Vayechi as Parasha of the Attempted Tikkun/Repair! Forgiveness is Not a One Time Event.
Welcome to Awakening: Torah Mussar MIndfulness, where we at The Institute for Holiness: Kehilat Mussar meet weekly at 15:00/3pm EST on Sundays to learn from the Torah/Hebrew Bible portion that we just observed on the Jewish Sabbath/Shabbat. You may join us on Zoom (link here) or LIVE on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube. All sessions are recorded and can be found at our website (www.kehilatmussar.com) in the Blog section.
Before we begin delving into the weekly Torah/Hebrew Bible portion/parasha, this week being Vayechi (Genesis 47:28–50:26), we pray that our Intention/Kavannah be of learning Torah, Mussar, and the Dharma together and practicing Mussar Mindfulness. We commit to learn and practice together once a week to strengthen our Middot/soul-traits and souls, to be of service to others and God/Hashem; indeed, to bring God’s Good to others.
We always begin our practice with our Kavanah/Intention for today’s practice: to do this type of practice and care as an act of self-care and to connect us with the Divine, and ultimately, to other people. So, before doing this engagement of learning and practice together we say: this is something I am doing to strengthen my own soul in order to be of benefit to others in the future; and then our last paragraph: this is something that I’m doing to strengthen my relationship with the Creator so that I can be a better conduit of God’s Good to others when they need me. (See below)
We use the first and third Kavanot/Intentions listed below for today’s learning and practice:
We open with Yaakov on his death bed who decides to share his trouble conscience with his son, Yosef, that he buried his favored wife and Yosef’s mother, Rachel, on the side of the road after she died while giving birth to Binyamin. He admits this to his son, as if to say I feel guilty about this and wish it were different. Yaakov begins to speak his suffering. Is Yosef prepared to hear it? Did Yaakov take this into consideration?
Later in 49:3-7: Yaakov gives his future vision for his sons. Some call these blessings, but the first three truly come across as curses. Again, Yaakov waits until his death bed to speak his truth, to speak his grievances. And grievances he has: Reuven has intercourse (rape?) with Rachel’s handmaiden who was a concubine to Yaakov, her name being Bilhah, one can assume to usurp the position of power among the wives to return to Leah, Reuven’s mother. And Shimon and Levi who murdered hundreds of men in reaction to the rape of their sister, Dinah. Yaakov wishes to express his disapproval of their behaviors and to dissociate from them as future tribes.
And we immediately question: why wait until one’s death bed to admit guilt? Or speak your anger, disapproval and disappointment? Why speak “your truth” without considering your “audience,” the shame it might cause, and if you should be sharing in private? Wise speech in both our traditions of Judaism and Buddhism requires great consideration and discernment, something we do not witness in Yaakov.
We in our Mussar practice do a Cheshbon HaNefesh journal where we look at our words, thoughts and deeds at how we treat ourselves, others and our relationship with God, for 5 minutes each evening. And this journal practice grants us the insight into our subconscious and the awareness into what we need to do in this moment. So, when we have guilt and grivevances, we search and practice to see if it is wise to address it in the present moment; if the person with whom we are speaking is ready to receive our words; and if we can speak kindly.
We also have in our Jewish tradition a yearly lunar calendar that is designed to practice Teshuva: repentance, a returning to awareness, wakefulness, and responsibility. From Tisha B’Av through Tishrei (about two months), we are given ample opportunity to practice speaking that which needs to be said with wise discernment. And if there is anything we should learn from our ancestors this parasha/Torah portion, it is not to emulate them in their years of silence. In their years of having the elephant in the room (as the saying goes), and not speaking the truth. Today we have the choice before us to not perpetuate this familial trauma done by not communicating.
Next in our parasha, Israel/Yaakov decides to bless the youngest with the blessing reserved for the eldest: he privileges Ephraim over Menashe. Chapter 48:17: we are privileged to witness a massive Tikkun, a massive repair attempt on behalf of Yosef, Yaakov’s son and the father of Ephraim and Menashe. Yosef observes his father, Yaakov, switch his hands on the boys’ heads to bless them, and places his right hand (the strong, preferred hand) on the head of Ephraim, the youngest child. Yaakov hand in the parallel universe of Yosef’s mind should have been placed in Menashe’s head, the eldest.
He intervenes before and during Yaakov’s/Israel’s blessing to stop the perpetuation of something that has caused undue suffering to each generation: this privileging of the youngest child over the eldest (who by all intensive purposes is supposed to receive the birthright and blessing as mandated by tradition).
And one may argue that this privileging of the youngest over the eldest is ordained by God, that this is what had to happen. This is a story our ancestors and we have told ourselves to feel better about what has happened. This is called Delusion. And even if you swallow this pill, you cannot deny the impact of God’s privileging of certain children over others and of our ancestors following God’s directive. This has caused generation after generation of suffering in the Boof of Genesis: from Adam and Chava’s sons, to Noach’s sons, to Avraham’s sons, to Yitzhak’s sons, and to Yaakov’s sons.
Let’s look at the actual text for a minute:
וַיַּ֣רְא יוֹסֵ֗ף כִּי־יָשִׁ֨ית אָבִ֧יו יַד־יְמִינ֛וֹ עַל־רֹ֥אשׁ אֶפְרַ֖יִם וַיֵּ֣רַע בְּעֵינָ֑יו וַיִּתְמֹ֣ךְ יַד־אָבִ֗יו לְהָסִ֥יר אֹתָ֛הּ מֵעַ֥ל רֹאשׁ־אֶפְרַ֖יִם עַל־רֹ֥אשׁ מְנַשֶּֽׁה׃
When Joseph saw that his father was placing his right hand on Ephraim’s head, he thought it wrong; so he took hold of his father’s hand to move it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s.Vayechi 48:17
Yosef saw. He was awake. He was conscious of the fact of the generations of familial trauma caused by the privileging of the youngest over the eldest. Indeed, Yosef was the victim of such violence, betrayal and trauma because he was favored by his father.
He thought it wrong. Now, the root used here is ר.ע.ע, which means bad, evil, to be injurious, which is to say that Yosef thought it evil! Evil was his father about to do. Evil what God mandated.
He took hold of his father’s hand to correct it! Where in all the Book of Bereisheet does a son dare touch his son to steer him on the upright course?! Yosef is acting with balanced humility, courage, honor and integrity. And you know he also does this act with balanced honor toward his father when he says: לֹא־כֵ֣ן אָבִ֑י, Not So Father. And Yaakov’s gentle rebuttal: יָדַ֤עְתִּֽי בְנִי֙, I Know, My Son.
He knows. Yaakov does know what this behavior leads to as he was exiled for 20 years at the age of 17 because his mother and he privileged himself as the youngest while receiving the blessing in deception. And yet, he will still perpetuate the behavior that has caused generation after generation suffering.
Yosef has done his part. He protested, he intervened, he explained, and sometimes all we can do is practice acceptance and compassion for Yosef, Menashe, Ephraim, and ourselves. This may bring you discomfort and dis-ease in the body; rejection as an emotion; and aversion in our thoughts. We may want to attach to another way of being rather than be with our ancestors’s history and with the text.
Allow and Accept it.
We will Investigate the felt sense of this in our guided seated meditation practice. And we will ultimately come to Nuturing ourselves and practice Non-identification.
Before we move into our mindfulness meditation practice, we see in 50:14-21 the final reconciliation of Yosef and his brothers. Right, you must be thinking: Didn’t Yosef already forgive them? Didn’t they already embrace, cry, and reunite? 17 years ago? Yes.
It is not as if we forgive and we move on. Things trigger us again. Parents die. The patriarch, Yaakov, dies and his death triggers deep-recessed fears of the brothers that Yosef will now take revenge, which shows what they believe they deserve or they wouldn’t necessarily fear it. This also shows that they have not forgiven themselves. Self-forgiveness is often the most difficult practice. And in the case, it may be impossible.
In the Jewish tradition, we forgive to remain in relationship. There are and will be consequences still for our unwise and/or sinful behavior. Consequences are not necessarily married to Forgiveness. Yosef testifies that God will handle the consequences of his brothers’s behavior. He has chosen the righteous deed of not only remaining in relationship with his brothers but also to sustain their families and them.
Had Yosef not practiced balanced courage, trust in God, responsibility, humility, and forgiveness, had he not taken on the Mitzvah/commandment of sustaining the Egyptians and his family, but rather had he taken revenge on this brothers for their sin 34 years ago, we would not be here today. We have that for which to thank Yosef. Indeed, his practice sustained and continues to sustain us. Thank you Yosef.
Thank you God for sustaining us and bringing us to this moment: בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יהוה, אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, שֶׁהֶחֱיָֽינוּ וְקִיְּמָנוּ וְהִגִּיעָנוּ לַזְּמָן הַזֶּה
We have “finished” the first of five Books of the Torah, called Bereisheet/Genesis. חזק חזק ונתחזק May we merit the return to study it again, to benefit from its teachings to strengthen us in our own practice toward Kedusha/Holiness. May we merit to Bring God’s Good to Others. Amen. אמן
We honor God, our practice, our ancestors, our community, our Torah, and Dharma. I am honored to be your teacher and to be here together in order to enable offerings like this. We rely on your donations of any amount to offer these teachings and sitting. This donation is called Dana in the Pali, a tradition of Insight Buddhist Meditation, and Terumah in Hebrew, a tradition of Judaism. On behalf of The Institute for Holiness: Kehilat Mussar, I thank you for your donation.
We also accept sponsorships for our weekly teaching and sitting that are in honor of someone or in memory of someone, may their memory be for a blessing. Sponsorships are $50 to sponsor one day of teaching and we include your honoree or deceased in the announcements and teaching so that we may lift up their souls and merit our practice together to make this a better world.
Our practice: reflect for 5 minutes daily in our Cheshbon Hanefesh journal:
- Can we bear the burden of our ancestors, particularly when they act out with unbalanced middot?
- Can we extend compassion and less judgment?
- What can our ancestors and the Torah teach us?
- And can we integrate and be mindful of these lessons and what was handed down to us by our ancestors, like Yosef, so that we can use this wisdom to make sure that we do not cause more harm and suffering?