Thursday, December 29, 2011

Getting Past Resentment

A self story...Many mornings at the minyan I attend a certain elderly gentleman shows up. He's not there every day. When he comes he will usually show up for a few days in succession. Each day he attends he expects to be given the opportunity to daven for the amud, to lead the prayers. And when there is a Torah reading, he claims that honor too. I know most of the men at minyan think nothing of this fellow's expectations and give him a hearty 'yasher koach', congratulations after each effort of his. I, on the other hand, find his claim for the limelight arrogant and egocentric. It annoys me, though I never let on.

I know my attitude is not right. It's not that I am wrong about the man. I think he is blind to his own yearning for kavod...But so what? Why should it bother me? Why should I carry resentment. And more importantly, how can I get over it to feel a love for this fellow Jew and member of my minyan the way I need to.

As I reflected on my issue I thought about the readings of the last few weeks in the Torah, the story of Yosef and the brothers. I wondered how was it that Yosef was able to overcome all of his feelings of resentment towards his brothers and be so ready to forgive them. I mean, we know the brothers redeemed themselves in the end. This week's parsha of Vayigash tell us how when put to the test, in a situation not too disimilar to the sale of Yosef, twenty two years earlier, the brothers rally to protect the new favorite Binyamin. But that takes care of the brother's feeling of shame. They showed remorse. But as for Yosef, he suffered terribly because of what they did to him. He spent years in prison, separated from family, alone and abandoned. How did he find the wherewithall to forgive them and let go of his resentments.

I believe the Torah itself gives us a clue. And it is found in last week's reading.
When the brother's came back to Egypt with Binyamin, as Yosef, the ruler had insisted, we are told that Yosef made an elaborate dinner for them. The dinner was in Yosef's private residence. Every effort was made to meet the brother's dietary requirements. Moreover the Torah tells us that Yosef himself gave out the individual portions to the brothers. He fed them, and, Rashi tells us, he did so in a splendid way. Why? What was the purpose of this great feast. And why does the Torah see fit to include it in the narrative as relevant?

Rabbi Yisrael Salanter, the founder of the Musar movement in the 19th century in Europe made the observation that if we find ourselves disliking someone and struggling to overcome the feelings the remedy is to extend kindness to that person.
Through our kindness we foster a sense of responsibility towards the other. And through the sense of being responsible to them we come to care for them.

That's at the core of the story of Yosef and how he was enabled to feel compassion towards his brothers. Indeed Yosef held resentments. How could he not. He was a tzadik but not an angel. The way he got passed the ill feelings was to make a big meal for his brothers and to personally extend himself to them even so much as to dispense to each his individual portion. In providing for his brothers, in feeding them, in honoring them and tending to their needs, even though he did not much like them, Yosef came to care for them. And by dint of his care he felt a sense of responsibility towards them...and from that emerged a sense of connection.

From Yosef I can glean a message I need to take to heart as I think about how to overcome my resentment towards the little man who needs to claim a big role at daily minyan. Truth is I may never like the part of him that runs for the kavod. Yet if I want to come to care for him as a person rather than harbor resentment I need to extend myself to him and do him some favors. Maybe I can give him a ride home or bring him a siddur before davening. It need not be a big thing. I don't yet have to invite him for a Shabbat meal. If I just show some care I will feel a sense of responsibility towards him. And in that I will find the gateway to honest caring for him even with the parts of his personality i dislike.

I suspect I am not the only one who finds him/herself feeling disdain for another, and for many reasons. Some of our reasons can be the result of real harm caused, as in the story of Yosef and his brothers. Some of our reasons, like mine, are more obscure, yet nonetheless block a natural compassion. Each of us can learn the lesson from Yosef and overcome our emotional distance by doing a kindness for that other. It is through kindness that love and care is cultivated. And kindness can grow care even in a wilderness.

Shabbat Shalom

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