On Dec. 25, Jews around the world will be commemorating a day with incredibly deep meaning. No, I don’t mean a day filled with Chinese food and movies, but a date far more serious.
The Gregorian date of Dec. 25 this year lines up with the Jewish date of the 10th of the Jewish month of Teves. This day marks the beginning of the Babylonian siege on Jerusalem 2,445 years ago, which ultimately led to the destruction of the first Holy Temple. The historical events and this week’s Torah readings share a similar theme. We see in the portion strife between the children of Rachel and Leah and the Temple was destroyed by friction amongst the Jewish people.
Discord and division amongst the Jewish people is unfortunately not only a thing of the past, but pokes it head up more often than we care to admit. However, there is hope to be had. Our sages have taught that when Joseph, who is the centerpiece of the Torah portion, is reunited with the very same brothers who sold him into slavery and offers them tremendous grace and forgiveness for their terrible actions. When Joseph does reveal himself and offer this reconciliation it models for us in the present day how to begin to heal long and deep wounds. His ability to focus on the end goal of honoring his father and connecting with his family, and propelling the Jewish people forward far exceed his selfish needs.
There is a time to focus on ourselves and make sure we are in a healthy place physically, emotionally and spiritually, concurrently, we also have to go beyond ourselves by tapping into our inner Joseph to become intentional about how much of our “self” we are allowing to dominate and how we may be causing blockages to personal and communal growth.
The 10th of Teves is currently a somber day filled with mourning rituals and fasting, but in the future when we achieve the unity that I believe we all so deeply crave this day will be transformed into a day of great joy and celebration.
My blessing for all of us is that this Dec. 25 while we are gathered around the Shabbos table eating sesame chicken and lo mein, we can focus our energy on bonding our souls to one another and to our spiritual source in heaven.
Rabbi Shlomo Elkan serves as co-director along with his wife, Devorah, of Chabad at Oberlin at Oberlin College.