BAC Miketz – Fri Night- 12 15 23
As you probably know by now, I’m always trying to find something in
our weekly Torah readings that will help me, and hopefully you,
improve the quality of my life. As a Jew, if I don’t apply the lessons
learned from Torah into my daily life then the Torah becomes simply a
nice book on my shelf containing stories of people who lived long ago,
events that happened long ago, and rituals that were for a time long ago.
If it were only that, my friends, I’m afraid the pages would have long
ago turned yellow and withered away. In my opinion, the Torah has not
become irrelevant because generation after generation of Jews, some at
great threat to their safety, understood that there are pearls of wisdom for
any generation to adhere to, especially if we include the rabbinic
commentaries that help us in bringing current thoughts to this ancient
This week’s Parsha is called Miketz. A rabbinic colleague of mine,
Rabbi Adam Greenwald, a young Rabbi in his early thirties, is a lecturer
in rabbinics at the Zeigler School of Rabbinic Studies in Los Angeles.
He had an interesting take on the Joseph in Egypt story.
To me, it’s heartening when someone decades younger than myself, can
find ideas and values in Torah that he and his generation respond to. I’m
a believer that each generation has to make Torah their own. That’s what
L’dor Vador is about – from generation to generation.
Just to briefly summarize the contents of this week’s Parsha, which
includes Genesis Chapter 41 through most of Chapter 44, we’re
presented with story of Joseph.
Joseph’s story is one of falling from grace, and then rising back up,
stronger than before.
Once the favored, spoiled child of his old father, Joseph is cast out from
his position by his jealous brothers, who first toss him down into a pit,
and then sell him into slavery. His lot continues to get worse, as he is
falsely accused of rape by his master’s wife, who then sends him into the
royal dungeons. His life’s trajectory is one of descent, from elevated son
to lowly captive.
And then, with the dawn of Parshat Miketz, it all turns around:
Joseph’s exceptional talent for dream interpretation, which once served
to stir the rage of his brothers, now becomes the instrument of his
Through a series of unlikely events, he is brought up from the dungeon
and given the opportunity to interpret the dreams of Pharaoh. His
prophetic pronouncements win him favor, and as suddenly as he had
descended, he ascends to tremendous power.
Pharaoh says to him: “Since God has made all of this known to you…
you shall be in charge of my court, and by your command shall my
people be directed, only with respect to the throne shall I be superior to
you” (Genesis 41:39-41).
In a flash, a blink of fate, he goes from prisoner to prime minister!
My young colleague, Rabbi Greenbaum, notes that Joseph’s journey
from degradation to dignity foreshadows the larger story of the Jewish
people. OK. I’ll bite! How so, I ask? Here’s his reasoning behind that
Only a few generations later, the Israelites – who had originally
prospered and multiplied under Egyptian goodwill — will collectively
descend into slavery and even face the possibility of genocide. When it
seems their situation cannot be any worse, they will witness a sudden
reversal of fortune with the arrival of Moses and the Exodus.
Here’s the crux of his ideas: Again and again this story of Joseph’s fall
and rise and fall again and rise again proves to be the great narrative of
the Jewish people.
The darkness of persecution at the hands of the Greeks gives way to the
light of the menorah. That’s partially why this Parsha comes around
Similarly, the wicked plot of Haman in the Purim story brings us to the
edge of genocide, only to find last-minute salvation at the hands of the
winner of a Persian beauty contest.
What was true of our ancient history has striking resonance in our
modern story: It boggles the mind that in May 1944 the deportation of
Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz had just commenced, and only four
years later, in May of 1948, David Ben-Gurion stood on a Tel
Aviv balcony to announce the birth of a free state of Israel.
In so many ways, over so many years, we are the ones who have
experienced the depths of hardship, and yet have risen from that dark
place to new and unexpected light.
In fact, in our Parsha Miketz this week, the ongoing cycle of times of
pain and times of plenty is the essence of the dreams that Joseph
interprets for Pharaoh. The Egyptian king had been disturbed by dreams
of fat cows and lean cows, of flourishing stalks of grain and rotting ones.
Joseph understands the dreams to predict the coming of good years,
during which time it will be necessary to make provisions for bad years
His message to Pharaoh is the wisdom of his own experience: Life
is rarely static.
All of us in this room today, with a few exceptions, we’ve lived 6, 7, 8,
and even 9 decades – haven’t we all found that life is rarely static!
In seasons of abundance we cannot become complacent, and in seasons
of scarcity we must not despair, because our world has the capacity to
change in an instant.
We have all known times of darkness and hardship when it feels like our
trajectory, or the trajectory of our world, mirrors that of Joseph — a
steep and treacherous descent.
In those moments, we fear that light will never re-enter our lives, that we
will stay in the pit …forever.
Don’t we all feel some of that despair in our times?
After years of Hamas bombings into Sderot and other Israeli cities which
has caused a generation of children to not be able to sleep a full night
because at any time, day or night, they may have to be rushed into an
underground bomb shelter, where was the United Nations when all these
bombings took place? Where is their Humanitarian interest for the lives
of a generation of Israeli children?
And when Presidents of hallowed Universities cannot call out active anti
semitism for what it is on their campuses without putting that into some
kind of “context”, how can we Jews Not feel despair?
And when innocent Palestinians are purposely put in front of evil Hamas
terrorists so that they will be in the line of fire and their lives sacrificed
as a weapon to bring worldwide scorn upon the IDF, it hurts us.
And when Jews around this country, less that 2/10 of one percent of the
United Staes population are buying guns because they can no longer
rely on local authorities to protect their constitutional right to freedom of
religion, our sense of desperation is becoming evident, as in the past.
But…we are a people of “Tikvah” – a people of hope.
The blessing of being part of an ancient people is that it gives us long
memories, a reminder that we have been here before, and that, as the
Psalmist once sang, “Ba-erev Yaleen Bechi V’laboker Rinah” – “Tears
may linger for a night, but joy comes with the morning” (Psalm 30:5).
When we despair, may we find hope in our history that reminds us again
and again that the last chapter of our story has not yet been written, that
like Joseph and countless others after him, our temporary descent may
only be preparing us for the opportunity to rise.
Symbolically, my friends, as we all just did this past week during
Chanukah, each night we added a candle to the Menorah to remind us
that new and greater light can be added to our lives sometimes, when we
least expect it.
Yes… we may be facing difficulties today but as our history has proven
– “joy comes with the morning”.
As Chanukah comes to a close this evening, I’d like to share a little
story about a grandmother who, after a full lifetime of the kinds of ups
and downs we’ve all known, was looking forward to a visit from her
now grown grandson who was coming to visit with his wife during
She tells the young man: “You come to the front door of the apartment
complex. I am in apartment 14T.”
She continued, “There is a big panel at the door. With your elbow push
button 14T. I will buzz you in.
Come inside, the elevator is on the right. Get in, and with your elbow hit
When you get out I am on the left. With your elbow, hit my doorbell.”
“Grandma, that sounds easy,” replied the grandson, “but why am I
hitting all these buttons with my elbow”?
To which she answered, “You’re coming empty handed?”
Shabbat Shalom everybody!