At the End

Guest Post: Sarah Stern

Adapted from a short Dvar Torah over a “last supper” in Tel Aviv. This came at the end of a ten day pilgrimage in the Holy Land with Mills Church and others from Minneapolis organized by the Telos Group. Dvar Torah means “words of Torah.”

The practice of preparing Divrei Torah is meant to extract meaning from the weekly Torah portion and apply it to our current lives and predicaments. I have it easy because this week’s Torah portion has a name that fits our stage on this trip. Often the titles of the Torah portions don’t even relate to the contents of the portion itself, since the name is simply derived from the first consequential word in the text. So for us, this weeks’ Torah portion, Miketz, is significant in that it means At the End.” I was pleased to discover that this Torah portion, or parsha, is meaningful for our group in other ways as well.

Here we are, at the end of this trip. We’ve been to Jerusalem, Nazareth, and Bethlehem. We’ve been to Tel Aviv, Efrat, and Nablus. We’ve heard from different Palestinians; Mahmoud who lives in Belata refugee camp, Daoud whose farm is surrounded by settlements, and Munib who built his dream mansion on top of a hill called “the Mount of Mercy.” We’ve heard from Israelis who are Rabbis and Jewish educators, from those whose parents are Holocaust survivors, and from those American Jews who are motivated in their work here by a Jewish value called Tikkun Olam, or repairing the world. At the End

What I’m about to say will focus on the “Jewish narrative.” I hope that I successfully navigated you through a bit of that narrative throughout the trip, since Jewish stories are what first connected me to this country.

In this week’s Torah portion, Joseph is able to win the trust of the Pharaoh in Egypt through his uncanny ability to correctly interpret the dreams of Pharaoh and others in his court. In Genesis 41:13, the Pharaoh’s chief butler tells Pharoah, “and just as he interpreted for us, so it was.” Joseph comes on high recommendation and proves himself – Joseph is later granted all sorts of honors and titles from the Pharaoh. However, by Exodus, we read in 1:8, “Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.” Not having that connection to Joseph the Israelite, that new Pharaoh cruelly enslaves all of Joseph’s people.

I see this as a foundational story behind the anxieties and fears in the predominant Jewish narrative. Think back to a high profile case in France we discussed on the first days you arrived. At the turn of the century, Alfred Dreyfus was a French military officer who, despite his high rank, could not escape the anti-Semitic environment in Europe and was accused falsely of treason. The Jewish narrative says that it doesn’t matter what ranks Jews rise to in the government, or in the military, or in Pharaoh’s court; we will never be accepted in any foreign country that we live in. Instead, we were freed from the shackles of the Diaspora, and God gave us a country to call our own.

That is one narrative. We can glean other meaning from Parashat Miketz as well. For our purposes, Joseph’s relationship with Pharaoh is an interesting one – it both underlines the Jewish narrative, but also reminds me of our roles of listeners these past ten days. The Kabbalistic text called the Zohar, the foundational text of Jewish mysticism from 13th century Spain, illuminates our task as interpreters of the nightmares and dreams that we have heard on this trip. The Zohar comments on Genesis 41:13, “Since the dream contains both truth and falsehood, the word controls all, so a dream needs favorable interpretation.”

Israel/Palestine is a place where interpreters hold on to many competing truths and falsehoods. Interpreting “favorably,” as the Zohar urges, is a complicated task. Much of what we heard these past ten days might not have resonated completely, might have been unfathomable to your own experience, or maybe just simply have seemed untrue. A trope of this trip, particularly from our Jewish speakers, has been that the tragedy here is that there are many “rights” in this conflict, but that these truths have not, and some suggested cannot, be reconciled. You have seen that this place is a Jewish homeland and you have seen that this place is a Palestinian homeland. How do you accept these truths without negating anyone who lives here? How can you give “favor” to all those living in this reality?

Finding favor doesn’t mean that you must only see truth in everything our speakers told us. The Zohar tells us that our innermost thoughts, our dreams, “contain both truth and falsehood.” The truth does not negate the falsehood and the falsehood does not negate the truth – both exist simultaneously. In Israel/Palestine, the dream of a Jewish state came from the truth of persecution, but rested on the falsehood that the land was empty and waiting. As a group, you must hold both this truth and this falsehood in order to favorably interpret.

In facing this complex world, we often want to simply identify what is “true and false,” “right and wrong,” “good and evil.” Instead, I call on you after this trip to affirm these narratives in all their truth and falsehood, give favor to those dreamers, and try to communicate that the only hope here is to reconcile all that you have heard.

Sarah Stern


Sarah Stern is an American Jew living in Jerusalem. She is committed to educating herself and others on the social and political situation in Israel/Palestine.

This post was originally shared on Sarah’s blog, Israel and its (Dis)contents.


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