Thursday, September 25, 2003
Well, tomorrow night is Rosh Hashanah, Yom Hazikaron, Yom Zichron Teruah (this year, at least). My own teshuvah is going . . . pretty lousy. Not much time for reflection. No new mitzvot assumed. Haven't undertaken a course of study. Haven't apologized to those I've harmed or offended over the past year. Work and immediate family have been kind of all-consuming. And so, in light of the foregoing, a final, comforting parable of teshuvah, for Elul:
When Joseph and his brothers were in Egypt, Joseph went in to his father's house and saw his brothers, Judah and Benjamin, engaged in Torah study. And Joseph thought to himself: here I have been engaged as Vizier in Egypt, and before that I was imprisoned, and before that I was a slave in the house of Potiphar, and I have neglected Torah studies since arriving in this country. But now I am grown, how shall I undertake to study at my age?
So Joseph took his sons, Ephraim and Menasheh, to his father, and placed them on his knees to be instructed. And they took to their studies as a child takes honey. But when they returned home, they would laugh at their father, Joseph, saying, "does the Vizier of Egypt not know the proper way to wash his hands?" or "does the Vizier of Egypt not know the proper way to put on his shoes?" And Joseph was afflicted on their account, crying, "woe unto me, that the accusations of my heart are now on my son's lips!"
That night, Joseph had another dream, his first since his brothers came to Egypt. In the dream, he was climbing a mountain carrying across his back a thick rod from which there hung two buckets full of water. He walked with care so as not to spill, and as he walked he saw others climbing the mountain, some with flasks upon their hips, some drinking from the streams that ran down the mountain. The other climbers, unencumbered as he was, passed him easily on their ascent.
Then Joseph looked down at his heavy buckets, and he saw his brothers hanging from the chains, and dipping their cups in the buckets to drink. And Joseph thought to himself: is this the adoration that my youth foretold?
So he climbed, burdened with the water and the weight of his brothers.
In his dream, then, Joseph died, and he watched himself and his brothers from a high vantage point on the mountain, a spot that he had never reached. And he watched as his brothers gathered up his bones, and wrapped them in a shroud, and placed them in one of the water buckets. And he watched as his brother, Judah, shouldered his burden, and continued the ascent. And he watched as his brothers climbed, bearing his bones and the buckets of water, as they passed, one by one, the skeletons of climbers who had sprinted past him on his own climb, their bones bleached white and dry as the stones of the mountain.
When Joseph awoke, he called his brothers to him, and bound them by an oath: to bring his bones up out of Egypt. (Breishit 50:25).
It is said there will be two Messiahs, and that one, from the seed of Joseph, will come before the other, from the seed of Jesse. And while the former will not himself bring redemption, nonetheless we should pray for him. For by his efforts is the path of his successor smoothed. And but for his efforts, the son of Jesse would come with a scythe in his hands to clear a path, and those who merit his coming would scatter before him, lest they be cut down.