NCJW Legislative Associate Faith Fried delivered this d’var Torah at the quarterly Jewish Disability Network meeting, a coalition of Jewish organizations working for the rights of people with disabilities.
This week’s Torah portion deals with the death of Jacob, and then Joseph. But the portion, Vayechi, means “He Lived.” I found this contrast intriguing.
After Jacob dies, Joseph and his brothers journey to Canaan to bury him. After he is buried, the brothers are concerned – what if Joseph hates us for what we did? What if he was holding back until Jacob died? They go to Joseph and ask him for forgiveness, admitting that their father had urged them to do so.
Joseph weeps after they ask for forgiveness, and tells them not to fear. The parsha says that “he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.” This display of forgiveness – not Joseph’s first, but his first as head of his family – is striking. His brothers sold him into slavery, separated him from his beloved father, but Joseph forgives them. Joseph goes on to live to be 110 before he dies.
In thinking about forgiveness, my thoughts first turned to the 2015 massacre in a church in Charleston. Just days after her mother was murdered, Nadine Collier became famous saying “I forgive you” to her killer. A year later, the Washington Post followed up with Nadine to see whether she still meant those words. She said that she learned that forgiveness wasn’t easy – it’s work every day. “Forgiveness is power,” says Collier. “It means you can fight everything and anything head on.”
Forgiveness also makes me think of this election, and the impact it has had on families across the nation. Before Thanksgiving, I read numerous articles about how to survive a meal with family members who voted differently in this election. Now not all families are the same – opposing political viewpoints in one family is different from hateful rhetoric in another. But the thought of losing family or friends over the election makes me profoundly sad. Perhaps like Joseph and his brothers, the strength of our familial ties and emphasizing what values we do share can eventually bring us back together. As Collier points out, there is power in forgiveness, even if the power is as small as the ability to break bread together for just one night.
In her forgiveness, Collier finds strength to live each day without her mother. And in our forgiveness in the aftermath of this election, we may find strength too. Perhaps Joseph found a similar strength when he forgave his brothers after the death of his father. And maybe that’s why the Torah portion for this week means “He Lived.” In the years between forgiveness and his own death, Joseph’s forgiveness allowed him to truly live, facing everything and anything head on.