Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Cheap Grace

Last week at kiddush I asked someone about a mutual friend I had not heard from in some time, ever since he moved up from Jerusalem to the North of Israel. I was shocked to learn that my friend, one I had felt particularly close to, was no longer in the country. In fact, where he was was in Jail in the United States. And that was not all. It turned out that so much of what I knew about my friend was untrue. Even his name was a lie. He was a fugitive from justice and came to Israel six years ago on a false passport. He created a false identity, as a single man, though he was married and with children. His ruse was so successful he even managed to get Israeli citizenship, under his assumed name.
So, you might ask, if he had managed so well for six years to escape justice, how did he wind up back home and in prison? Was he extradited? Did he get caught? No
not at all.

What's just as surprising as the story of my friend's charade is that my friend, of his own accord, went back to the US and turned himself in. He could have lived his lie forever. Yet, saying no goodbyes to all who knew and loved him here in Israel, he simply went home to face his accusers. The question I ask is why? Having successfully eluded serving time, and no small amount of time, why go back?
Indeed we might ask why do so many fugitives from justice seem compelled at some point, perhaps years and years later,to turn themselves in?

To understand this phenomena we might well look at an intriguing passage in the portion of this week, that of Vayechi. After Yaakov died and the brothers and Yosef returned to Egypt we find an fascinating development, a kind of post-script to the story of Yosef and his brothers. The brothers, now all these years after the reconcilliation, became fearful. The Torah reads " And the brothers realized that their father died and they said 'Perhaps now Yosef will hate us and he will pay us back for all the evil we did to him.'" They go on to create a lie telling Yosef that Yaacov, their father, before his death requested of Yosef that he hold no grudge, and that he forgive his siblings and not cause them harm. Yosef, one last time, tells his brothers not to worry. All that happened was the will of G-d.

When the Torah records the fear of the brothers it uses the term in Hebrew "Lu".
Rashi points out that 'lu' usually means 'hopefully'. But it would be odd that the brothers were saying "'Hopefully' Yosef will hate us etc ". Therefor Rashi tells us that here in this singular case in the Torah the word 'lu' means 'perhaps'. So the verse then reads "Perhaps Yosef will hate us..." And 'lu' here is synonomous with the term 'ulaiy' or 'maybe'.

Yet,Freudian that I am, I still might wonder. Why did the brothers then
not say "ulaiy", which always means 'maybe'. Why did they (or the Torah) record their fear with the use of the term "lu" which in every other case means "hopefully". Is there perhaps a double meaning intended here?

I suspect the answer is a resounding "yes"! The brothers, perhaps unconsciously, did indeed want Yosef's wrath at them for the harm they caused him. Else how could they ever come to closure with their past. It would remain hanging over them. They knew they did wrong. They knew that all actions have consequence. True Yosef gifted them with his forgiveness but unless they paid for their wrongdoing they could never feel clean with him. He was magnanamous, but the relationship would be amongst unequals.
They would forever feel shame in his presence. They needed his vengance. They needed to face justice.

The story of my friend, the story of all who escape justice, the story of all of us who wronged another, be it spouse, parent, child, or friend, is that until we pay for our wrong-doing even the generosity of the other will not free us. It does not matter that there is no Javere pursuing us. The book won't feel closed for us. We will struggle to feel an equality with the one we wronged. The relationship will suffer. Could it be that the historical struggle between Judah and the ten Tribes of Israel, dominated by the tribes Menashe and Ephraim that emanate from Yosef, has its roots in the unfinished issues from the sale of Yosef centuries earlier, a sale that never was never adequately healed.
Until and unless we face our misdeeds and atone for them we will feel shame and a relentless anxiety. Yes we need forgiveness...but not forgiveness granted by our victim as an act of grace and generosity. We need a forgiveness earned. Only in earning our atonement can we be healed.

My friend, the one we spoke of at the outset, at one time read this blog. He remains dear to me. I want to be in touch.
If you are reading this now...please let me know how to support you. I hope I will hear from you. I care deeply.

I pray that you and I, unlike the brothers of Yosef, will have opportunity to right our wrongs and to know true healing from shame. Cheap grace is no real gift. Healing and wholeness in the face of wrong-doing needs to be earned.

Please feel encouraged to buy "The Torah and the Self" as a book. It is available at Pomeranz Books in Yerushalayim and online at Barnes and Noble and at Amazon.
I am most appreciative.

Shabbat Shalom

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