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Parashat Beshalach: In Honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. - Get Going!

December 25, 2020 


Last Friday was, of course, a holiday in America and for many of our neighbors and friends. It was also the last Shabbat of the year 2020. While we have many New Years in our Jewish calendar, the rhythm of our secular calendar drives our lives as well.

And what a year 2020 was. Perhaps one of the best ways I’ve heard it described recently invoked a Latin term, popularized in the 1990s by Queen Elizabeth - annus horibilis - a horrible year.

2020 has had no shortage of hardship and suffering. Loss of life, lockdown, economic hardship, isolation, antisemitism, racism… the list goes on and on. Many of us have lost loved ones, family or friends. And we have suffered challenging losses in our TAA community as well, both related and unrelated to the pandemic.

It is alright to say - good riddance to 2020 - farewell! That’s one opportunity with which a new year provides us - a chance to move forward and move on.

We know that there have been many positive moments, hints of light, in 2020 as well. Weddings adapted to zoom, births, virtual celebrations of every kind. Catching up with old friends and more time to connect with family, even if we can’t see them in person. A chance to pause, to do less. A chance to think about the things that really matter to each of us. An opportunity for creativity and innovation in everything from Shabbat services to how we shop for groceries. 

In this week’s Torah portion, Vayigash, Joseph, our ancestor, has achieved a high rank and status in his adopted land of Egypt. His promotions were largely related to his prophetic ability to predict and prepare Pharaoh and his country for years of famine and hardship. On the personal side of the narrative, Joseph reunites with his family, overcoming a troubled past for all of the siblings.

On the public side, Joseph leadership in Egypt is put to the test. We read words that resonate for us today:

“And when the year ended, the people [of Egypt] came to him at the end of that second year, and said to him: ‘We will not hide from my lord, how our money is spent and our herds of cattle are no more; there is nothing left but our bodies and our lands.” (Gen 47:18)

Here stand ancient Egyptians and Israelite refugees, before their leader Joseph, at the end of a very hard year, a year of famine and loss. Vatitom hashanah - the year ended.

The year had ended, but that famine had not. On the contrary, this was at most two or three years into a devastating time in the history of our people and our ancient neighbors. 

The year ends, but the challenges do not. In fact, as the years progress, the people are literally forced to sell themselves and their property to Pharaoh in order to survive, becoming serfs on their own land.

Thirteenth century rabbi and commentator, Chizkuni, reminds us that while the challenges faced in this mid-point of the seven years of famine seemed endless and unbearable, the famine does, eventually, end.

“In the seventh year,” he comments on our verse, “Joseph gave [the people] seed to plant, and they planted them, collecting a harvest in the eighth year: the famine was over.”

We will not wave a magic wand at the stroke of midnight on December 31, 2020. We’ve lived with our current reality for long enough to know that moving through our current challenges will take time, dedication, and leadership.

And we can take comfort for the challenges of the past - the famine will end. A new harvest will come. 

May 2021 be a year of blessing, health, safety, and a return to so much of what we love. May we take comfort in the lessons of the past, ancient and recent, and look toward a brighter future. Shabbat shalom.

Rabbi Liz P.G. Hirsch
Temple Anshe Amunim | Pittsfield, MA

Fri, March 1 2024 21 Adar I 5784