Our kid loves music, which is something that makes my wife and I particularly happy. He loves everything to do with sounds — banging on drums or ‘playing’ the piano and guitar, flipping through his very own Spotify playlist (it includes hits by everyone from Bob Dylan or Whitney Houston to Vivaldi and Yasmin Mualem), and of course, singing. A lot.
My wife is a professional composer, performer, and producer, and sometimes we go downstairs to her studio and explore the instruments. Ever the opinionated little one, he has been known to demand that one of us play and sing Love Me Do while he plays and sings Apples and Bananas (two fan favorites).
All this is to say that it came as no surprise when our toddler got really into Chanukah songs last week. “Banu choshech legaresh” he sang to himself as he arranged his toy cars on the coffee table, and “Ner li, ner li, ner li dakik.” What he really loved, though, was the blessings. We sang ‘the Adonai song’ twice every night for eight nights. Those candles were really blessed.
Of course, he didn’t really know what the words meant. As far as he’s concerned, they’re just nice songs that accompany the pretty candles. Still, it was nice to have a little extra of God’s presence in our home this week.
I don’t particularly love Chanukah, although it’s one of my wife’s favorite holidays. The whole story is very violent, and I don’t love glorifying any type of war. For similar reasons I have issues with Purim, but we won’t get into that. I do love the traditions—the whole house smelling of latkes and sufganiyot, the warm glow of the candles, and yes, the songs.
Singing the blessings twice and lighting the candles with our kiddo gave me more time to think about the meaning behind the actual text of those blessings: Namely, gratitude for the miracles God performed for our ancestors and for God’s wisdom in commanding us to kindle these flames as a remembrance of those days.
It is pretty wise, even if it doesn’t always seem that way.
It was on the heels of this warm, fuzzy feeling of thankfulness (and with a belly full of delicious latkes) that I came to the weekly portion, Vayigash.
Last week, we wrapped up the portion with Joseph in a position of extreme power — Pharaoh’s right-hand man — and the sons of Jacob heading to Egypt in hopes of obtaining some food. The bad years are upon us and things are looking pretty grim for our heroes. Joseph recognizes his brothers but they, having last seen him shackled to a nomadic caravan headed for slavery, can’t quite place his face. Plus, it’s been a few years.
Joseph plays a trick on the brothers. He frames Binyamin for theft to see if the older men will protect him.
They do. This week opens with Yehuda offering to stay behind in prison in his brother’s stead. “Please let your servant remain as a slave to my lord instead of the boy, and let the boy go back with his brothers,” he pleads in Genesis 44:33-34, “Let me not be witness to the woe that would overtake my father!”
Joseph can’t take it for very long. He commands all his servants to leave and tells his brothers who he truly is. “His sobs were so loud that the Egyptians could hear, and so the news reached Pharaoh’s palace,” says Genesis 45:2.
The obvious question at this point is whether Joseph is still mad at his brothers. He would, of course, have every right to be bearing a grudge towards the men who, let’s face it, faked his death and sold him into slavery, leading him to be imprisoned for many years. Are his sobs of anger?
Joseph sees right away that his brothers are probably wondering something to this effect because he clears up any question of ire or ill-will right away. “Do not be distressed or reproach yourselves because you sold me, it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you,” he consoles them in Genesis 45:5, going on in verse 7 to say that “God has sent me ahead of you to ensure your survival on earth, and to save your lives in an extraordinary deliverance.”
This is incredible to me. I mean, it’s pretty big of him to let bygones be bygones. It strikes me, though, that he’s not saying that what they did is okay, just that it was all a part of God’s plan. And he trusts God.
I’m also learning to trust that things will be okay, although I will admit that I’m not very good at it. I tend to want to control everything, whether that’s the plan for the day or what my family will be eating for dinner. When things go pear-shaped it makes me … uncomfortable. I like for things (appointments, upcoming payments, projects) to be nailed down where I’ll be sure to find them later. Part of this is a lifetime of living with ADHD — if I don’t nail things down they have a habit of floating away never to be seen again — and part of it is just the general anxiety of living in an era of great uncertainty.
Either way, maybe one way to put down all the baggage I carry around my neck would be to have a bit more gratitude. To take a moment to sing an ‘Adonai song,’ as my kiddo would put it. To allow divinity a little more breathing room in my day-to-day life. After all, there’s certainly plenty of awe-inspiring moments. Just the other day, my kiddo stroked my cheek and said, “I love you, Mama.”
(My heart stopped, of course.)
Maybe the lesson this week is to hold that moment near to me, instead of the mountains of bills. To be in gratitude and light, instead of the hectic runaround madness that so easily subsumes us. To trust that it will be okay, that there is a plan.