Posts Tagged 'Interdependence'

Yosef and Yom HaAtzamut: On Chesed and Interdepence

This is a very busy time of year. A two months ago we celebrated Purim, a month later Pesach, last week we had Yom HaShoah, today we commemorated Yom HaZikaron, tonight we celebrate Yom HaAtzmaut, and then in few weeks we will celebrate Shavuot. Between the slavery and genocide of our ancestors Yom HaShoah, Purim, and Pesach represent the nadir of our history. And the reception of the Torah centuries ago and founding of the modern state of Israel are the zenith of our existence. I wanted to pause for a moment in preparation for Yom HaAtzmaut to reflect on this modern experience during our current crisis.

Before I get to that I need to confess some sadness that I have been carrying for that last few weeks while in COVID-19 social isolation. Over the last 20 years when I can I volunteer in the local chevra kadisha. Preparing a body for burial is a Chesed Shel Emet –  “Charity of True Loving Kindness”. This is an activity in which the recipient of the Chesed by design cannot repay the debt. The dead person is completely dependent on the Chesed of others. We have had to suspend our activity during this plague due to the risk to the volunteers.

When I think about the obligation to take care of a  corpse I think about Yosef at the end of his life. There we read:

So Yosef made the sons of Israel swear, saying, “When God has taken notice of you, you shall carry up atzmotai- my bones from here.” (Genesis 50:25)

Yosef was not asking for a random act of chesed. Despite having been sold by his brothers into slavery, when they showed up in Egypt to escape the famine in Canaan, Yosef helped them without stipulation or retribution. Yosef is the model of Chesed to his brothers. And in the end he was not asking for anything in return, but to return his bones back to his ancestral home.

In this context Yosef’s bones unlock a profound understanding of Yom HaAtzmaut. Atzmaut – independence shares the same root with atzem-bone. On Yom HaZikaron we commemorate the sacrifices, like those of Yosef, made for our nation. This day we celebrate our brother’s long awaited return home. This day we celebrate repaying one Chesed with another. Yosef’s long aspiration to have his atzmot bones returned home are echoed in the Hatikvah. There we read:

Our hope is not yet lost,
The two-thousand-year-old hope,
To be a free nation in our land.

As much as Yom HaAtzaut is the acme of being Jewish in our expression of independence from nations who have put us in slavery or wanted to kill us, it is also an expression of our interdependence between brethren over thousands of years of hope.

As for now I stand in awe of our doctors and nurses who are doing real Chesed by working on the front line of COVID-19. Here is a picture from the Boston Globe of my brother who is doctor at BMC who is also a proud member of his chevrah Kadisha in Boston.

Boston Medical Center patient Candace Samayoa waved goodbye to nurses as she was being released from the hospital. Samayoa had been admitted to BMC two weeks earlier after testing positive for COVID-19.

I am sad that in social isolation I cannot do a Chesed shel Emet. I feel independent and cut off. More then in years past I yearn to be interdependent and connected with my family, local community, and nation. Have a great great Yom HaAtzmaut. Stay safe and connected.

-Inspired by Yishama’s Bar Mitzvah speech

Dependable Memory

In the Mishnah Tamid ( 7:4) we learn that the Messianic Era will be a time which is  sheKulu Shabbat- completely Shabbat. What does that mean? First we need to understand some basic ideas about Shabbat and the Messiah. So, Shabbat with all of the rules and regulations actually boils down to just two commandments, LeShmor V LeZchor- to guard and to remember. Most of what we know  is all of the things we cannot do on Shabbat. That would fall under the commandment “to guard” Shabbat. We remember the Shabbat most clearly with the Kiddush. The Shulchan Aruch (OH272) brings down an interesting idea. If we do not have enough money for Challah and wine we should actually make Kiddush over Challah.  But we will come back to this.

Now back to the idea of the Messiah. We often say that one should ignore the idea of the Messiah ben David, but we ignore the idea of the Messiah ben Yosef. Living most of history as a dispossessed people we overlook the physical redemption of the Messiah descended from Yosef in favor of the metaphysical/ spiritual redemption that is supposed to come from a descendent of David. This idea of a physical redeemer in Yosef is very clearly discussed in the past few Torah portions. It all comes to a head in Vayigash, this week’s Torah portion, when the hidden redeemer reveals his true identity to save his brothers.

Regardless of our station in life, on Shabbat we are transformed into kings presiding over our weekly feast. To anyone who keeps Shabbat in our lives, it is hard to imagine a world without Shabbat.  But if we tried to imagine a world without the comfort of family and community we do not need to look further then when Yosef himself was in prison. There he was in the pit without Shabbat, but he was with the head baker and the head butler of the Pharaoh. He interprets their dreams and asks to be remembered. Then we read:

And the butler did not remember Yosef and he forgot him. ( Genesis 41:23)

Yosef asks to be remembered and he is forgotten.  Many commentators suggest that this doubling of language suggests that the butler forgot him in the short-term and the long-term. It is easy to imagine why the butler might forget Yosef. Many of us assume that needing the help of others makes us weaker in some way. So in the short and long-term it was easier for the butler to think he was chosen or special then remembering that he was dependent on Yosef for anything.

What is the significance of this story of Yosef in the prison in the context of our Mishna in Tamid? Yosef was in the pit without Shabbat. Pharoah is the king and he is clearly not. There, Yosef was with the head of Challah and the Head of Kiddush. The head of Challah was going to be killed and the head of Kiddush was asked to remember the redeemer and forgets him. Every Shabbat we try to fix this by remembering Yosef when we make Kiddush. And if we do not have money for both we remember the Challah over the Kiddush.

In the Talmud,  Rav Yochanan said in the name of the Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochi:

If Israel were to keep two Shabbatot according to the laws, they would be redeemed immediately ( Shabbat 118b)

Surely if we remember what the butler forgot we could redeem the world. (Maybe for both the Messiah of Yosef and David) We all get help from people all the time. But, we let our egos get the best of us. If we took the time to reveal their good deeds it would help reveal the capacity of these hidden humble heroes to redeem the world. And, we would also reveal our own vulnerability. This itself might be the core of the Messianic Era. This will not be a time of independence or dependence, but radical interdependence.  Shabbat itself could be a taste of this. Take a moment this Shabbat to share how you were helped this week. This memory might itself bring us closer to that era.

L’Kavod Ben Sales ( who taught me to love Shabbat in new ways) and his wife Rachel


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