Looking for a new way to think about Judaism this week? Here are some reflections Parshat Vayigash to add a modern perspective to this week's Torah reading.
This week's parsha (Torah reading), Vayigash, finishes the story of Joseph that we started reading last week. If you're like me and don't have it in you to memorize every part of the Torah, here's a quick recap of what happened over the course of our last two parshiot.
We started with Joseph receiving his "coat of many colors" from Jacob, and his subsequent capture and sale into slavery by his jealous brothers. After being sent to jail, Joseph is brought to Pharoah to interpret his two dreams, and makes his well-known prediction that there will be seven years of prosperity, followed by seven years of famine. Pharoah decides that Joseph should oversee the collection and distribution of food for all of Egypt. Fast forward a few years, and Joseph's brothers have come to ask for food because of the famine. Joseph (who is completely unrecognizable to his brothers) tests them by accusing them of being spies and thieves, and accuses Jacob's youngest son, Benjamin, of stealing a goblet. He demands that Benjamin stay as his slave, while the others can go free. Judah steps up to the plate, defends Benjamin, and heroically asks to be enslaved in his place. In this moment, the brothers "pass" Joseph's test and Joseph knows, through their actions, that the brothers are different people than the ones who abandoned him so many years before.
Now, I imagine when you saw "Parshat Vayigash" and started reading this reflection, you may not have expected the plot of "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat." It is a well-known, well-loved story- I couldn't help singing "Close Every Door" the whole time I was writing this summary. That's the cool thing about the Torah and Jewish learning, you can find it everywhere, and often without realizing it or thinking too hard. Because of this famous retelling of the story of Joseph, we already have a connection to what's been happening in the last few Jewish weeks.
As Jewish educators and leaders, it's our job to find and create connections between the individuals we work with and classic Jewish thought and texts, but what if we don't know how?
We can thank scholars, authors, screenwriters, tv and film producers for their help. Our tradition is so rich with interesting stories that versions have been used for all kids of commercial purposes including movies and TV shows. The Rugrats have adventures for both Hanukkah and Passover. Disney Channel has the movie "Full Court Miracle." There's a NBC show that features a modern retelling of King David's story called "Kings," and full Biblically inspired storylines on the CW's Supernatural. There are even movies like "Exodus: Gods and Kings" and "Noah" that incorporate biblical commentaries into their retelling of classic stories.
When we come across stories in the Torah that are hard to connect with, we shouldn't just write them off or ignore them. We should look for modern versions or find a way to tell them ourselves. One reason Jewish life has thrived over the course of history is that there are so many ways to relate it to our lives. Let's challenge ourselves to look for them!