We Will Descend – וְיָרַדְנוּ – Vayaradnu
When one lives in Colorado it can be very clear when we are standing on higher ground. If we are out for a hike or a ski in the mountains, it would not be uncommon for any of us to say upon our return to Denver that we are heading down the mountain into town. Perhaps Joseph’s brothers meant the same thing as they explained their conundrum to their father, Jacob. Pharoah’s #2 had just told them to return home and bring their youngest brother, Benjamin, back to Egypt with them. Explaining their situation to Jacob, they told him that only if Benjamin was with them, וְיָרַדְנוּ – Vayaradnu, could they go down or descend toward Egypt. Maybe they were – like us – speaking from a higher altitude, so Egypt was literally down. Maybe it is that phenomenon that happens when something is south of us on a map and we describe that place as under or below us. From this perspective, it is a destitution to which we have to go down or descend to travel.
And then, again, maybe it is another one of those things we human beings do that is so deeply wired into the way we navigate the world that we do not even pay attention to how it impacts the way we judge, categorize and engage in our world. We can draw a straight line to the idea of going down to Egypt to our very day. People still speak of moving to the land of Israel as making Aliyah — going up or ascending. Moving away from that same place is referred to as Yurida – going down or descending. There is a strong sense of categorization, judgment and hierarchy in using these terms. Maybe even when we speak of heading down into town from the mountains, we mean to say that Denver is actually lower than wherever we may be. Maybe we consciously or subconsciously think of the time we spend in the mountains as higher in quality.
It makes sense – whether we are aware of it or not – that we evaluate the places we go and spend our time. Some of these places are special, rich and life enhancing places. Others are challenging, draining and the kind of places that suck the life out of us. For each of us – whether we are paying attention to it or not – there are places we feel that we ascend to and others from which we descend. Natural. Normal. Authentically human. And yet, I am sure there are times that these natural and normal ways we organize and think about our world become limiting judgements or minimizing assessments. (For example, I would not suggest that my life in Colorado is any lower than or any less than a life I might live if I ‘ascended’ and lived in the land of Israel.)
One of our traditions name for divinity is Makom … which means ‘place’. Divinity is the very place where our world, the entire universe dwells. In this simple name is the possibility that every place we go is held by the same underlying nature. If the world resides in this Makom or Place … can there be any place we go in which that spirit, essence or presence does not dwell?
Beyond the physical movement from 10,000 feet to 5,280 feet … We Will Descend – וְיָרַדְנוּ – Vayaradnu … do we spiritually ascend or descend when we move from one place to another?