Today is February 17, 2019 -
Two places in this week’s rich parasha (Vayeshev) deal with the potential harm that language can cause. In two places we find an individual not saying something in order that the person receive an unspoken message. In both places, the speaker shows someone an object (or objects) and says haker na – “Identify, if you please.”
37:32 –הכר נא הכתנת בנך הוא אם לא
“And they sent the striped coat, and they brought it to their father; and said, ‘This we found; haker na – discern now whether it is your son’s coat or not.’”
R’ Ze’ev Soloveichik asks: Why did they show the coat to Jacob? So that he would not suspect them of killing their brother – this would have distressed Jacob far more than the knowledge that Joseph was dead.
38:25 – הכר נא למי החתמת והפתילים והמטה האלה
“When she was brought forth, she sent to her father-in-law, saying, ‘By the man whose these are, I am with child.’ And she said, haker na – ‘Discern, I pray you, whose are these: the signet, and bracelets, and staff.’”
R’ A.Z. Werner: Tamar refused to name Judah as the father [even if it meant that she would be burned to death as a harlot], lest she embarrass him. “From this our Sages said that it is better for a person to be thrown into a fiery furnace than to embarrass his fellow in public” (Rashi, based on Berakhot 43).
Message one of the same phrase: what goes around comes around. Just as Jacob’s deceit of Esau was visited on him by Laban, Judah’s deceit of Jacob is visited on him by Tamar.
Message two: sometimes our most powerful messages are those that are delivered without words. A picture is worth a thousand words.
Message three: We had best be careful with our presumptions about evidence. In the case of the brothers and Jacob, the evidence leads to believe something that is false – evidence is used to conceal. In the case of Tamar and Judah, the evidence reveals something that is true.
A congregational meeting such as this is a forum for individuals to present reports to the community – haker na – identify, if you please – the significance of these reports. I think that you will find that the reports reflect accurately the successes of our congregation as well as the challenges we face.
In a week, we will be celebrating our Feast of Dedication – a Feast of Re-dedication, really – in which we recall the re-dedication of the Temple by the Maccabees in 165 BCE.
Each year at this time we recall the miracles of that time – the military victory of the few over the many, and the miracle of the oil that burned brightly eight times as long as it should have.
We are a small community – yet our flame continues to burn. We face challenges associated with our small numbers. But we continue to face those challenges and to meet those challenges because of the individuals who week after week step up and do the work necessary of this congregation and the individuals who generously provide the funds necessary to sustain us.
May we go from strength to strength. May the light of Congregation Temple Emanu-El continue to burn brightly in the year ahead. May we all re-dedicate ourselves to this sacred task.