Drash for VaYigash 5773
by Marc Mangel
This week, in Ch 47, v 12 we read “Joseph provided bread for this father and his brothers and all his father’s household [according] to the needs of young children”. According to the Chazal, Joseph did this because he could see beyond the surface of the evil that his brothers did to him, to God’s plan in their actions.
The last Lubavitcher Rebbe wrote “This is Joseph’s heritage to every Jew. In his act of feeding his family in a time of famine, despite all the wrongs towards him, he has given US the power to reach beyond the surface of our fellow Jew, with all its superficial failings [and evils], and to penetrate to the core of his being and respond to its fundamental holiness. And when we treat another Jew in this we, we AROUSE that core of holiness in him, and in ourselves as well, so that in time in breaks through its coverings, and the essence of our soul stands revealed”.
This week I have been thinking a lot about evil. The evil that Joseph’s brothers did to him was clearly part of a grander cosmic plan. It is hard to argue that the evil in Newton, Ct was anything but Amalek.
And this raises a challenge for us, one that I can only put forward but cannot answer: How do we learn to recognize evil that is part of a bigger plan with much ultimate good e from evil that is purely evil. The first should cause us to respond with kindness while the second should lead us to action to blot it out. But how do we find the difference? I don’t know, but we should all think about it.
There is another kind of evil, which for want of a better word I will call random evil. None of you except Susan knows the name Joe Fiorentino. Joe was the husband of our family friend Ellen Friedrichs. Susan babysit Ellen when I was a graduate student, from the time Ellen was about 4 months old for more than 2 years.
On the Thursday before Thanksgiving, Ellen walked into her living room to find Joe dead on the couch. It turns out that Joe had a weird heart condition and he seems to have died peacefully in his sleep during the night.
Ellen and Joe have two children, Clementine (6.5 yrs) and Rocco (3.5 yrs).
It is hard to imagine Joe’s death as part of a grand cosmic plan for some greater good or to see it as Amalek in action. It can only be a random act of evil. But even such an event can arouse in us holiness.
Ellen grew up in the Habonim Camping movement (a Labor Zionist youth movement). She went to Camp Miriam in British Columbia for many years, on the Habonim Workshop year in Israel, and then returned to Camp Miriam as a staff member for many years before she became a ‘grown up’ too old to be involved in youth movement.
Joe’s death aroused the holiness of the many Habonimniks close and far to NY.
They immediately swept in and, along with Ellen’s Uncle, took care of the family. They organized a cleaning service, a food fund, and a general memorial fund. They continue to support her with phone calls and email messages.
These young people from Habonim did what all Jews — and indeed all people — should do in the time of crisis of another. They activated their holiness and responded to evil with kindness.
Yesterday, we received the following message from Ellen “After Joe died, my cousin Natasha and a bunch of the parents [many of whom are surely not Jewish, but in whom goodness was aroused] in Clementine’s class got together to help us get the house in shape. In addition to getting my bathroom renovated (!!!), they were all pretty awesome and spent an entire day sorting through mounds of stuff with me. This is a thank you video my brother Jonathan made for them”
So evil comes in three forms: part of an unseen cosmic plan, Amalek, and random. And two of the three give us opportunities to stimulate our core of holiness. Let us always be prepared to act accordingly.
And what about God’s plans? In the case of Joseph and his family, everything happened within one generation — and indeed within 15-20 years. Since nobody has asked Susan or me about the Tacoma candlesticks, to end on a less sad note I will tell you about them… Extemporaneous from here.