What does it take to be a tzaddik, a righteous person? Joseph is distinctly called ha’tzaddik, the righteous one, by the sages of the Talmud (Yoma 35b). They primarily point to Joseph’s overcoming the sexual advances of his employer Potiphar’s wife and emphasize that his self-restraint revealed his exemplary character. Elie Wiesel points to another moment that defines Joseph as a tzaddik (Messengers of God, “Joseph or the Education of a Tzaddik”).
In this week’s Torah reading, Joseph has taken his younger brother, Benjamin, as a prisoner after planting a silver cup in his bag. Judah steps forward with a moving plea, offering his own life instead of Benjamin’s and describes the vow that he made to his father Jacob to protect this youngest of the brothers. Joseph begins to cry and reveals his true identity. He will say to his startled brothers, “Do not be afraid for having sold me as a slave. This was all part of God’s plan.” Joseph forgives, an act of humility and compassion that Wiesel points to as defining a tzaddik.
I once asked Rabbi Harold Schulweis, a rabbi’s rabbi, what High Holiday sermon of his made the biggest impact. His answer surprised me. “I told my congregation that they need to call a family member with whom they had a falling out and reestablish ties. It worked because I emphasized that when they made the call they were to say, ‘My rabbi told me to call.’”
My friends, you may not consider yourself a tzaddik and yet, we are guided to follow the path of righteousness. To do so takes a broad perspective on what really matters, enabling both self-discipline and forgiveness. If there is a family member that you are out of touch with, please call and say, “My rabbi said to reach out with this call and check in to let you know that I am thinking fondly of you.” Please let me know the outcome of such calls.
Tibor Rubin- President Obama has named the VA Hospital in Long Beach for Tibor Rubin, a Hungarian-born child survivor of the Holocaust who waited 55 years to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor for his valor in the Korean War. His daughter and our congregant, Rosie, shared that his father regularly brought holiday gifts to the veteran-soldier patients at the VA. We at CBI are privileged to have shared Shabbatot with Tibor and to now see his name on our VA Hospital.