Parashat Vayeshev

Friday, December 8, 2017 / 20 Kislev, 5778
Parashat Vayeshev Genesis 37:1-40:23
Dear Friends,
Greetings from Boston.  This week I have been participating in the URJ Biennial where 5,500 Reform Jews are gathered to learn, pray, sing and celebrate our vibrant and diverse Reform movement.
I have also been keeping an eye on the devastating Southern California wildfires. Sadly, at least six homes of congregants from Temple Beth Torah in Ventura have burned to the ground.  Thankfully, however, Leo Baeck Temple (across from the Getty Center) was spared by firefighters who battled the Skirball fire as it crawled down the hillside towards the Leo Baeck Campus.   I hope and pray that your loved ones who may live in these communities are safe.
While monitoring events at home, I am learning and connecting in Boston. I was also invited to help lead a workshop with the Religious Action Center as part of my role as the National Co-Chair for the RAC’s North American Immigrant Justice Campaign.
Yesterday afternoon more than 75 people gathered to learn and to share their experiences of participating with their congregations in this sacred work.  Below is an excerpt of my d’var Torah that I shared yesterday and which grounded our work in Torah:
“In this week’s Torah portion, Vayeshev we discover that the journey to Egypt began with a dream.  Joseph (Jacob’s favorite son), had dreams about what he envisioned his life would become.  In one dream, eleven sheaves of grain (representing his brothers) bow to one that remains upright (Joseph). He should’ve kept this dream to himself but instead he shared it, and another, with his brothers.
Joseph’s dreams did come true.  Many years later his brothers would come to bow down to him (when he was a leader in Egypt).
However, the journey from his initial dream to its eventual fulfillment was a nightmare.  Over many years Joseph was trafficked, enslaved, sexually harassed and incarcerated. He would’ve rotted in jail forever had he lost his faith in his ability to dream, to interpret dreams, and lost his faith in God. Joseph became successful, not only because of a special skill he possessed, but also because he was quite lucky.   And because someone remembered him.
The Jewish experience of being enslaved, of being strangers and wanderers begins in this week’s parasha.  Our affinity for the plight of immigrants has its Jewish roots in this experience.
Bonnie Margulis wrote in this week’s Reform Judaism’s Ten Minutes of Torah the following which resonates with many of us: “Joseph’s journey led us to that experience of oppression, and inspired in our ancestors empathy and a sense of righteous justice for those who find themselves similarly strangers among us.”
Our empathy and our sense of righteous justice inspire us and commands us to be a beacon of hope, compassion, advocacy and activism to the plight of the eleven million undocumented immigrants in the United States, including 800,000 DREAMERS, children who were brought here by their parents.  We can shine a light on this issue and help to bring a moral voice to the issue of Immigrant Justice.
Thousands of years ago, Joseph dreamed.  Thousands of years ago Joseph said Hineini-here I am, ready to do this work.  Hineni has been our call to action. Together, as we learn about this sacred work and commit ourselves in this particular pursuit of justice, we all hope that together, we can be bearers of light and together say, “Hineini!”
If you are interested in helping shine the light on issues of immigrant justice with Temple Beth El, please contact me directly.
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom from Boston.
Rabbi Charles K. Briskin