And God descended (Radical Torah repost)
December 29, 2008
Here's the d'var Torah I wrote for this week's portion in 2006 for the now-defunct Radical Torah. Please note: I wrote this two years ago! The medical misfortune to which this post alludes is, thankfully, old news now.
And He said, "I am God, the God of your father. Fear not to go down to Egypt, for I will make you there into a great nation. I Myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I Myself will bring you back, and Joseph's hand shall close your eyes."
When I first began studying Vayigash to prepare for writing this d'var, I was struck by this passage. It amazes me to think of God descending with Jacob into Egypt -- into Mitzrayim, the Narrow Place -- and then bringing Jacob out again. It's the story we retell each year at Pesach, of course: how God brought us out of that tight spot with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.
I find myself on Friday morning with a new interpretation of the verse. This week I had my own yeridah, my own descent, into an unexpected hospital stay. This isn't the place to tell that story. What I want to say here is that the need to trust in God despite the many unknowns in my situation gives me, perhaps, a hint of how Jacob might have felt at this moment in our story.
God promised Jacob that God would descend with him, and that God would bring him forth again. I can relate to that today. As I look around my home, I am swept with gratitude for these ordinary surroundings. I feel that God was with me in the hospital, and that God brought me forth again.
Of course, that doesn't make me special or unique. God is with everyone in that hospital, whether patient or caregiver. Regardless of symptom or prognosis, regardless of pain or lack thereof, regardless of whether that person recognizes God's presence or rails against it, that Presence is with all of us wherever we go.
God is with us even when our circumstances seem bleak. That's a lesson from earlier in the Joseph story. God was with Joseph even in the Egyptian jail where he was wrongfully imprisoned; just so, God can be with us, if we open our eyes and hearts. That's true when we're suffering, and that's true when we feel released from suffering. It's a constant.
It's a little bit remarkable, when I stop to think about it, that God descends with us into uncertainty. God descends with us into the unknown, into the fears that clench our hearts. God descends with us into the tight spots, the narrow places, the birth canals through which we have to pass in order to become who we're becoming. No matter what we're dealing with, this is blessing indeed.
May we enter the secular New Year with a firm sense of God's presence alongside us and within us, no matter what descents we find ourselves making. And may we be able to embody our ancestors' trust in the journey...and in its destination.