Parashat Vayigash

Two Minutes of Torah with Rabbi Abbi Sharofsky

“Pharaoh said to his brothers, ‘What is your occupation?’ They answered Pharaoh, ‘We your servants are shepherds, as were also our fathers…’”

—Genesis 47:3

The recent spate of antisemitic incidents in New York raises the question of visibility: how visible do you want your Judaism to be?  After the horrific attack at a rabbi’s home in Monsey on the seventh night of Chanukah, Jews took to social media with their hanukkiyot, proudly and defiantly sharing the beautiful lights of our holiday with the world. But what happens now that Hanukkah is over? What happens to the Jews who manifest their Judaism outwardly each and every day throughout the year, the Orthodox men and women with beards, hats, kippot, hair covers, and long skirts, in Brooklyn, Monsey, and throughout the Diaspora?.  Contrastingly, what will be the experience of  Jews of Color, who are routinely questioned by synagogue security or congregants, when they enter a synagogue wearing a kippah or a Star of David, 

This week’s Torah portion, Vayigash, deals with Joseph revealing himself to his brothers and reuniting with his father, Jacob. Joseph, who was sold into slavery by his brothers and presumed to be gone from their lives, is now a leader in Egypt. Pharaoh and the Egyptians do not know Joseph’s lineage. When Joseph prepares his father and brothers for their meeting with Pharaoh, he instructs his family to hide their identities as shepherds, concerned that the ruler will react negatively to the lack of status and wealth that signified . .  . However, Jacob and his sons do not follow Joseph’s instructions, and do tell Pharaoh they are shepherds, just like their fathers before them. 

Then given the choice to hide their identities, Jacob and his sons opt for visibility..  This tenacity of spirits what Jews need today.  In the face of hateful violence, we must not shrink into the shadows of society but instead redouble our collective and personal pride in our faith and our people.  Wear your kippot, your stars, your modest clothes. Proudly proclaim your names rooted in Hebrew, Yiddish, Farsi, and Ladino. Follow the lead of Black, Latinx, LGBTQ and other minority individuals  who can’t easily and quickly hide their identities as one would quietly  tuck a necklace in a shirt collar or hide a kippah under a hat or in a pocket. Like Jacob and his sons, we must remain true to who we are and where we come from and embody the pluralistic tolerance upon which our beloved country was founded.