YaYeishev, Things Are Going to Change

We need both constancy, and the ability to pivot.

Pivot is a word associated with mechanical devices, as well as human beings. For us, it’s often necessary to incorporate new information, and pivot to a new plan. Here our central point is the need to mark. There’s been a lot of pivoting during this time of COVID. In the ritual life of CBJ, this is especially true for those approaching their B’nai Mitzvah. Some continue as scheduled, but in a modified technology assisted form that is regulated by health and safety guidelines. The date of a celebration may have been postponed in whole or in part.

Students of the Adult B’nai Mitzvah class have had to pivot as well, (meeting since October 2018). You may not know that our original date for the Adult B’nai Mitzvah was December 12, 2020. After much consideration, it was decided to delay the official celebration of their B’nai Mitzvah, which will take place at a time when we can meet in person. Nevertheless, the class will play central roles in leading the services on Shabbat morning, December 12, after all. The adult students have taken on prayers to lead, and verses of Torah and Haftarah to chant, and will teach us about Parashat VaYeishev. I hope you’ll join us.

In VaYeishev, we see the human and historical events pivot. Joseph, a favorite of his father Jacob, is resented by his brothers and is sold into slavery. He undergoes multiple reversals of fortune from heights to depths, including time in Pharoah’s prison. Later, Joseph will lay the groundwork for his family to join him in Egypt and escape the famine in Canaan. Next, Tamar and Judah’s story unfolds in the middle of the parasha, as Judah (elder brother of Joseph, let’s not forget) refuses to offer his third son to widowed daughter-in-law Tamar, so that she may preserve her first husband’s memory through a child. The subterfuge Tamar employs to force Judah’s hand results in the birth of twins Zerah and Perez, but not before Judah suggests she should be stoned for promiscuity. Perez, let’s not forget, is later mentioned in the Book of Ruth as an ancestor of King David.

I feel a bit of whiplash, trying to stay on top of all the details, the reschedules, reversals, in contemporary life, and in the Torah. Yet, it helps me to know that I am not alone. Jewish people have been studying the story of VaYeishev for a long time, and the wisdom that was handed down will continue to grow. Even in the slow month of Cheshvan, which I am writing this, the Jewish values of community, of being present for the occasions of mourning and of joy are pulling me through. I’m seeing your faces on Zoom as we pray on Shabbat. We need both constancy, and the ability to pivot.