Sunday, December 30, 2007

"Who Knew Not Joseph"

This past Shabbat (Sabbath) we began the second book of the Torah, the book of Shemot. This book, and sedrah starts with a new Pharaoh arising, “Who knew not Joseph”. This was actually one of my dad’s favorite quotes. Anytime there was some shul politics going on and my dad felt people were working against him he would say, “A new Pharaoh arose who knew not Joseph”.

It is an interesting quote and perhaps on the surface a very innocent one, but there is a lot here. How is it possible that a new king, a leader of all of Egypt, someone who would have been well schooled in the history of the country, could not know a person who had saved Egypt from complete and utter destruction? Would it be possible for a President of the United States to “Know not George Washington”. How about not knowing Christopher Columbus? There are some things we expect all adult citizens to know, especially those in power.

This is why some of the Biblical commentators suggest that it wasn’t Pharaoh knew not Joseph, but he chose to know not. He closed his eyes and deliberately forgot or ignored all Joseph had done so he could take advantage of the Jews living in Egypt at the time and get work done by slave labor.

In this day and age, when seemingly there is little loyalty, it is a good lesson to learn. Unfortunately the loyalty is not always there so be prepared for someone to ignore or forget all the good you have done if it is in his or her best interest to do so.

I was raised being taught the value of loyalty and being taught to be loyal. I was also raised with the knowledge that while we rely on others and all have to work together, to be prepared for people not to have the same dedication and determination to this value.

While I have been fortunate that many people have remained loyal to me, not everyone has and being taught this at an early age has helped. And, we have an example right in the Torah of what can and does happen when we ignore other people.

As we get set to start the secular new year, let us all redouble our efforts not to forget what others have done for us, not to forget the many blessings we have, some of which are a direct result of what others have done for us.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

No Talking Please

What kind of responsibility does a religious school have to its teachers? How do things work out when a parent, who is a large donor, sees things differently than the teacher? Where does the administration come down? These are tough questions, tough choices that have to be made.

At the religious school where I work, two students were chatting during one session. The teacher, trying to teach and having a tough time of it, separated the two students. Apparently this was a wrong move. The mother of one of the student’s came in and was furious. She started balling out the teacher in front of the other students. The parent pointed out that this wasn’t regular school, this was religious school and students, after spending a full day in regular school, should be allowed to talk.

The teacher directed the parent to talk with the administrator of the religious school. Now, I have all this information second hand, and only through one source, one side, but apparently the administrator told the teacher that certainly there is not a need to separate children at religious school.

I am not sure if the parents of this student are big donors to the shul. I am not sure exactly what was said, or even if the administrator agreed, but certainly that was what the teacher told me. Even if it was not exactly what happened, it certainly is the way the teacher perceived things to happen.

The result? The teacher left midyear. I understand the frustration on everyone involved but I do think when a teacher leaves mid-year, the ones who really suffer are the students.

Hopefully everything will work out for the best!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

My Father's Yahrzeit

I just needed to post today as this day marks my father’s second Yahrzeit. Every year, the anniversary of the death of loved one is noted, even in a certain sense celebrated. There is a memorial prayer that is said. It is not uncommon for someone who has yahrzeit to lead services and many people the Shabbat (Sabbath) before will read from Torah or Haftorah.

This year I read from Torah, and I read one of my father’s favorite parts, so I thought it was fitting. It is the part where Joseph is toying with his brothers and finally cannot take it anymore and reveals himself to him. They are in shock and literally fear for their lives. It is such a dramatic portion, and my father had a flair for the dramatic.

It may seem odd to celebrate the anniversary of someone’s death, but two thoughts come to mind. First is it is really a way to celebrate their life and the many lessons they taught. It is also a recognition that our loved ones continue to live in us, even after they pass away.

The second thought is based on some conversations I have had with psychologists and therapists who have told me that people often times feel sorrow and pain around the time of the anniversary of someone’s death, even if they may not be consciously aware that the death was around the time they are feeling down. It is helpful to do something to acknowledge that difficult time.

In effect, I think when this tradition was added to Judaism, it showed great foresight and wisdom. I think it helps many of us deal with the difficulties. I still have some difficult times dealing with the loss of both of my parents (my mother died in August but I find myself thinking about both of my parents around the Yahrzeit of each), but these customs make it easier.

I said it to them numerous times while they were alive, but I will say it yet again, “Mom, Dad, I love you both very much”!