12/20/2012

Shabbat Vayigash

Candles Friday 4:12pm
Havdalah 5:10pm

Sunday Asarah BTevet Fast of 10th of Tevet

When Joseph sent his brothers back to Canaan to bring their father and families back down to live in Egypt, he told them “Al Tirgezu Baderech.” The phrase literally means “Don’t argue on the way.” After all the Hebrew word ‘Brogez’ means angry, argumentative. And given the rivalries between the brothers and the natural tendency to blame others, the simple translation makes sense given the circumstances.

But the Midrash gives another explanation which Rashi quotes. Do not spend too much time arguing about matters of Jewish law. This seemingly anachronistic explanation on the surface does not make sense. The Talmudic academies emerged only in Babylon under the scribes, the Soferim, even though a similarly anachronistic Midrash says that Shem and Ever had a yeshivah at the time of our forefathers. The rabbis obviously wanted to stress that the tradition of study and debate went back to the origins of our tradition. And it is not so strange because the Torah is a Book of Law and whenever you have law there will always be debates and arguments.

The Talmudic tradition which is alive and dynamic today is indeed founded on debate and argument. But you can argue in a civilized way or in a crude, aggressive way. Sadly nowadays too much argument whether it is religious, political or just personal is aggressive and disrespectful. And the message that the Midrash wants to give us that human qualities matter as much as religious ones and respect for humans is linked to respect for God.

The Fast of Asarah BeTevet marks the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem.

We fast from Dawn to Dusk on Sunday to recognize the beginning of the process that led to awful destruction. It was not too late to draw back and resolve the conflict. But we ignored the chances of agreement and we went over the cliff! Have we not leant from history?

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