The Shuvah Project #13 — True Joy (& the Divine Feminine)

New to The Shuvah Project? Find out what it is and why it’s necessary.

But when they told Jacob all that Joseph had said to them, and when he saw the wagons that Joseph had sent to transport him, the spirit of their father Jacob revived. Then Israel said, “Enough! My son Joseph is still alive. I will go to see him before I die.”

-Genesis 45:27-28

Section One (Parsha Debrief):

This week’s parsha contained: Judah approaching Joseph to take Benjamin’s place, Joseph revealing himself to his brothers, Pharaoh inviting the House of Israel to Egypt, Jacob finding out Joseph is alive, God’s promise to Jacob at Beer Sheba, the names of the House of Israel that journeyed to Egypt, interaction between Joseph’s family and Pharaoh, and how all the land and people became Pharaoh’s property.

In the Midweek Reading Guide, we opted to look at how our section of Text has implications forward, rather than backward.

Last week we suggested that at the first sign of Joseph’s tears we could have witnessed reconciliation, had Joseph let his brothers into his vulnerability. This week we witness Joseph revealing himself and the weeping and kisses that follow. But, why now? What invoked Joseph to let his emotions be known and felt?

Rabbis differ on this answer. One possibility, it was because Judah fully redeemed the sale of Joseph by showing he wouldn’t allow something similar to happen to Benjamin. Another possibility is, Joseph reveals himself because Judah portrays the gravity of Benjamin’s lonesomeness.

Both possibilities invite us into something much bigger regarding the brothers and the future Nation of Israel.

Rabbi Fohrman suggests the conclusion, at first glance, seems underwhelming. 

…and afterward [Joseph’s] brothers talked with him.

-Genesis 45:15b

It seems like a trivial thing to mention after the kissing and weeping embrace earlier in the verse. Is it trivial?

Not at all. If we go all the way back to the brotherly relations just before the sale of Joseph we are clued into the importance of the Texts’ concluding statement.

…[the brothers] hated [Joseph] and could not bring themselves to speak peaceably to him.

-Genesis 37:4b

Here’s how Fohrman puts it,

[The Text notes that] the deafening silence of hatred is finally over. [W]hether the wounds of the past will truly and finally heal, or whether the reconciliation will prove to be merely a passing truce in a larger war—that we do not know yet. Brothers are once again on speaking terms—and for now, that is a victory of unimaginable proportions.

-Parashat Vayigash Guide, Aleph Beta

Judah’s redemption of Joseph in the recognition of Benjamin pays dividends for the future. Fast forward to 1 Samuel 18:1-4, we find ourselves among a story that looks really similar. A father seems to pick a favorite even though there is already a rightful firstborn son. But, something’s different. There’s not hatred, or jealousy. This time the approach looks more like the end of the Joseph saga than the beginning.

Jonathan responds like the older, wiser, and redeemer Judah. 

Why does any of this matter? Because what happened between Jonathan and David was sown in our parsha between Judah and Benjamin. Jonathan is a descendant of Benjamin. David, a descendant of Judah. Judah’s redemptive actions in our parsha, set up reciprocity later.

Our actions matter. Our decisions today impact future generations.

What’s more, after Solomon’s reign the Kingdom divides. In the Northern Kingdom of Israel, Joseph’s sons — Manasseh and Ephraim. To the south, the Kingdom of Judah. 

So, maybe, as Fohrman alluded to — there’s more mending to be done.

It’s a good thing God is set on reconciling whatever differences remain (e.g. Isaiah 11).

The actions of our ancestors ripple. If we study our Text and recognize the meta-narrative, we just might be able to reunite as God’s people (e.g. Isaiah 11).

Hey, maybe you should read Isaiah 11 😉

Section Two (Connection to NT + haftarah):

If M.D. Goulder’s theory (as laid out in The Evangelists’ Calendar) is correct, then the author of Luke purposefully pairs the Holy Spirit’s descent onto Jesus (Luke 3:22) with the Spirit coming to Jacob in our parsha Text (Genesis 45:27).

There’s more! Rashi commenting on Genesis 45:27 says this:

and the spirit of…Jacob was revived: The Shechinah, which had separated from him [because of his grief], rested upon him [once again].

Rashi directly references to The Shechinah as the spirit that came and revived Jacob. Shechinah is derived from the Hebrew word shochen, to dwell within. Shechinah is also translated as The Divine Presence (see footnote #1).

Kabbalists, of more mystical thought in Judaism, actually reference The Shechinah as the Divine Feminine!

Kabbalistic interpretation of the suffering [in Egypt suggests] that the Israelites knew that the Shechinah, the pre-eminent feminine aspect of God, dwelled alongside them in Egypt. [More to the point,] Medieval Kabbalists often portrayed the Shechinah as a loving mother who suffers along with her children in exile. She toils with her children while they are slaves in Egypt and protects them in the wilderness after they are liberated.

-Dr. Sharon Koren, The Shechinah: A Supernal Mother

This notion of the Shechinah goes hand-in-hand with our parsha Text. The House of Israel is caravaning down to Egypt as we read. We get the details of all the descendants of Jacob taking the journey. Ancient Rabbis even comment that God shows up at Beer Sheba because Jacob remembers what God told his grandfather Abraham in Genesis 15:13-16. And in God fashion, God says, do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you a great nation there. I will go down with you to Egypt, and I will surely bring you back (Genesis 46:3-4a). God’s own words suggest that Shechinah, or some part of the Divine, will dwell alongside the Israelites in Egypt.

The Kabbalistic interpretation of the Shechinah, the Divine Feminine, dwelling with God’s people in the midst of their struggle also goes hand-in-hand with Jesus’ and the Holy Spirit’s arrival in the Luke Text. God, as both Jesus and Shechinah, is present with the people during Roman occupation — to show them the hope and love necessary to persist.

Ultimately, to show us the hope and love necessary to persist. And, to remind us to rejoice in the midst of it all.

It’s a little mystical, but it’s a lot like God. A supernal mother descending and ascending with her children.

Section Three (missing the mark):

Did sin take the House of Israel to Egypt? Did God take the House of Israel to Egypt? Did famine take the House of Israel to Egypt? Did Joseph bring the House of Israel to Egypt?

How long were the Israelites actually slaves? Are these different questions?

Does it matter?

Regardless of the answers, the Good News doesn’t change — God descended with them, and sure enough, brought them out. An upheld promise, which is recognized and celebrated at Passover by drinking the Cup of Sanctification.

Why we end up in exile doesn’t change the invitation to the altar. Ever. Pastors that preach otherwise may not be telling the narrative of our God.

Section Four (real-world applications):

To apply our portion of the Text with the candle of Joy we light this Third Sunday of Advent, we are going to connect Rabbinic commentary with components of the Passover Seder to come. In two weeks, those who claim to follow Jesus will celebrate the birth of the Christ child. The birth, in the stables, is where the journey of God in flesh begins. But ultimately, it leads us to a Passover and resurrection. The birth, and the resurrection are deeply connected.

Rashi on Genesis 45:28:

Enough! My son Joseph is still alive: I have enough happiness and joy, since my son Joseph is still alive.

The Chizkuni, also on Genesis 45:28:

“it is plenty”: Jacob meant that when the brothers told him that Joseph was alive, and that he was a ruler in Egypt, the second part of the sentence was unnecessary, as long as he knew Jacob was alive. 

The Rashbam, also on Genesis 45:28:

the meaning is: Enough! I am satisfied to have heard that my son Joseph is still alive. The fact that he is a ruler in Egypt is totally irrelevant to my joy. I would be perfectly happy without that additional information. 

At the end of the maggid (i.e. the portion of the Passover Seder that retells the Passover story), the second cup of wine is drank. In this second cup is the wine remaining as joy. Following this, dayenu is proclaimed, shouted, or even sung! Dayenu means it would’ve been enough!

There are anywhere from 10 to 15 statements, after which dayenu is proclaimed enthusiastically!

For us, here and now…

Is it enough that God came in the flesh?

Is it enough that Shechinah is with us?

Is it enough that God is for us?

If not, when will we ever find true joy?

This Advent — this week — remember true joy (& the supernal mother dwells alongside you).


Next Week’s Readings: Genesis 47:28-50:26; Luke 4:1-13

  1. See Chabad article Who Is Shechinah for more.


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