December 08, 2017

Pearl Harbour & Vayeshev

This week was the anniversary of Japan’s dastardly attack on Pearl Harbour which brought America into the Second World War. Germany was quick to blame American Jews and used it to heap ever more cruelty on their brothers and sisters in Nazi-occupied Europe. One such place was the Slovakian town of Pressburg where my grandfather Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Unsdorfer zt’l would prepare his weekly sermon in longhand, often with a diary note of current events. Rabbi Shlomo Zalman was murdered in Auschwitz but some of his manuscripts were salvaged by his son Simcha, my father, after his liberation from the extermination camp. 

Here is the extract for this week's sermon וישב  in 1941 …

תש"ב, פה פרעסבורג,  אור ליום עש"ק לפ 'וישב,
 בעת צרה ר"ל
שנתהוו מלחמה במדינת הים
 בין יאפן  לאמריקה

Here, Pressburg 1941 , Erev Shabbat Vayeshev
A time of trouble, G-d help us
When there has been war between Japan and America

Rashi’s opening statement on the parsha is:
"ביקש יעקב לישב בשלוה, קפץ עליו רוגזו של יוסף.."
Literally: Jacob wanted to dwell in peace, but the rage of Joseph jumped on him.
Why the strange term ‘jump’ – why did Rashi not just say the anger of Joseph came over him.

The Midrash says of Vayeshev - לא שלותי ולא שקטתי Jacob is saying: I had no peace from Esau, no quiet from Laban and no rest from Dinah. But then came the rage of Joseph.

Perhaps the events we are now going through here in Pressburg will explain Rashi’s strange wording.
In ordinary times the only thing that changes in our daily lives is the Torah story we read on shabbat. But these days we are truly living our very lives with a different story  every week. We went through Lech Lecha, having to leave our homes, Sarah being taken to the house of Pharaoh as with our young daughters, the sacrifice of Isaac- so very real for us now, the fire and brimstone of Sodom being rained down in air wars, Esau's hatred of Jacob being played out in our streets, and then Laban and the lies and scheming which seek to undermine us in every way.
And so we arrive this week at Vayeshev – the Jew looks for a little peace and quiet - and suddeny rage literally jumps on his head.

We all take precautions in our daily lives to keep us and our families safe. But sometimes something happens which we never anticipated. Jacob always knew Esau was trouble – all the way back to their struggles in his mother’s womb. So he always gave him a wide berth and avoided confrontations. And so when Esau threatened to kill him, it came as no surprise. Similarly with Laban – Jacob knew he was not to be trusted and made sure he would not swindle him a second time with Rachel. So, again, it came as no surprise when he pursued Jacob even after leaving. And so with Dinah – every parent knows the importance of guarding a young daughter from bad company and influence. But bad things do happen and even the rape of Dinah became a sad fact of life for Jacob.
And so, as the Midrash tells it: Jacob knew no peace from Esau, no quiet from Laban and no rest from Dinah.

But, when it came to Joseph, who could possibly have imagined that hatred among brothers – the leaders of G-d's tribes – could bring them to gang up on their own flesh and blood, to kill him, to throw him into a pit of scorpions or to sell him into slavery? There was nothing that could prepare a father for such a thing, no precaution that Yaakov could possibly have anticipated – it simply jumped upon him out of a clear blue sky.

And so it is in these terrible times with the Nazis. We know to stay out of their way, we try not to provoke them, we wear our yellow stars and live within their curfews – always trying to anticipate and avoid their next move against us. And yet, despite all of these precautions who could have dreamt that an attack that takes place on the other side of the globe between two far-off nations, America and Japan, could possibly affect us here? Moreover that we would be blamed for it and lose the relative quietude we’ve experienced in recent weeks  .... 
 בשלוהביקש יעקב לישב

The Midrash on Vayigash says: כל מה שאירה ליוסף אירה לציון   that what happened to Joseph will happen to Zion.  That our destiny will follow the story of Yosef. The world mocks us saying: “Look who comes here – it’s the dreamer! You claim to be the chosen people? We will see what becomes of your dreams.”  

And, just as Joseph was thrown into a pit, they shut us into ghettos. And if that’s not enough, "let’s sell him" – they send us to labour camps [or so my grandfather then thought]. They try to break us and our spirit. 

And all of this because they know that G-d has chosen us from among all nations and lifted us above all languages. And in the end, like the dreams of Joseph the righteous, a heavenly voice will proclaim: ונראה מה יהיו חלומותיו
we shall see what becomes of those dreams. We shall indeed see that the Nazis will be utterly destroyed and the nation of Israel will survive and thrive for eternity. And we shall also realise that the pain and suffering we are now enduring will all end up for the betterment of our people.

Our parsha begins and ends with dreams. Whatever laws may have been passed against us, they have not yet ruled that we cannot dream.
And in our dreams we see the future …. נצבה וגם אלומתי והנה קמה 
That we will ultimately prevail, and this should be our true consolation in these terrible times.

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