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Rabbi Shaya's Thoughts

Census Taking in Jewish Life

Recently, the Pew Research Center released its report on the Jewish community. The study looked at critical information, from population growth to evolving Jewish interests, as well as the direction in which the Jewish community at large is heading, and so on. These studies are taken across the U.S. every ten years or so. Every ten years or so, many Jewish Federations take a census of their local Jewish population. In Philadelphia, we did so in 2019 and did so ten years earlier and so on. The reason for this is to be understand how to best serve the local Jewish community.

 

It is interesting though, to point out that over a period of more than 1,300 years, while the Jewish people lived together in the desert and later in the land of Israel, it was easy to count the Jews, yet we see that they were counted only nine times.

 

The question that arises in this week’s Torah portion, Bamidbar, is why did G-d want the Jews to be counted at that point?

 

The famous commentator Rashi points out that G-d counted the people of the Jewish nation because they are precious to Him, but even for something precious, you only count at pertinent times. Since the Jewish people were about to start serving in the Temple, G-d wanted to count them at that auspicious moment.

 

However, the question begs to be asked, hadn’t G-d just counted the Jews a little while earlier?  Why the need to do so again?

 

From here we learn that we are not only counted when it is necessary to gather that information, but we are counted out of love. Yet even love is not a good enough reason for us to be counted every day; only on special occasions is it essential to do so.

 

You might appreciate knowing that the underlying accomplishment of us being counted is not just about G-d’s love to us, but about G-d empowering us. Every time we are counted, G-d is revealing our hidden talents and ability to accomplish great things. When G-d says yes, you count, you make a difference, you do not blend into the crowd—each and every one of us is an individual who matters, He is telling us that we can change this world for the better. 

 

That is why it is not necessary to count us every single day, but it is important to count us at integral junctures of our life. At the times when we must be reminded of our self-worth, G-d doesn’t despair, and He lets us know how important we all are.

Unplug for a Year

By now you must have heard of the campaign to unplug for a weekend here or there because too much technology is not good for you. This idea is based on a precept in the Torah, that six days you shall work and on the seventh, you shall rest. 

 

How about unplugging for a full year?

 

Practically speaking that is impossible for us to do, but how about closing our business for a year? Just taking a sabbatical year off of work. Now we might not be farmers, but if you do some research, you will learn that the Earth needs to rest, and therefore it is imperative for farmers to give the land some time off from growing crops, a year at a time. In fact, just like many non-Jewish stores that remain open seven days a week—where employers rotate their employees so that everyone gets a day or two off—so too, do farmers rotate growing crops in their fields and let different sections rest different years at a time.

 

Yet, the Torah tells us in this week’s Torah portion, Behar, that the Jewish farmer in the Land of Israel must let their whole land lay fallow for a full year—and that means no income whatsoever. Total shut down.

 

This begs the question: Why the whole field, “all of your fields,” for the full year? The Torah does not leave us with this question and tells us that every seventh year is a “Shabbat to G-d,” meaning it is to be a year dedicated to G-d. This is not just about fields needing to “rest,” but about the person—the business owner—dedicating that entire year to G-d. Just as we dedicate the seventh day of each week to G-d, so too do we dedicate each seventh year to G-d as well.

 

Let’s peel back another layer to understand why we observe every seventh day for G-d. Isn’t once a month enough? Why so often? G-d only created the world once, so why do we have to remind ourselves week after week that G-d created the world in six days and rested on the seventh?

 

The Torah gives us another reason why we rest on the seventh day: To remind us that we are free from bondage. Once we were slaves in Egypt, but today we are free. To use more modern terminology: The whole week we are slaves to our job, and on the seventh day we unplug and dedicate the day to G-d, to our family, to ourselves. In short, we reconnect to what really matters in our life. To become free again, we unshackle ourselves, we unplug.

 

Imagine if you could take a sabbatical from work and reconnect to your soul, to your essence, once every seven years. Not because it is better for business, but because it is better for you. Think about this for a moment. I know it might not be practical for everyone, nor is this applicable to us all, but the lesson definitely is.

 

We can all find the time, whether it be a few hours, a Shabbat or even on a planned vacation, to actually reconnect to G-d, to find that day that we dedicate to bring G-d into our lives.

 

Are You an Educator?

 What makes a good educator?

 

When it comes to education, there are many methods of teaching. While not all parents are equipped with what it takes to be a teacher, we are thrown into the responsibility of educating our youngsters—and are expected to be good at it!

 

How are we to learn?

 

In this week’s Torah portion, Emor, we are taught that the double expression, Emor v’Emarta, you should “say to the descendants of Aaron and instruct them to say,” teaches us that the elders should teach the youngsters, meaning that parents must teach their children.

 

How should this be done?

 

If we take a closer look at the Torah portion, we see seemingly unrelated prohibited and required acts listed, from important Mitzvot to less significant ones. However, the common denominator among them is that every Jew, whether young or old, is obligated to fulfill the Mitzvah.

 

When a parent, teacher, or for that matter, any adult removes that barrier between themselves and a child and recognizes that they both have the same obligation to serve G-d—that the two of them share the same goal—then the adult doesn’t see themselves as better than the child, only as more educated, and therefore more than willing to share. When the adult does so, they do it with humility and happiness. Hence, it is received gladly as well.

 

Teaching methods are vital once the teacher has established that there is no hierarchy—respect yes, but at the same time there is a common goal to serve our Creator.

Love Sickness

 One can desire something so badly that the thing they want can make them sick. An often-used example of this is substance abuse. The user loves to “use,” but the more they use, the sicker they get. However, this is true for each and every one of us. For example, with the common cold, if we get a fever and our body becomes very hot, we want to go outside to get some fresh air since we are so hot and sweaty. Yet any medical professional will tell you that the best thing is to sweat it out. The driving force behind our desire to get something cold, is the will to satisfy our needs over what is good for us.

 

Holding back from harming ourselves is clearly the right thing to do. But how about the desire itself—is that good or bad?

 

In kabbalistic parlance, these two drives are called Rotzo and Shuv: the desire to act and the control mechanisms that we put into place to decide whether to act or not to act.

 

In this week’s Torah portion, Moses warns his brother, Aaron, “Don’t do what your children did and enter the Holy of Holies at any time you want, lest you die as they died.”

 

From Moses’s warning we deduce that Aaron had a desire to walk into the holiest place on this Earth—just as his sons did—knowing full well the consequences of what his action might bring.  He knew that he should never do so, but knowing that you shouldn’t do something doesn’t mean that you don’t have a desire to do so.

 

This is a powerful lesson that we learn from this conversation. Moses was teaching Aaron: It is not only OK to have this desire, but G-d wants us—all of us—to have spiritual quests. But this doesn’t mean that we can quench that thirst. Only one day during the year it is Yom Kippur—a day of atonement—the rest of the year it is not.  Once a week it is Shabbat—a day of rest—the other days we may work. Each and every day has its’ unique Mitzvah. The fact that we want to connect to G-d in a variety of ways is good, but that doesn’t mean that all of those ways are the right ways. 

 

The same is true with many relationships. It is good to want to do a favor for a friend, but shouldn’t we first find out if the friend wants that specific favor? Imagine doing something for someone that we think is the kindest act, but they find it to be creepy. Thankfully, G-d gave us a manual called the Torah, so that we know exactly how he wants us to connect to Him. The choice is ours. Having "Love Sickness" for G-d is a good thing.

What’s Your Contribution?

What makes the human tick? Are we just another variation of the evolution of the world or are we really another species? What is it about the endless ability of the human being to innovate?

 

With one word, Tazriah, the name of this week’s Torah portion, we come to appreciate a deeper meaning of the human being.

 

In general, the name of the Torah portion is taken from the first word, or words, of the Torah portion. This week, the name could have been Eisha (women) or Tazriah (conceives). Why do we use the verb instead of the noun?

 

If we take a step back and look at the order of the verses going through the last few Torah portions, we see something fascinating. First, the Torah talks about inanimate objects—the gold, silver, and copper that was used to build the Tabernacle. Then it talks about the oil, flour, and spices, all from the world of vegetation. Then it moves on to the world of animals that were sacrificed, once brought into the Temple, and this leads us to the topic of the different laws regarding what is kosher and so on.

 

Now we are moving closer to the human being.

 

When it comes to the human being, however, we want to know more. Is it just about what we eat or is it about what we do? What we accomplish in life? How we succeed in our day-to-day activities?

 

True, not all humans can “conceive,” but the root of the Hebrew word Tazriah comes from the words to sow and plant. Each and every one of us has the ability to accomplish something in this world. We all have a purpose in this world, our unique mission statement. The question is, do we just live in this world, scavenge as an animal does or do we contribute and give back? Do we accomplish our to-do list?

 

This week, the Torah is telling us to live life as a verb, an actionable life, to get things done in a meaningful way.

Shabbat Shalom

One of the beautiful things about marine life is that it is so tranquil. Looking from land, the sea looks perfect. All we can see on the surface are the waves, and below the surface, we can just imagine how the fish swim around and live in the most natural and harmonious way. Of course, we know that the big fish live off the smaller ones, but that too, is nature

 

The Hebrew word for nature is teva. Teva also has another meaning: hidden, as in, “hidden in the water,” as we find in the verse, “hidden in the sea.” This teaches us that many secrets are hidden within the laws of nature, and if we just look a little deeper into nature, we can find some fascinating tales.

 

In this week’s Torah portion of Shemini, we learn the laws of kosher and non-kosher birds. Birds of prey are non-kosher. Rashi, the famous commentator, used old French (his native language) to translate many of the Hebrew names of these birds, so that we know what they are. When it came to the osprey, Rashi not only told us its name, but explained how it dives into the water and pulls out fish in its mouth.

 

What kind of lesson can we learn from the fact that Rashi gave us this extra information and not just the name translation?

 

Rashi’s words teach us that the secret of the sea is that nature is full of miraculous events. Why is it that this specific fish was plucked out of the water by this bird? Why does one large fish eat a specific smaller one? Is it just nature? Or perhaps there is a G-d that makes the world go ’round?

 

On the surface everything looks so beautiful, but as we look a little deeper, we see that the hand of G-d is just beneath the surface. This is the secret of the sea. This is the lesson that the osprey can teach us.

 

The same is true in our lives. We may go on with our daily lives and everything looks so natural, but the truth is, the hand of G-d is active in everything we do. We just have to poke our heads out of the water to see it.

Shabbat Shalom.

Ethical Business Dealings

 

When it comes to business dealings there is nothing more powerful than a signed contract. Whether it be a partnership, an investment, or a loan, when there is a contract, the understanding between the parties is clear. It’s even more so when there are witnesses as well.

 

However, there are times when two people might have a transaction between them without any signatures or witnesses, purely based on trust. That can happen, for example, when one person wants an object protected for safekeeping. They may have turned to a friend to begin with because they trust them. However, there is a “third” partner involved and that is G-d. They trust that one will not turn on the other as G-d is always “watching.”

 

In this week’s Torah portion, Vayikra, we learn that if one falsely denies that they have the item given to them for safekeeping by their friend, they are not only sinning against their friend, they are sinning against G-d.

 

When we see our signature on paper, it is easier for us to see things in black and white, true or false. However, when it is just our word against someone else’s, things start to turn murkier.

 

Earlier I referred to the “third partner,” G-d, as participating in the transaction when one person gives an item to another for safekeeping. This term is used throughout the Talmud and the commentaries for G-d in this specific case. Since when do we call G-d a “third partner”?

 

This is exactly what the Torah is trying to teach us. There should be no gray area when we deal with one another. We should always be conscious of a third party in our life. We are never alone in this world. G-d is always watching, participating in our lives.

 

Judaism is not only about the relationship between us and G-d, but also between one person and another. At times, it manifests itself even more so in the way we behave toward each other because that is how we bring G-d into our lives in a real, tangible way.

What is my job?

Work can be fun. It can also be boring. Worst of all is when it is frustrating. Some people love when a work environment is heimish, where everyone knows each other, everyone helps each other out, and it’s one happy family. Then there are those who love when the work life is very orderly. Every employee knows their place—there is a clear chain of command so that each person knows exactly what they are supposed to do.

 

Which environment is best?

 

The answer is that it depends on what we are trying to accomplish.

In this week’s Torah Portion, Vayak’hel-Pekudei, we read that Moses gathered the Jewish people together. He said that G-d told him the following: “Observe the laws of Shabbat while you will build the Tabernacle,” and then he repeated this again, with a small change in his wording saying that G-d “told me to tell you” to build the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, and goes on to give the details. He seemingly excluded himself from the obligations.

 

When it came to Shabbat observance, however, Moses included himself. However, when it came to building the Tabernacle, he excluded himself, as he would not be one of the builders. Yet, at the same time, he made it clear that his role was, “I will tell you.”

 

Here we learn a powerful lesson. True, Moses would not be an active builder, but he didn’t shirk his involvement in the building process. Clearly, he was going to be involved. He would be the teacher, the mentor, the guide. Even in an environment where a proper structure of authority is important and the chain of command needs to be followed, that doesn’t mean that people should shirk their responsibility to teach and mentor others on how to do things right. 

 

Moses, in his humble way, taught us to always be there for others, whether it is your job or not. You should always find a way, your way, to roll up your sleeves and help another person succeed.

 

Shabbat Shalom.

 

 

 

Balancing Faith and Reason

The other day I was talking to someone about their marriage and they told me that for them it was “love at first sight.” Obviously, they didn’t just trust that instinct and get married the next day; they dated and debated whether or not to trust that first instinct, but in their heart, they just knew it. If you read Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Blink, he talks about this concept of just knowing something, then questioning ourselves and doing all the research necessary, and then circling back to what we already knew.

 

The first time—that we know of—where this idea is mentioned, is in this week’s Torah portion. We learn about the Jews’ response to G-d when He asked them if they wanted to receive the Torah. The Jews’ response was “Na’ase V’nishma” meaning “we will do, and we will listen.” First, they accepted everything with complete faith. Then they went to learn and understand why. G-d did give them the Commandments, not only commandments that are based on faith alone, but commandments that are called Mishpatim, common-sense laws—ones that we can understand, ones that we can connect with.

 

You see, G-d wants us to base our relationship with Him on a concept like that of “love at first sight.”  A “faith-based” relationship. Just “trust in G-d” as it says on U.S. currency. However, in order to have a deeper and more meaningful relationship, we must nurture it. We must study it. We should want to delve into it by asking the difficult questions of what, why, and how. What is this G-d? What is it that makes up His world? How do things happen? Why does He want us to do this mitzvah but not perform other acts, etc. The more we understand, the closer we feel, just like in any relationship. Love at first sight is nice, but if you don’t date the person and get to know them, what does the love really mean?

 

Faith in G-d is only useful if we educate ourselves. However, education does not replace our faith, it strengthens it. The more we learn about G-d, the more we learn that there is more to learn. That is why even in this week’s Torah portion where the primary mitzvot are practical, reason-oriented mitzvot, we still have sprinkled throughout the portion mitzvot that are beyond logic, so that we are reminded that our relationship with G-d always needs faith at its base. 

 

Just as in any relationship, we try to understand and connect using logic, but beneath it all, we need a strong foundation of love, a love that is based not on logic alone, not on looks, but on a connection of two souls becoming one. When that happens, even when logic dictates otherwise, a couple can survive any storm.

 

Same with our relationship with G-d. Make it a meaningful one, an educated one. And at the same time always stand ready to say: Na’ase V’nishma, we do and we will listen.

 

Shabbat Shalom.

 

 

What did G-d stop doing?

It is well known that G-d stopped working on the seventh day and rested. That is why we have Shabbat. We, too, rest on this day. However, we should be asking ourselves, what exactly did He stop doing? Did He stop working? Did He stop talking or even thinking about creating? After all, it says in the Torah that G-d said “Let there be light,” “Let this come to be,” and “Let that happen,” and so on and so forth, so G-d didn’t really do any work with his hands, per se. It was more of a thought, a speaking vs. doing. Yet, we are told that we can’t do any labor. 

 

Why the discrepancy?

 

It is clear that G-d created the world in six days. How He did it is less important than the fact that the world was created. That is why, in the Ten Commandments—which we read in this week’s Torah portion—G-d says we should rest. However, when it comes to speech, we are not G-d. Yes, He can just speak, and His words turn into action, but what about us? What happens when we speak? What happens to our words? Do our words have any meaning? Are they effective?

 

If they have no meaning and are not effective at all, then why do people use social media? What do we mean when we say “hate speech” or in the positive, a “motivational speaker?” Clearly then, speech carries a lot of weight but since speech is not action, the Torah—biblically speaking—doesn’t prohibit it. However, our sages encouraged us to be careful on Shabbat and not talk about business matters on Shabbat. Why? To teach us the power of our words.

 

We might think that our words have no meaning. “I am not making a business deal,” we can tell ourselves, but the sages would say, “Who are you fooling?” If, when you give a compliment to a friend you are making them feel good, so too, when it is the reverse, so why might you think that words have no meaning? Of course, they do!

 

How about thought? G-d didn’t even think about creation on Shabbat. Can we? Well, you tell me. Is it OK to think ill about someone else? What do those thoughts do to us—let alone to the other person? Even the sages didn’t want to weigh in when it came to this subject. This is something that each individual has to work on in themselves to achieve perfection. It is a personal journey. To become more “G-d-like” is to clear our heads of worldly affairs—or to put it in other words: to stay clear of other’s affairs is a G-d like behavior. True, it’s not an easy task, but a Shabbat-like life to live. 

 

One lesson we can take from Shabbat observance, every day of the week, is to put all our energy in making our actions count. Our words should be meaningful and our thoughts, positive.

What is your profession?

It is interesting to observe what people like to read. If one is in the field of medicine, they tend to read more about medicine. If they are in the field of law, they will read more about law. If they are in the field of education, they will read about education. If they are in therapy, they will read up on that field as well. What is perhaps even more interesting is that these same people can become frustrated with the topics themselves, and suddenly, a topic of interest becomes a burden.

 

Why is it that the same things that we find attractive, also irk us?

 

We find the same thing in Judaism. When we need G-d’s intervention, we turn to Him in prayer. However, to pray three times daily, that can be a burden. Why do we feel that way?

 

In this week’s Torah portion, Be’Shalach, we read the story of the Jewish people approaching the Sea of Reeds as they became bewildered. They wondered, Do we go forward? Do we go back? Do we fight or pray? They chose prayer, but their prayer seemed as if it were recited out of urgency, not out of a meditative mind. In other words, that it was spoken half-hearted. Perhaps that is why G-d said, This is not a time to pray, but a time to act: Go forward!

 

Yet the lesson for us is to learn how prayer should be second nature. We shouldn’t just pray at prescribed times, but at any time that our soul yearns for G-d’s help. And not only for help. At any time when we want to recognize G-d in our life, we mention G-d. That is why there is a custom that when we are asked, How are you? We respond, Thank G-d (Baruch Hashem).

 

Let prayers flow freely from our lips. Let thanks to the Almighty G-d be a constant in our lives.

Do we have free choice?

Now with Inauguration Day behind us, I hope all conversations about politics can be put to rest, and people can start to get along with one another, even if they come from different political persuasions. However, one can ask: Do we have free choice? Can we really choose to change our ways? That takes a lot of discipline.

 

Well, let us look at this week’s Torah portion to draw some inspiration.

 

When it comes to the eighth plague, we see that G-d tells Moses to warn Pharaoh of the consequences of not listening to Him. In the same breath, G-d says that he will harden Pharaoh’s heart so that he doesn’t let the Jewish people out of Egypt. What is going on here? Is this a joke? Why should Moses warn Pharaoh at the same time that he knows there is no chance for Pharaoh to actually listen to him, since G-d has hardened his heart?

 

In life, one can only warn someone not to do something if it is in their power to hold themselves back and not do it. If it is out of their control, why warn them?

 

One way to answer this is by suggesting that Moses was trying to say that the plague will come—yet Pharaoh would have a way to stop it, by changing his behavior.

 

In other words, G-d wanted Moses to lay it on thick, to let Pharaoh know that He meant business. “The plague of locusts is coming” was not a warning, but a fact. However, if Pharaoh decided to send the Jews out of Egypt before the plaque came, then he could avoid it from coming. That was not a threat, but a notification of a fact, that Pharaoh could change.

 

At the same time that this stern warning was given to Pharaoh, and when one would think that he would want to let the Jews go, G-d also says, I will make him stubborn.

 

Why make it difficult for Pharaoh to let the Jews go? Wasn’t that G-d’s plan?

 

Well, it's not so simple. If G-d wanted the Jews to go at that point, He could have just brought them out on His own. He wanted Pharaoh to let them go of his own volition. If Pharaoh let them go because he was afraid of punishment, then he was not letting them go because he wanted them to go, but because of the plagues, so we are back to square one. Therefore, G-d hardened Pharaoh's heart to level the playing field again. That way, if Pharaoh let the Jews go, he did so of his own free will.

 

Here is a lesson for all of us: If G-d had enough trust in Pharaoh that he would break through his evil inclinations and choose to do the right thing, imagine how much more so is our ability to choose to do the right thing!

 

Let us rise above the sparring and choose to be free people. A nation that gets along with one another. A people that has the ability to choose right over wrong. If Pharaoh had the ability to break free, so do we.

Is the choice yours?

Being Jewish is a birthright. However, someone can also choose to become a Jew through conversion. Yet, we see that you cannot choose to give up this birthright of being a Jew. Why not? If you can choose to be, why can’t you choose not to be? 
 

Interestingly, we find that during the first exodus from Egypt, not all the Jews left. Some Jews stayed behind as they subscribed to the ways of the land and were not interested in being part of the Jewish people. They chose another way. 
 

However, it says that when the ultimate redemption comes, every single Jew, even if they are not interested, will be redeemed, meaning that we will have no choice. As the saying goes: No Jew will be left behind. 
 

What changed?   
 

While the Jews were in Egypt before G-d gave us the Torah, our relationship with G-d was based on us, the Jewish people, choosing to have—or not to have—a relationship with G-d. Those who wanted to be close to Him left Egypt, those who did not, stayed behind—and died during the plague of darkness. So, although a Jew who wanted to be part of the Jewish nation did so by choice, it may not have been an easy choice. It may even have been against their nature, but it was something that they wanted to do. G-d embraced them in return and made it worthwhile. 
 

However, at Mount Sinai, something unique took place. G-d chose the Jewish people! A unique bond was formed. Once this connection was established, it was as tight as a parent to a child. In return for this commitment from G-d to us, the Jews reciprocated by committing themselves to G-d as servants to a master. Once such a bond is formed, it is everlasting for all generations to come. It becomes part of our DNA. 

As we embark on reading the second book of the Torah, the book of Exodus, we first read about the suffering of the Jews, and then we read about their redemption, their being chosen, and finally being given the Torah. We, too, should bear in mind that although we might have had a difficult year behind us, a good year is ahead of us, and we pray that we should merit the ultimate redemption with the coming of Moshiach speedily in our days. Amen. 

Living in the Moment

Recently, as my family was sitting together, someone shared that when they asked my father what the best day of his marriage was, he answered, “Today.” 

Emphasizing the value of living in the moment makes us wonder why this week’s Torah portion—which discusses the death of Jacob—is called “Vayechi Yaakov,” meaning “and Jacob lived,” but the emphasis is on his death. Shouldn’t we be focusing on his life? 

Reading the details of the story, we see that these seventeen years of his life—his last seventeen—were his best years, because he enjoyed peace and harmony between his children. He witnessed the success of his son Joseph’s rise to power to lead the Egyptians, and he witnessed the growth of his own family. 

However, these blissful years did follow 130 challenging years. Years of pain and suffering under Laban. Years of hard labor. Years of longing for his long-lost son Joseph. 

Yet, it is in his death that we see Jacob’s life come to light. All the pain and suffering were not for naught. It was all a prelude to what came at the end—and even after his passing.  

That is why, although we do read about Jacob’s death, it is his life that is celebrated. A life lived cannot be taken in piecemeal; we should look at the culminative whole, and even more so, we should be looking at the legacy a person leaves after they are gone, what the next generation does in their absence.

This is why we call this portion “Vayechi Yaakov,” meaning “and Jacob lived.” This is what living in the moment is really all about. 

Live in the moment. Enjoy the moment. Shabbat Shalom. 

Sending Gifts

When it comes to sending a gift, especially at a time when it has to be meaningful, time and effort must be invested to make sure that the right gift is given. And especially if a message is meant to be given through the gift.

 

In this week’s Torah portion, we read the story of how Joseph sends gifts to his father – very specific gifts, so that they should be meaningful to him. After all, this is Joseph’s reintroduction to his father. Jacob thought that his son was dead for the last 22 years and now, he is looking forward to meeting him soon. What does his long-lost son send him?

 

Well, first, he has to keep in mind that Pharaoh himself sends gifts, so Joseph has to “out-do him.” In addition, he has to make his gift meaningful. So, what does he send him?

 

Aged wine as well as local prized grains. Both have deep significance to them.

 

From the day that Joseph was sold into slavery, Jacob, as a sign of mourning, stopped drinking wine. So, too, did the brothers. And unbeknownst to them, Joseph, did the same. He too, felt the loss of being without his family, so although he always maintained a positive attitude, he nevertheless refrained from drinking wine. Sending aged wine to his father was not only about sending prestigious wine, it was also a sign that he saved wine for 22 years! From the day of his separation until that day, he had saved the wine for the day of their reunion. We see that this aged wine has a double value: prestige and a sign of longing to be reunited.

 

In addition, he sent local grain, grain that can only be found in Egypt. This gift illustrated that his status in Egypt was not just of a regular citizen, but of a powerful, influential person. That his coming to Egypt, was not a punishment, but a reward of sorts. Although one may not be able to compare the value of grain to wine, wine is clearly much more valuable than grain. But wine can be found anywhere in the world, and perhaps Israel has even better wine than Egypt. But the local grain is unique to Egypt, and Joseph sends both to his father.

 

As 2020 comes to an end, it is a time for us to reflect on the aged wine and the prized grain in our personal lives. We can use wine and grain as metaphors for life. So, what things that matter to us are we are ready to share with others? What things bring us joy and meaning? What things bring us together yet make us unique? This is the time to contemplate, to share, and to celebrate.

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