What’s Missing from This World

Yael Eckstein  |  December 7, 2021

Close up images of several globes all together.

Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck, and wept; and Benjamin wept upon his neck. — Genesis 45:14 (KJV)

Each week in synagogue, Jews read through the Torah from Genesis to Deuteronomy. The Torah portion for this week is Vayigash, which means “and he approached,” from Genesis 44:18–47:27.

Have you ever felt happy and sad at the same time? Sometimes, the happiest moments of our lives actually arouse emotions of sadness for something that’s missing. I feel this way whenever we celebrate a birthday or rejoice on the Jewish festivals, and I wish that my father could still be here with us. On the one hand, I am happy and have reason to celebrate. On the other hand, it’s the moment of happiness itself that makes me miss my abba so very much.

There’s a Jewish custom that expresses this experience of conflicted emotions beautifully. At a Jewish wedding, there is a tradition to sprinkle a small pinch of ashes on the heads of the bride and groom just before the marriage ceremony. The meaning of this custom is powerful.

At this greatest moment of joy in their lives, when they are at their happiest, what is missing from the world comes into focus. It’s when we get a small taste of God’s plan that we notice what is missing from it. And by noticing what is missing, we strive even more to repair God’s world.

What’s Missing from This World

We see this lesson hinted at in this week’s Torah portion. Just after Joseph revealed his true identity to his brothers, he and Benjamin embraced and cried. The Bible says that they each cried on each other’s “neck.” This specific mention of their necks is strange. Couldn’t the verse simply have said that they embraced and cried?

The Jewish sages understood that there is a deeper message to the mention of the biblical brothers’ necks. The sages explained that just as the neck is the connection between the head and the rest of the body, the neck is symbolic of the Temple which connects us to heaven. They explained that while Joseph and Benjamin were rejoicing at their reunification, they were also mourning the destruction of the future Temples of Israel which would lead to the exile and separation of the Jewish people from God in heaven.

Joseph and Benjamin understood that Jewish history would be filled with exile and suffering on the road to the ultimate reunification with God at the end of days. While they rejoiced for their personal reunification, they cried for the pain and suffering of their children in the future.

Today the Jewish people are restored to our land. And as we rejoice in the blessings of God, we never lose sight of what’s missing in this world and all that needs to be repaired on the way to building God’s perfect kingdom.

Your Turn:

What can you do today to use the blessings of your life to help repair what is broken in God’s world?

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