Parashat Vayigash Torah Reading: Genesis 44:18-47:27
Do you ever talk to the tv? You know the protagonist shouldn't go into the cave or whatever, and you're sitting there calling, "no! don't go there!"
And you're right, of course, because you've seen it before . . . the bad guy is lurking in the shadows or the rock slide seals your hero into an apparently impossible situation.
And that's how I feel reading Parashat Vayigash, this week's Torah reading. Joseph is at the height of his powers and reputation. All of his brothers and his father Jacob are graciously settled onto prime real estate by Pharaoh as a tribute to Joseph's vision and plan saving Egypt from famine. And as the family of Jacob settles into Goshen, I'm moved to call out "no! don't go there! Your great grandchildren are going to be doomed to slavery!"
Because, of course, I've read this story before. Every year. I read it in Religious School when I was a kid. I studied it, with all the commentaries, in rabbinical school. I review it every year when we come to this Shabbat, as well.
How many times can a person go back to the same story? If the story is in the Torah, there's no limit.
What is it about the Torah that keeps us coming back? Yes, it is engaging literature. Our spiritual connection to the text is the divine revelation integrally woven into every word.
But I think the real draw for us as Jews is the fact that it is our story. Revisiting the text of the Torah year after year is like sitting around the table with family and hearing your parents and grandparents tell and re-tell the family stories. I admit that when my Aunt Gladys gets started on those stories, I have a tendency to roll my eyes. But you know what? I love those stories and I love the way Gladys tells them. And every time I listen to them, I hear a little something that I didn't hear before. And every time I listen to them I feel embraced by the narratives . . . I see myself and where I've come from. It's a powerful and precious experience.
When we read and re-read the Torah, we are reading the story of our past, the story of our roots, the story of what ties us together as a community and a people. So, even though we know how the story ends, we never get tired of returning to the story. There is actually comfort and confirmation in knowing what happens next in the story . . . because this is the story whose narrative continues through the generations right up to us at this time and this place.
Rabbi Amy Levin
has been Torat Yisrael's rabbi since the summer of 2004 and serves as President of the Board of Rabbis of Greater Rhode Island.