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Rabbi Kalmar's Sermon Parshat Vayeshev 5781

"Rejecting Comfort Means Holding out Hope"

In this week’s parsha we find Yaakov mourning the loss of his son Yosef.  He is bereft over the finding of Yosef’s special coat covered in blood.   “A wild beast has devoured him”.  Seemingly there is nothing left for Yaakov to do but mourn.  And mourn he does.  His sons and daughters tried to comfort him but he refused to be comforted.   The Rambam in his Mishneh Torah tells us that one who loses someone is supposed to mourn – three days for crying, seven days for eulogizing, etc. He then says that one who mourns excessively is a fool and is rejecting God’s providence.  Why would Yaakov refuse to be comforted?  The Medresh suggests that the reason Yaakov refused to be comforted is because Yosef was really alive.  In essence, as Rabbi Jonathan Sacks pointed out, Yaakov refused to give up hope of Yosef being found alive.  And if one will not be comforted for a loss, then that means that one is still hoping to overturn that loss.   

Rabbi Sacks points out that this is the point of the famous statement from Yirmiyahu that Rochel Imeinu (our foremother) is still crying for her children – for their exile – she refuses to be comforted – to give up hope that one day they will make it out of that exile.

The Jewish people have been a people that have refused to accept the comfort of giving up.  Of saying – we can’t handle this anymore – we’re throwing in the towel.

The lesson of Chanukah was one of hope – a hope that the Chashmonayim (the Maccabees) held in their hearts – that despite the might and the malice of the Yevanim (the Greeks), they would persevere against all odds and bring back a place where they could keep the Torah and serve God freely.  

When faced with difficult situations where the easy way out is to accept comfort – to give in and give up, the Jewish people have looked to the hope of Yaakov, the hope of Rochel and the hope of the Maccabees: namely they have refused to be comforted, to accept the status quo, to submit to their fate – rather they have hoped to God and held out hope for God’s miraculous intervention.  May we see it on many levels, speedily and in our days.

"Have a good Shabbos, a Happy Chanukah, and a Hopeful Chanukah"

Wed, July 6 2022 7 Tammuz 5782