NOTE TO READER: My husband, Shlomo Goldberg, posts an idea each week related to the Torah portion that will be read in Synagogue on the coming Sabbath. This week’s blog post is shared here – I thought you would find it meaningful.
Joseph is sold by his brothers. The text says that the price was 20 pieces of silver. The Midrash says that the 10 brothers each used 2 silver pieces to buy shoes with the revenue from their brother’s sale. The allusion to shoes as the commodity that was exchanged for Joseph is picked up in the Yom Kippur poem ( Elah Ezkara, These I will remember), The cruel king reminds the scholars that Joseph was sold for shoes. They agree and sentence the perpetrators to death, thus sealing their own fates as the 10 martyrs.
This betrayal for shoes evokes the exhibits at holocaust sites – see above picture from Auschwitz museum.
The piles of shoes , the record of the victims.
The story evokes the betrayals of desperation. Jews competing for work permits. the Judenrat, the Jewish Police. Jews betraying Jews. The guilt for these acts is ambiguous, it is the true prisoners dilemma. When my parents talked about the holocaust, or were silent about their lives then, I presumed that these were the ambivalent acts that they were hiding. I thought: there must have been decisions that my parents took as self preserving, at the expense of others.
The parsha presents another theme, manifest in my parents’ experience: grace, arousing kindness from others. Joseph is sold to the chief butcher. Chazal say he was the royal executioner. The text wants to attach cruelty to this master. Yet, he sees Joseph with kind eyes . Even when Joseph is accused of trying to seduce his wife, he does not have Joseph killed, the butcher does not do what is easy and expected; rather he sends Joseph to prison, where the warden is charmed by him,
My father, like Joseph, survived on charisma and luck. The Soviet army officer chose my father for survival and escape from the German POW camp. In the Treblinka death camp, the worst place in the world, the cruelest of the overseers, the butcher of the camp, chose my father as his pet, and made him the master ( not the kappo) of the laundry (a morally clean job).
Chanukah is the longest holiday of the year. It has a theme, the oil lasting 8 times longer than expected demonstrates perseverance. You have no idea how much adversity you can survive. This colors my medical choices. I try not to underestimate how sick a person can be, and still survive. I try not to underestimate how long and how gravely a person can suffer before death.
Gd grants grace to the downtrodden. Perhaps it would be better not to descend, but that is not our history