• Rabbi Rubanowitz

Vayaishev, 5778/2017~ “But I sent you Air Force One!…”

Regardless of your political alignment, I can’t imagine how any lover of Jerusalem can’t be proud and excited about this week’s events. But even after this truly momentous occasion, seeds of discontent have been sowed by some in every camp. Here is a refrain I saw and heard uttered on both sides of the political spectrum: “Yes, it’s undeniably a big deal (The Trump Jerusalem announcement), but Trump didn’t do it for the Jews or the State of Israel. He did it for his own political reasons, for his need to boast of action, for his pandering to the Evangelical Christian base of his constituency, for a host of other self-motivated non “I love Israel and the Jews” reasons and certainly not due to a special appreciation of the meaning  and significance of Jerusalem, or for the Jewish connection to it. 

Even if such claims are accurate-and I am not attempting here to opine one way or another on this, would that diminish the appreciation one should have for this grand gesture proclaiming the prominence of Jerusalem for Israel and the Jewish people, just a few days before we mark the rededication of Yersuhalayim during the Chanukka period? Should self interest and self motivation minimize the appreciation and recognition of what was done through this US administration that was only talked about but never accomplished?  [agreed: of course if you believe that the announcement/move is bad for Israel/Peace/the Jews there will be an entirely different take on this].

I think our Parsha offers a glaringly poignant lesson on this issue. 

While Joseph is eternalized as “Yosef Hatzaddik”-“Joseph the Righteous” by our Torah tradition, a genuine true hero of the Jewish people (and of Egypt) and a father of not one but two of our 12 tribes, his actions at the end of our Parsha, while in an Egytpian prison, get him into enough trouble that his sentence is extended by Hashem for two years. As the last Rashi in the parsha points out, in his attempts to secure his release from prison, Joseph appeared to put his  trust not in Hashem, but in a “cellmate”-Pharaoh’s Butler, when he asked the Butler to “put in a good word for him to Pharaoh” and inform Pharaoh about Joseph’s superior skills as a “dream-coach” and  interpreter. As Rashi intimates, he should have put his trust in Hashem! For this apparent lapse in trusting G-d, 2 years were “added” to his sentence-hence next week’s Parsha beginning: “And it was at the end of two years…”

Does this Rashi make ANY sense to you? what are we supposed to take out of this Rashi-that we should not seek the aid of others when in trouble? that if we are faced with challenges, we should avoid asking for assistance and simply trust that Hashem will take care of the problem? You all remember the punch line said by the Angel at the gates of heaven to the guys who had just drowned in the river: “I sent you a boat, a cruiseliner,  a Helicopter-why didn’t you save yourself???” . As a child of the 60s/70s, just 15-20 years after the Holocaust, I grew up on stories of the “war”, filled with instances where Jews, relatives and friends were saved from the most impossible situations-so often because they sought the help of others, Jews or non Jews alike  who lent them a window of opportunity. In my family , no one ever got lost because they were afraid to ask for directions…

Yet here, the Torah seems to be telling us that Yosef should  not have asked the Royal Butler  for help in getting out. This attitude Sounds actually very UNJewish and in no way resembles the Jewish education I was given, which  taught about the importance of seeking out every avenue of opportunity Hashem sends us for self-help and preservation. 

This Rashi has bothered me for years. Until I noticed something I have not seen mentioned by any of the commentaries (Admittedly, I didn’t do that much research. Please direct me to one if you have!): When  Yosef asked the Butler  for help, look at the words he uses: “If only you would remember me when he (Pharaoh) does good for you, and do for me a kindness, and mention me to Pharaoh and (you) take me out of this place” (in Hebrew: “V’Hotzaitani Min Habayit Hazeh”). I’ll repeat the key words that jumped out at me as I re-read this: V’HOTZAITANI”-“AND YOU TAKE ME OUT OF THIS PLACE”. In other words, Yosef didn’t say, “mention me to Pharaoh so that G-d can take me out of this place”, or… ”so that I may be taken out of this place”. Rather, he says to the Butler, “do me this favor and I will ascribe the credit all to you. I will consider you not as an agent of Hashem who certainly is the one pulling the strings from above, sending the boats, ships and helicopters to save his people, but as THE ACTUAL SAVIOR-without giving Hashem any Marquee billing as the ultimate savior. Did Yosef really mean to cut Hashem out of the picture? Surely not, as we see from his multiple other statements in this Parsha and the coming ones. BUT, as Josef the Righteous, specifically because he, more than anyone else recognized Hashem’s reality as the “Wizard behind the curtain on the stage of our lives” is  taken to task for allowing any such possible implication to flow from his words.   

So: do we appreciate Trump’s monumental “Jerusalem announcement” any less because it may be the product  of political motivations/self interest/pandering? Only if we failed to learn the lesson Yosef was taught-that ultimate credit for all that occurs lies with the creator and “reason for all reasons”-Hashem himself. Appreciating Trump as being Hashem’s veritable Helicopter, his “agent for service of process”, his chosen vessel for uplifting the prominence of his City, his “Mountain” and his people, can and should not take away from or recognition that all of us are here to serve as channels through which Hashem reveals his presence.Trump may even think he is G-d (as some have said), but we can and should never forget who is really pulling every string on our instruments, and conducting the orchestra of our lives.

My response thus to those “kvetchers” I mentioned above, is “Thank you Hashem for bringing Kavod and honor back to Jerusalem. Thank you Donald Trump for accepting the great honor to play this part in G-d’s production. May Hashem bless you with  wisdom, strength and perseverance to keep up the good work!!!” 

As we prepare on Menorahs and Chanukiyot to light up our own neighborhoods, let’s do our best to catch a spark of the  flame 

that is growing stronger and stronger in our “Alte Heim”, our true home, as we fervently pray THIS YEAR IN YERUSHALAYIM!

Shabbat Shalom, Good Shabbos, and a Freilichen, joyful and life-changing Chanukah to you all!

Shalom Rubanowitz

A picture taken on December 6, 2017 shows a giant US flag screened alongside Israel’s national flag by the Jerusalem municipality on the walls of the old city. US President Donald Trump recognized the disputed city of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital on December 6, 2017, and kicked off the process of relocating the US embassy there from Tel Aviv. The old city lies in the eastern part of Jerusalem which was under Jordanian control from Israel’s creation in 1948 until Israeli forces captured it during the 1967 Six-Day War, and Israel later annexed it in a move not recognised by the international community. / AFP PHOTO / Ahmad GHARABLI