Friends, the message of this week’s homily is: hold on to your grudges.
Throughout your life, people will hurt you. Sometimes intentionally, sometimes unintentionally, and you must hold on tight to that hurt. Make sure you bottle it up and let it fester until you are ready to seek revenge.
That’s where great drama always comes from. Thanks to grudges, we were treated to eight seasons of Desperate Housewives.
At the end of your life, you may wonder what legacy to pass on to your children. Perhaps you have considered wealth or sentimental items or tidbits of wisdom. Can I suggest that you add to that list: give your children a grudge to bear.
The best kinds of grudges are intergenerational. It’s never enough to be resentful on your own. Share it with your loved ones.
If you can keep a grudge going until nobody remembers what the original broiges was about, you will have really succeeded. Without ancient grudges, we would never have had Romeo & Juliet. And look how well that turned out.
So remember every way in which you were wronged and make sure to even the score.
That’s what King David did. At the end of his life, reflecting on his mortal life, and preparing for the hereafter, he called his son Solomon near to him. He began by offering up some advice. “Act like a man,” David instructed.
From personal experience, I can tell you that whenever somebody has told me to man up, what follows is always emotionally healthy. And this occasion is no exception.
David told Solomon: “Remember what Joab, son of Zeruiah, did to me. Remember how he engaged in bloodthirsty mutiny. Do what you like with him, but do not let his grey head go down to the grave in peace.”
And David wasn’t done. He had other grudges to pass on. “Solomon,” he urged. “Remember Shimei son of Gera, the Benjamite from Bahurim, who called down bitter curses on me the day I went to Mahanaim. I said I wouldn’t kill him. But I didn’t say you wouldn’t kill him. So do what you like with him, but do not let his grey head go down to the grave in peace.”
Like a good Jewish boy, Solomon made sure his reign over Israel began with a killing spree.
Let King David be a role model to you all. If someone has insulted you during the course of your life, make sure you remember their names. If you can’t get retribution yourself, make sure your bitterness lives on beyond the grave.
Now, you might think, “of course, King David has big gripes to pass on. He’s a king, after all. He had real enemies. All of my slights feel petty in comparison.” Don’t worry. If misery is good enough for the elites, it’s good enough for the masses, too. It’s time we took a stand for equal distribution of resentment. Anyone can carry hate.
Just look at Jacob. Jacob was blessed with thirteen children. And couldn’t stand any of them. Throughout their lives, he made sure they all knew who his favourites were. First, Joseph. Then Benjamin.
At the end of his life, Jacob did what every good Jew ought to do. He settled old scores and told everyone what he really thought of them. He brought his boys round to make sure they could hear his views.
“Gather round, my sons, and listen to your father.”
“Reuben,” he says, “you will never succeed at anything.”
“Simeon and Levi, you are too angry to deal in anything but violence.”
“Issachar, you’re an ass. Dan, you’re a snake. Gad, people will trample all over you.”
Then, just to top it off, he turns to Joseph and says: “Joseph, you are really beautiful. You’ve done great things.”
That’s how you do it. That’s how you end your life, making sure the people close to you knew how little you thought of them.
But, for some reason, Joseph’s brothers did not love their blessings. They had hoped for a slightly more conciliatory deathbed scene.
So, they got together and talked to Joseph. They said: “Um, Joseph, you might not have heard this, but as dad lay dying, he begged you to forgive us. He said, now that you’re in charge of Egypt, you shouldn’t hurt us and you should let us have food here.”
And Joseph said: “Dad didn’t say that, did he?”
“No. Dad didn’t say that.”
If Joseph had learned from history and all the good examples you’ve heard, Joseph would have known that the best thing to do is hold onto his grudges and get revenge on his siblings while they were weakest.
But, in a shocking turn of events, Joseph decides not to. He says: “I’m not in the place of God. I’m not here to keep score and dole out punishment. Whatever has happened, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.”
And, with just a few words, Joseph can annul decades of mistrust. He can undo his father’s callous favouritism. He can bind his siblings back together as a family.
And, with those words, Joseph seemingly corrects every sibling rivalry of his family. From Cain and Able to Abraham and Lot to Jacob and Esau. All of a sudden, an intergenerational curse is lifted. They can heal.
Joseph had every reason to hold onto his grudges. He was sold into slavery. His brothers pretended he was dead. He was wrongly imprisoned. He was betrayed by his friends. Of everyone who had held their grudges, Joseph probably had been through the worst.
But he decided to forgive. He concluded the origin story of the Jewish people with love and kindness.
The Baal haTurim, a great Jewish lawmaker of the 14th Century, said that Joseph should stand as an example to us all. Say out loud what is hurting you rather than holding onto your pain. And harbour no desire for revenge.”
So, OK, I lied. The moral of this sermon wasn’t that grudges are good. Sure, they are natural, but they’re not helpful or healthy.
I don’t really think you should pass on your bitterness to your descendants. Tempting, but not constructive.
In fact, for a lot of this, I was being sarcastic. I hope you won’t hold it against me.