Practical Judaism – Vayechi

“And Joseph saw that his father had placed his right hand on the head of Ephraim… and it was BAD in his eyes; so he took his father’s hand to remove it from the head of Ephraim to the head of Menasheh.”
-Genesis 48:17

Welcome to the new season of the ‘Raising Holy Sparks’ podcast. This year, we will be focusing on Jewish concepts and will be experimenting with ways to take them out of the theoretical and turn them into the practical.

I believe that one of the hardest traits to learn is noticing when we are in a negative situation (lobsters so rarely realize when the water is too hot) and then extricating ourselves or a loved one from that situation (if lobsters could talk maybe they wouldn’t want to cause a scene). 

Whenever we find ourselves in an awkward situation perhaps one of the very first thoughts to arise in our minds is: “if I wait just a little bit longer perhaps this negative thing will end… no use in causing a scene or lashing out if this encounter is nearly over.”

We have all been in a situation, maybe during a meeting or while sitting on public transit, and have overheard something problematic being said. When this occurs, we are presented with two options:  we can intervene immediately or we can wait to get a better grasp of the situation and make sure it wasn’t just a simple misunderstanding.

Choosing to wait is the smarter option and the correct one, but it is also the more difficult choice as it is often unclear where to draw the line in a problematic situation. 

In this week’s torah portion of Vayechi, we conclude the Book of Genesis with a lesson on assertiveness and self-advocacy from Joseph as he gently reprimands his father, Jacob, for giving the correct blessing to the wrong child. 

What an act of bravery and courage! How rare it is to reprimand an authority figure, a hero, or a loved one! And it can be just as difficult to rebuke a stranger or a marginally known acquaintance.

For example, I was once sharing a meal with three acquaintances when one of the people at the table said something rude to the waitress. I remember thinking that if we don’t say something immediately, it will be too difficult to say anything at all later on. When the waitress left our table, I remarked to this acquaintance that what he said was extremely inappropriate and he needed to apologize – which he did.

I remember this story because I have 5x as many stories for all the times that I said nothing simply because I knew if I just waited a little longer then the situation would be over and I would not have to confront this other person. 

Confrontation can be hard, but it is a skill that we can practice and improve just like avoiding confrontation is a skill that we may have already refined throughout the years. 

Joseph has seen what happens when people who know they are in an awkward situation do nothing about it. When his brothers came together as a group they decided to throw him down into a pit. Although, individually, in their heart of hearts, they all knew this was wrong none of them was able to stop the momentum of destruction and speak out in order to save their brother.

Seeing this natural human trait of avoiding confrontation, Joseph learned the importance of stopping a negative situation while it is unfolding and redirecting it towards the good.

In the end, Joseph’s rebuke is dismissed as Jacob insists on giving the blessing to the younger instead of the older son. Nevertheless, Joseph acted righteously and courageously and this is something for us all to be inspired by. 

See you next time! ✌

Thanks for listening and looking forward to being on this journey through the books of the Torah with you!

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