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Dear Friends,

This week’s Torah portion brings us to the end of the book of Genesis. It begins with Jacob and the entire Israelite clan having moved to Egypt due to the famine that had taken hold. A few paragraphs into the portion we learn that years have passed, and Jacob, now advanced in years, is on his death bed. He offers blessings to Joseph’s sons, speaks to each of his children and then, surrounded by his reconstituted family, takes his last breath. As soon as he does, Joseph’s brothers find themselves filled with anxiety. The Torah tells us,

“And when Joseph’s brethren saw that their father was dead, they said, ’It may be that Joseph bears a grudge against us.” (Gen. 50:15)

In a Midrash, the Rabbis of old explain the verse in this way:

What did they see that made them afraid? As they were returning from burying their father, they saw that Joseph turned off the road and went to look at the pit into which his brothers had cast him.

Upon seeing this, they said, “He still bears a grudge in his heart. Now that our father is dead, he will make his hatred of us felt.” But in fact Joseph’s motive was a pious one—he wanted to utter a blessing for the miracle wrought for him in that place.

Perhaps, they worried, Joseph had only been kind to them out of respect for their father Jacob. With Jacob now gone, they grew anxious that Joseph would finally exact revenge for the way they had treated him. Fear had already taken hold of them when, according to the Midrash, Joseph departed from the expected path back to Egypt. Unclear why Joseph had made this detour, they quickly assumed the worst. Fortunately for them, their assumption was completely wrong. Joseph simply wanted to express thanks to God for putting him in a position to save his family.

Through this Midrash, the Rabbis of old remind us that making assumptions about the intent and motivations of others is rarely beneficial to a relationship. That is especially so at times of heightened anxiety when we are more likely to make negative assumptions and then, in many cases, react based upon those false conclusions. In this case, had the brothers merely asked Joseph why he wanted to make the stop, they could have avoided the potentially explosive situation that was beginning to develop.

When we make assumptions about the intent of others, rather than giving them the benefit of the doubt, we run the risk of weakening family and communal bonds. In the weeks after October 7th we saw a level of communal solidarity unlike anything I have ever experienced. Sadly, in recent days, I have seen that solidarity begin to slip away and intercommunal conflict rise. Oftentimes, such conflict is the result of one person or group jumping to conclusions with regard to the beliefs and commitments of others.

I addressed some of this during last week’s Shabbat service, and as 2023 draws to a close, I wanted to share those words with you. Especially at a time such as this, we need our community to be as strong and united as possible.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Daniel Cohen

Dvar Achar: Another Topic

Over the last few years we have seen a steady and unprecedented rise in anti-Jewish hate in our nation. That trend has grown exponentially in the weeks since October 7th. One of the most important ways to fight back against this rise in antisemitism is to do everything possible to ensure that our Jewish institutions remain strong.

As we end 2023 I am proud to say that TSTI IS strong. And that is only because of all of you.

Thank you for being members of this sacred community and helping to ensure the synagogue is in a position to continue our work of creating Jewish life at 432 Scotland Road.

Thank you to everyone who has donated to the High Holy Day Appeal. Your donations help guarantee that anyone who wants to be part of this sacred community can and will be, regardless of financial constraints. As such, giving to the HHA is a statement of communal values that helps secure the future of our community. I am grateful to each of you who have, or will, join Raina and me in supporting this fundamental commitment.

Thank you to everyone who has helped create our security endowments. We have a sacred responsibility to do everything possible to keep our community safe whenever we come together. In the current climate, the expense of doing so far outpaces what is possible were we to rely upon our operating budget. And while, thanks to the exceptional generosity of a number of people, we have been able to seed the security funds, the cost of security is rising faster than ever. In 2024 we will need to address this need and, in advance, I thank those of you who are able to support our temple family in this way.

Most of all, I want to thank you for the privilege of serving our congregation. These last years have been among the most challenging of my 30+ years in the rabbinate. We have only been able to navigate them thanks to the incredible staff and volunteer leadership we have, and the patience, support and commitment of so many of you. I am and will always be grateful for this privilege. I wish us all a 2024 that is quieter and kinder and sees us working to build the world we want for the next generations.

Thank you all.

I am taking a few weeks off and will, among other things, be returning to Israel mid-January as part of a Federation Mission. I look forward to sharing my thoughts both here and on social media.