Sunday, January 1, 2012

Old and New - December 30, 2011

With the coming of a secular New Year, four months after Rosh Hashanah,
We have a second opportunity to reflect on what it means to move from “old” to “new.”
   In many ways, what is new closely mirrors what is old.
   The words of a 46 year-old popular song echo in my mind on this theme:
“It is the evening of the day
I sit and watch the children play
Doing things we used to do
They think are new
I sit and watch as tears go by.”

The juxtaposition of sadness and the joyful image of children at play captures a truth of our lives that is also expressed in Psalm 126: HAZOR’IM B’DIM’AH B’RINAH YIKTZORU – Those who sow in tears will reap in joy.   This verse offers a message of hope – the tears of the past can be transformed into happy moments in the future. The old year’s pitfalls and valleys can become the new year’s heights and peak moments.

That is not to say that what is “new” will be without challenge, but our own positive attitude can preserve the best of the “old,” and, through that lens, enable us to see possibilities for success where failure might have loomed in the past.

In this week’s Torah reading, Joseph and his relationship with his brothers offer perfect examples of how something “old” that would best be forgotten can give way to something “new” and promising. Joseph was no longer the boy caught up in his dreams of ruling over his family – he was ruling over his family in actuality, but not in the way he imagined. He began to see a force beyond human interaction at work. Once he saw his brothers come to Egypt and bow down to him,Pharaoh’s second-in-command, he began to realize that he had been sent to Egypt to save his family.   Even though that process included being sold into slavery and being imprisoned based on a false accusation, Joseph had taken on a new appreciation for freedom and for his gift of insight and interpretation.

But Joseph was not willing to totally trust his brothers who had once seen him as expendable until he witnessed them demonstrate a new attitude of their own.   Insisting that they bring Benjamin to Egypt so that he could test his brother’s love for their youngest sibling was Joseph’s way of seeing if his family was “old” or “new.” He had to know if they would abandon their brother Benjamin as they had abandoned him. Secretly placing his silver goblet in Benjamin’s bag, Joseph set up this test of familial loyalty. When the supposed theft was discovered, Joseph’s decree that Benjamin would become his slave led Judah to make an impassioned plea for his younger brother and to offer himself as a slave. What Joseph discovered was that the “old” had, in fact, been replaced with the “new.” It was at that point that the Torah states – V’LO YACHOL YOSEIF L’HITAPEIK – Joseph wasn’t able to restrain himself. He then revealed his identity to this brothers, bringing his family back together.

As we think about the “old” in our lives, looking back on the past, we have a unique opportunity to see how even the trials through which we have passed can lead us to “new” possibilities that could bring success or, at least, greater satisfaction.

Joseph sowed in tears and reaped in joy as he set the stage for his family to be together once again. The “new,” whether it be a new year or a new place, can assure us that tears can “go by” and disappear and that we can reap in joy like children at play.

May this new year of 2012 bring us moments of joy, insight, peace and hope. And let us say amen.

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