CCAR January 2012 Newsletter - 6
Voices of Torah
Jacob dies, Joseph buries him in Goren ha-Atad, and mourns him seven days. Shivah over, his brothers begin to worry in earnest. When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph still bears a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrong that we did him?” (Genesis 50:15) The brothers entreat Joseph to forgive them. Joseph reassures them that he neither plans nor seeks revenge. Torah next tells us: Thus he comforted them (va’y’nacheim) and spoke to their heart (va’y’dabeir al libam) (Genesis 50:21). Why this unusual phrase? Isn’t va’y’nacheim sufficient? What does va’y’dabeir al libam add? Perhaps va’y’nacheim bespeaks the words Joseph offered his brothers (Genesis 50:19-21) and va’y’dabeir al libam is telling us that Joseph had empathy for his brothers. He understood their fear and shame. Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence, identifies empathy as an important component of emotional intelligence. He tells us there are three kinds of empathy: cognitive empathy, emotional empathy, and empathic concern. When Joseph assures his brothers that they were not responsible for what happened because it was part of God’s plan, he shows he understands their perspective; he exhibits cognitive empathy. When he speaks to their heart, he shows that he feels what they feel; he exhibits emotional empathy. When he promises to sustain them and their children, he demonstrates that he wants to help them; he exhibits empathic concern. Joseph embodies all three. Empathy is important in every realm of life: work, family, and love relationships; effectiveness in the world of social justice, where we need to understand other perspectives; and politics and diplomacy.
Growing up in Pharaoh’s palace, did Moses know he was adopted? The animated movie, “Prince of Egypt,” has a dramatic scene in which Moses, a young man, suddenly realizes his true identity (which the script writers connect to: and Moses went out and saw the suffering of his people). But this scene is certainly anachronistic. Deceiving adopted children was a short-lived experiment of the 20th Century, and not at all relevant to the Moses story. For most of history, adopted children knew, as they do today, of their adoptions. Modern technology, however, has produced a new generation of people who once again do not know their biological origins: children of donor sperm and eggs. The majority of married couples who use donor gametes or embryos do not tell the children (though single parents and same-sex couples do, for obvious reasons). Judaism generally eschews deception, and what we have learned from that 20th Century experiment in adoption deception and from current insights in psychological practice tell us that it is neither wise nor ethical for parents to mislead their children in this regard. Some reproductive endocrinologists actually encourage married couples to keep this important information secret while many, if not most, simply make it an ethically neutral decision of the parents. What leadership role should the Reform movement play in encouraging and helping parents to be open and honest with their children about their origins?
We tend to think of Torah as sexist, reflecting its milieu, but we can find bits and pieces where the women seem very strong. I notice that while patriarchs dominate our early history, women choose which male will lead. The women are the kingmakers. Ishmael was Abraham’s firstborn, but Isaac was Sarah’s firstborn, and the Torah makes clear that the second generation of the covenant is not merely Abraham’s son, and not necessarily his firstborn, but rather the one who is the firstborn of the first matriarch, because it is she who determines who will be the next link in the chain of generations: …whatever Sarah tells you, do as she says, for it is through Isaac that offspring shall be continued for you. (Genesis 21:12). Isaac preferred Esau, but Rebekah determined that Jacob would inherit the covenant and wear the mantle of leadership. Interestingly, Rebekah passes the scepter to the more “feminine” of her twin sons, the dweller in tents, the “momma’s boy.” The most surprising is the third generation. Jacob has twelve sons, two wives, and two concubines. Yet it is clear that Rachel is the matriarch in this generation. The greatest attention is paid to Jacob’s eleventh son, Joseph, who is neither the patriarch’s firstborn nor youngest, but is Rachel’s firstborn. Much is made of “overthrowing” primogeniture in Genesis, but it must be noted that Isaac is Sarah’s firstborn; Jacob is a twin, but his mother’s favorite; and Joseph is Rachel’s firstborn. Perhaps primogeniture isn’t the point, after all. Perhaps it is about the subtle power of women to determine which males lead.
CCAR January 2012 Newsletter
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of CCAR January 2012 Newsletter
CCAR January 2012 Newsletter - 1
CCAR January 2012 Newsletter - 2
CCAR January 2012 Newsletter - 3
CCAR January 2012 Newsletter - 4
CCAR January 2012 Newsletter - 5
CCAR January 2012 Newsletter - 6
CCAR January 2012 Newsletter - 7
CCAR January 2012 Newsletter - 8
CCAR January 2012 Newsletter - 9
CCAR January 2012 Newsletter - 10
CCAR January 2012 Newsletter - 11
CCAR January 2012 Newsletter - 12