This week’s parsha, Va’yigash, brings to a climax the relationship between Joseph and his brothers, who had sold him into slavery. Joseph, overcome with emotion, reveals himself to his brothers. It’s a moment where Jospeh could seek revenge. But, the shocked brothers are offered words of forgiveness instead. Joseph says, “Do not be distressed or reproach Yourselves because you sold me hither; it was to save life that God sent me ahead of you. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks argues that this is humanity’s first moment of forgiveness.
The choice of reconciliation rather than revenge, is a challenge and opportunity for each of us. Rabbi Cheryl Peretz writes that Joseph’s responds by telling his brothers, “Sadness
and regret lead to revenge and that is the deepest pit of all. I am no longer in the pit. Instead, I am choosing to live in the future not in the past, to love despite the hurt, and to reconcile over the pain.”
It’s a monumental task for a human to transcend one’s own pain and suffering to find God in the experience and to reconcile with an oppressor. Joseph could have lived his life with a hardened heart, punishing his brothers for what they did to him. But, he choose a different path that offered an open heart. Rabbi Peretz continues that Jacob explained, “My life has unfolded in a way that I could do God’s work. . . . It’s not about me and it’s not about all of you, but about the goodness and blessing of the life we have been given.”
Cesar Chavez, the founder of the United Farm Workers–a movement based on tzedek–said,“It is possible to become discouraged about the injustice we see everywhere. But God did not promise us that the world would be humane and just. He gives us the gift of life and allows us to choose the way we will use our limited time on earth. It is an awesome opportunity.”
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks writes, “God created the world in love and forgiveness and asks us to love and forgive others. I believe that to be the most profound moral idea in human history. . . . God does not forgive human beings until human beings learn to forgive one another.” The idea of tzedek (justice) is widespread later in Deuteronomy and is required because, he argues, “in Judaism love and justice go hand in hand.”
The dish I created for Va’yigash is about reconciliation based on ingredients I found at farmers markets–walnuts, parsnips and carrots, plus yogurt. Walnuts are made of hard shells that require a hammer or cracker to get to the tasty nut inside. On a walnut, you see the golden veins stretching along the spine and extending to the edges–the lifeline of this modest nut. And, like Joseph, the nuts are initially hidden (in their shells and underneath the yogurt) and hardened. But once open, they are receiving and soft (and edible).
Twice in the parsha, Joseph wraps his arms around the neck of family members and weeps. The dish is presented in concentric circles like the neck of a person and the embraces of Joseph with Benjamin and Jacob.
The dish is initially presented as separate–the walnuts are hidden beneath the yogurt in the center of the plate, surrounded by the parsnips-carrots mixture. Only after the presentation of distinct ingredients are they folded together–symbolic of Joseph and his brothers’ reconciliation.
Roasted Parsnips and Carrots
2-3 large parsnips
8 large carrots
1 garlic clove
1 cup organic plain yogurt (plant or animal derived)
3 tbsp chopped roasted walnuts
dash of schug
salt and pepper
1. Pre-heat oven to broil. Line roasting pan with parchment paper. Scrub carrots and parsnips and chop off ends. Add garlic clove (with skin), parsnips and carrots to pan. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
2. Roast until soft and browned, approximately 45 minutes.
3. Remove from oven and let cool. Remove skin from garlic. Put garlic, carrots and parsnips in blender with schug (and if dry, add a bit more olive oil). Add more salt and pepper, if necessary. Puree in blender until smooth.
4. Strain yogurt to remove excess liquid.
4. Arrange on a plate the walnuts in the center, covered by the yogurt. Put parsnips-carrots mixture around the yogurt in a circle.
5. After presenting at the table, gently fold ingredients together before eating.