The entirety of the Joseph narrative, spanning four full weeks of Torah readings and constituting the final quarter of Sefer B’reishit, demonstrates to us the importance of creating safe, nurturing environments for individual growth. The dysfunctional dynamics between Jacob and his wives and concubines are perpetuated in a dangerous sibling rivalry that leads directly to Joseph’s coat of many colors, dreams of dominance over his siblings, and being sold into slavery. Living in a strange land, Joseph falls victim to an ignorance of social norms and ends up in jail where his prophetic gift for dream interpretation is ignored once his fellow captive has been restored to his place in society. Finally, Joseph’s stunted development causes him to toy with his brothers as they come down to Egypt begging for food.
The tension of the narrative came to a head last week and is resolved in the first verses of this week’s Torah reading, Parashat Vayigash, as Judah breaks the vicious cycle and utilizes honesty and bravery to help restore the fractured family. Judah, the patriarch of the Davidic Kings, leads the family forward.
One week ago we heard the news of a horrific tragedy that continues to shake us individually and as a nation. The attack on educators and children in Newtown, CT, turning the safe and nurturing space of a school into a massive crime scene, represents our worst nightmares. And, as we do not live our lives with the guiding hand of a gifted storyteller presenting things for us, the levels of foreshadowing that help explain and predict events in the Torah are absent, replaced by guesses at causation and months of soul-searching.
As the President himself made clear, each of us reacts, first and foremost, as a parent, a sibling, a child, a human being, imagining what those who loved the twenty-six victims are going through. At Camp Ramah in Wisconsin we remain dedicated to doing one of the things we do best: creating a safe and nurturing environment where young people become part of a transformative Jewish community. This week, the words “safe and nurturing” take on added meaning.
The National Ramah Commission issued a statement earlier this week including this note:
The health and safety of our camp communities have always been Ramah’s highest priority. In the coming months, our camp staff and boards will continue our practice of evaluating our plans to ensure that we take every precaution to provide a safe and wonderful summer experience for all of our campers and staff.
As our hearts reach out to the families of the victims, and as we stand with all of America pondering the proper avenues to repair this fractured world, we also embrace our responsibility as an educational institution to care for our campers. We will be thoroughly reviewing our security and emergency procedures in the coming months. And we recommit ourselves to providing that safe and nurturing environment, at every level, to all who call Camp Ramah in Wisconsin their summer home.
On this Erev Shabbat, I pray that the enduring lesson of Judah, whose honesty and courage helped repair a broken family, can bring some measure of solace to us, to our grieving nation, and to the shattered legacies and survivors of Newtown, CT.