah

Like many others I am surprised by how not surprised I was by the abhorrent events that transpired at the Capitol on January 6th. We all knew that Trump was never going to abdicate his throne easily. He orchestrated a seditious mob to use their white privilege to stop electoral process. They were not successful in having a coup, but they got much further that most of us could ever imagine. While they were defiling the hallowed halls of democracy it seemed that the experiment of this republic had come to an end. The assault on our government was not just just due to these terrorist or a “wannabe tin-pot dictator scared of losing power” (Thank you Senator Tammy Duckworth), but also the inept or complicit law enforcement.

A Bucks County Trump supporter posted about a 1776-style revolution during  Capitol riot. Then, he

Amidst chaos we strive to make sense of our reality. Sadly we as Jews have a long history of dealing with hatred in its many forms. I found myself this mourning stirred by Rambam’s unique language describing the historical events that lead to the institution of the holiday of Chanukah. There we read:

…they entered the Temple and broke through it, defiling the things that were pure. The people of Israel were sorely distressed by their enemies, who oppressed them ruthlessly until the God of our ancestors took pity, saved and rescued them from the hands of the tyrants. The Hasmonean great priests won victories, defeating the Syrian Greeks and saving Israel from their power. They set up a king from among the priests and Israel’s kingdom was restored for a period of more than two centuries, until the destruction of the second Temple. (Laws of Chanukah 3:1)

While I have to dilution that the Capitol is pure, the images still ring true. What is most telling is the in response to throwing off tyranny, they victorious priest run to have a king.

In a 2012 appearance in New Hampshire  former Supreme Court Justice David Souter made some striking and prescient remarks about the dangers of “civic ignorance”. This video has been circulating and worth seeing:

I was most struck when he said:

I don’t worry about our losing republican government in the United States because I’m afraid of a foreign invasion. I don’t worry about it because I think there is going to be a coup by the military as has happened in some of other places. What I worry about is that when problems are not addressed, people will not know who is responsible. And when the problems get bad enough, as they might do, for example, with another serious terrorist attack, as they might do with another financial meltdown, some one person will come forward and say, ‘Give me total power and I will solve this problem.’… That is how the Roman republic fell. Augustus became emperor, not because he arrested the Roman Senate. He became emperor because he promised that he would solve problems that were not being solved.

We still do not know who was responsible for what transpired on January 6th. It was a total break down. In cleaning up, people need to held accountable. It is clear that our media is part of the reason that there are so many people who are ignorant of civics and distrustful of facts. Democracy is fragile and we are in peril. This is not a risk from the outside, but the inside. Like Augustus, with little regard for democratic norms and political institutions, others will come like Donald Trump seeking power, assuring the public that they will solve our problems. Exploiting the distrust of the media, fears and civic ignorance we have paved the way for another despot to come.

As the Hasmoneans had to do after the Greeks, we have a lot of work to do to clean up what has been defiled. But if there is anything else that can be learned for Democracy from Chanukah, it is the Rabbinic movement of the the Menorah in the Temple to the Chanukiah in the home. While the Capitol represents our democracy, it is not the limit of that ideal. As Churchill wisely said:

Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.… (House of Commons, 11 November 1947)

For our democracy to survive civics and decency needs to thrive in our homes. The power of democracy cannot come from without, but it needs to come from within. It comes from every citizen taking responsibility for themselves, their families, their communities, and the collective. The light from our homes keeps tyranny at bay.

A Time for Introverts: Yakov and Yosef

In this week’s Torah portion, Vayehi, we do not see too much action. To be honest, compared with last week’s portion, this one seems a bit anticlimactic. The era of the Patriarchs is coming to an end and we are waiting for the narrative to pick up again in Shmot with the story of the Israelites, Moshe, Aaron, Miriam, and their redemption. We find ourselves in a lull in the action. But before we roll the credits on the book of Genesis, we do get the powerful ending to this epic we deserve.

Vayehi starts off, “ Yaakov lived in seventeen years in the land of Egypt…“ (Gen 47:28) The Baal HaTorim quoting the Midrash HaGadol picks up on the number seventeen. This number seventeen clearly sets the time that Yaakov lives in the land of Yosef to the time that Yosef his son spent growing up in the house of his father before he was sold. Even before we compare Yaakov and Yosef, it is hard not to relate to the symmetry. The child who was dependent on the parent physically and emotionally for their first stage of his or her life is often forced to reverse roles with their child for the parents’ final stage of life. There is a certain balance in the living out of the Riddle of the Sphinx. Yaakov  and Yosef are in this way the same.

But let us move ahead and highlight some of the differences between this father and son. Taking a look at Yaakov’s life we see a person developing in isolation. While, at first we see Yaakov cleaving to the heel of his twin brother, the text quickly shifts and Yaakov is depicted as a contemplative loner sitting in the tent (Gen.25:26-27). He is alone again when he flees home in fear of his brother to live in a foreign land (Gen 28:10-11). Amidst his flight he stops in Luz which later called Bet El (Gen. 28:19) There he has a divine dream of the ladder. Years later we see Yaakov alone again when he is returning home. (Gen. 32:25). Yaakov’s most important moments are when he is by himself. As the Midrash would have us understand his time in the tent was devoted to Torah study. But it is clear in the later two cases that Yaakov’s most powerful educational experiences with God are when he is alone. It is also interesting to note the development in his own education that in Luz the interaction is passive and just a dream where as when he returning home his is physically wrestling with God. This refinement of his character is picked up in the imagery of the movement from the rocks that he gathers to put under his head to the dust in which he and the angels of God roll around in amidst their struggle.

As a student of God Yaakov is truly a lonely man finding company with God. But, how do we see Yaakov as a teacher? Yaakov engineers the same educational environment that he learned about God for his chosen student Yosef. Yaakov sends Yosef to check on the very brothers who scorn him (Gen 37:13). It is no coincidence that when he gets there they are gone. The classroom is set; the apple is on desk, the board is clean, there is plenty of chalk, there are no distractions in the classroom, and the best teacher in the world is waiting His next student. Yosef comes into his own personal classroom asks where his brothers are and leaves (Gen 37:25) Yosef is gone and so is the educational moment. It will take him his whole life to come to realize God. In contrast, Yosef education happens in the moments of his trying to connect with others. First with his brothers, then in Potifar’s house, then prison with Pharaoh’s baker and sommelier , then with Pharaoh in interpreting his dreams, and then again with his brothers. It is clear that Yosef derech haLimud , method of learning, is very different then his father’s derech. Yaakov finds God in the extremes moments of radical solitude, while Yosef finds God in social joining.

Yosef lived his entire adult life away from his father. Not only did he not have the comforts of family, he never had his father validate his method of seeing the world. This all comes to a beautiful conclusion in this week’s parsha when Yaakov says, “ El Shaddai appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan, and God blessed me. And said to me, ‘I will make you fertile and numerous, making of you a community of peoples…” (Gen 48:3-4). God appeared to Yaakov in the solitude of Luz in the dream and blessed him with the blessing of the entire book of Genesis to be fruitful and multiple, but for the first time the bracha has been expended to “making of you a community of peoples”. If you are open to hear it you hear the reconciliation between the loner and the social learner. Yaakov is not saying that he was wrong, but he is finally able to see that Yosef’s way of seeing the world is also blessed by God and critical to future of the Israelites, and the world. In a book of conflicts between brothers and fathers and sons. We end of the beginning with an expanded blessing. We have a model beyond a nation of individuals, we have a community of those striving to learn.

Amidst Covid-19 some of us are hurting because we are like Yosef seeking social connection. For the true extravert people social distancing is really hard. For others who are like Yakov, these social distancing has translated into a a wonderful time to get in touch with themselves. For the introverts, Covid-19 has been a welcome respite from forced social engagements. For most of us we relate to both types of learners, not being either Yakov or Yosef, but both. I sincerely hope that this coming year we all get to learn and strive in the ways we choose that work for us. 

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