December 28, 2017
10 Tevet 5778

This Shabbat with the account of Jacob’s final days, we conclude the reading of Genesis. A large caravan led by Joseph traveled from Egypt to Hebron to place his body in the family sepulcher. An insightful Midrash describes the caravan passing by the pit in which, many years earlier, Joseph had been thrown into by his brothers prior to selling him into slavery. Joseph is pictured as silently standing in private meditation.

One view is that he was recalling the three days he suffered in that barren hole. Another view is that standing before the pit, he gave thanks to God for rescuing him and enabling him to rise from slavery to his high position in Egypt. A third view is the Talmud’s teaching that when standing before a site “where miracles have been through for Israel [the Jewish People] one should say, ‘Blessed be He who wrought miracles for our ancestors in this place'” (BT Berachot 54a).

I recall a pilgrimage at Auschwitz together with Holocaust survivors. The bitter memories of the Shoah obviously were still with them, yet while standing on the ground hallowed by the suffering of our people – and by their horrible personal suffering – they did not recite the blessing ordained by the Talmud, but kaddish, our Tradition’s prayer sanctifying and extolling God.

The Temple Mount has been venerated by countless generations of Jews. It is a reminder of our People’s past glory together with an affirmation of its future glory when it is restored to its former splendor and in the words of the prophet all nations will ascend Mount Zion.

All cultures and religious communities venerate sacred sites and venues of past glories and the successful overcoming of yesterday’s tribulations. Mormons recall the great and perilous trek of the 19th Century when their prophet, Joseph Smith, led them from Illinois through Nebraska and ultimately to Utah where they have successfully established themselves. To this day many Mormons retrace that route to be united with their formidable ancestors.

Muslims the world over annually flock to Mecca, their holiest city, to participate in the HAJ. According to their tradition and lore, Mecca was founded on the site where millennia ago a magic fountain s spurted up from the desert to provide the water that enabled Ishmael and his mother, Hagar, to survive their desert experience.

Today there is the ongoing conflict as Israelis and Palestinians each claim control of sites holy to both. Jews and Muslims. An intense pressure point is control over what we call Har Habayit (the Temple Mount) and Muslims the Haram al Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary).

As individuals we have places and avenues associated with key events in our lives. It may be the park bench on which marriage was proposed; the place of a honeymoon; the site a significant accomplishment by our children. Whenever we touch the past we are strengthened by yesterday’s accomplishments and nourished by their memories.

As we prepare to enter a new calendar year may we be blessed with opportunities to reflect upon yesterday’s joys even as we look forward to new accomplishments that will be a source of new and memorable joys.

From Chicago, my best wishes for a Shabbat Shalom u’Mevorach, a Shabbat of peace and blessing, and a rich and rewarding 2018.

Rabbi Arnold M. Goodman