This week's parsha is the penultimate in the book of Genesis, and brings both revelation and resolution to the story of Joseph. It begins,
"...וַיִּגַּ֨שׁ אֵלָ֜יו יְהוּדָ֗ה"
And Judah drew near to him... (Gen. 44:18).
This intimate gesture is a transformative moment for Joseph, as Judah breaks through the line of his brothers and the years of distance and silence, and speaks with passion into Joseph's ear. What has been noted by my commentaries is that Judah doesn't actually say anything particularly new. And yet, his detailed account of history and his father's grief leads Joseph to reveal himself to his brother. "And Joseph could no longer restrain himself" (45:1). What was it about Judah's testimony that caused Joseph to break?
One midrash powerfully imagines the moment this way:
It is written, "'Deep waters are counsel in a person's heart' (Prov. 20:5). This can be compared to a deep well full of cold water -- its water was cold and fresh, but no one could drink it. Then someone came and tied rope to rope, cord to cord, string to string, and drew water and drank. Then, everyone began to draw the water and drink. In the same way, Judah did not stir till he had responded to Joseph, word by word, and had reached his heart" (Bereshit Rabbah 93:3).
This week in particular, the deep waters of community have touched my heart. Last night, a group of glittery queers and rabbis gathered in Emet's hospice for a living funeral to celebrate his life and to impart the much-deserved title of Rav Hayyim - A rabbi by merit of his life. We surrounded him with songs and rainbows, and sheltered him beneath the canopy of our tallitot we called him by his name, Rabbi Emet Tauber. And in that moment, he burst into tears, like Joseph, revealed as his true self. It was glorious.
So many people in the room shares stories of how Emet was the person who brought them back to Judaism. Emet has taught so many people in queer, radical, and disability justice communities to tie cord to cord, word to word, so that we can each drink from the well of Torah. When I spoke to Emet this morning, he was still glowing and reflecting on how loved he feels and how amazing it is to be surrounded by so much community.
Earlier this week, a KT member shared with me, "Every time you say God, I substitute the word community." This theological reflection and Emet's life affirm that we have the power to be the deep waters for each other, in our comings and in our goings. To draw ourselves close, to share our often painful stories, and to experience the Divinity that is community.
I look forward to being in community with you all this weekend as we celebrate the fullness of life, from birth through the wisdom years.
Rabbi Ari Lev
P.S. Many of you have asked for a learner's minyan of sorts. I am teaching a class on Tuesday nights this winter called the Theology and Mechanics of Prayer. Sign up here!
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Rabbi Ari Lev Fornari brings Torat Hayyim, a living tradition, to Kol Tzedek Synagogue through thoughts about prayer, justice, and community.