eDvar Shabbat Parashat Vayechi 5780

Blessings: bestowed and received

“Where are you from” asks the waitress of a Stockholm restaurant as she processed my check last Friday night. “Israel” I answer. She looks at me with her mouth open, trembling and starting to cry. She disappears. I hurry to pick up my coat to find the nearest exit.  I am a Jew in a hostile environment.

Just before I escape to the frozen street, she returns with another girl in cooking clothes.  I am already in a position of quick retreat when I realize there is no hostility on their part.

The waitress asks me for forgiveness.  Her sister explains that they have never met an Israeli and all they want to do is say thank you.

They are Syrian refugees.  A few years ago their mother was very ill, on her deathbed.  Late one night she was taken to the border with Israel, and from there her life was saved after three weeks in an Israeli Hospital.  Today her mother is healthy, living with her daughters in Suburban Stockholm.

The waitress calls her mother.  I find myself speaking with an excited, crying woman in broken English and German.  She asked for only one thing.  “Give thanks to all of your brothers in Israel, who gave her daughters the privilege of having a mother.”

This moving post brings transfusions of hope.  This is what a biblical Joseph sought for his anxious brothers in this week’s portion of Torah.  “Your intent may have been punitive, but God transformed it into something positive” (Gen. 50:20).

Sometimes extracting something positive from a tight spot depends upon us.  And sometimes it depends on our capacity to simply receive tender goodness of anonymous others.

Too often today our world seems awash in contempt and hostility.  But that’s not all.  There is more.  May the gentle glow of the kind and the holy find us when we need it most.

A sweet Shabbat to you.
Rabbi William Hamilton
Image courtesy of The Pucker Gallery | Marguerite Robichaux, ‘Winter Field, 2019’ | Oil and graphite on canvas, 30 x 48″