Torah Reading for Week of December 18-24, 2011
“It’s not about me, it’s about Miketz!”
By Rabbi Ira Rosenfeld, ‘08
For me, the story of Joseph is one of the most inspirational lessons of patience and maintaining a positive attitude. It is clear that, despite his slavery and imprisonment, Joseph developed and maintained positive relationships with the people he encountered. It would have been easy for him to give up on life, and we never would have heard much about him. Instead, there are essentially four Torah portions dedicated to his life story; more than that of any of the Patriarchs or Matriarchs.
I believe that there are two additional great lessons in Joseph’s legacy that are particularly important for clergy and community leaders: The first one is humility. Pharaoh tells Joseph (41:15): “I heard that about you it is said that you hear a dream and solve (or interpret the meaning of) it.” Joseph does not take credit; instead he says (41:16): “It is not me; G-d will answer…” It is sometimes very difficult to maintain humbleness in light of accomplishments we achieve and struggles that we overcome. Yet, this is an essential element of Jewish values that we remind ourselves of in our daily prayers.
For the second lesson, let’s go to a sports analogy. It is said that the greatest team players are not only great athletes, but they are also the ones who inspire the rest of their team to play better as well. Joseph did not just impress Pharaoh; he made Pharaoh acknowledge G-d. Pharaoh then tells his servants that Joseph is (41:39). “…a man with the spirit of G-d in him.” So, not only did Joseph get Pharaoh to acknowledge G-d, he also got Pharaoh to declare his recognition of the spirit of G-d to his servants.
There’s a Bruce Springsteen song with the lyric: “You can’t start a fire without a spark.” According to Haketav Vehakabbala (R. Yaakov Tzvi Mecklenburg, 1785-1865, Chief Rabbi of Koenigsberg), the fact that Pharaoh states that he awoke after each of his two dreams, was understood by Joseph to be a sign that it was Pharaoh’s duty to rouse himself and take action to address the famine and prevent disaster. R. Peretz Steinberg (Young Israel of Queens Valley) maintains that Joseph was responding to Pharaoh’s desire for advice. We can deduce that one can’t be inspired unless there is a part of him/her that is ready to be inspired. So, we must remember that, as a beautiful story of the Dubno Maggid (Jacob ben Wolf Kranz 1740-1804) concludes, without a spark, the greatest bellow in the world will not create a fire. As such, we must learn from Joseph, not to share our dreams, unless we believe that our words will be welcomed and heard.
To summarize: Let us all, like Joseph, have patience, faith, and remain positive. Let us all stay humble before G-d, and let us all continue to learn to recognize how we can make a positive impact in the world. If we are inclusive and open to sharing the spirit of Judaism and G-d, we must believe that those who have a spark and are ready to receive this message will find a way to locate us. And, if like Joseph, we can get gainful employment for expressing our Divinely inspired words, to help support our families and our community, all the better. Shabbat Shalom.