Torah Reading for Week of December 9-15, 2012
“What’s in a Name?”
By Rabbi Neil F. Blumofe, ‘09
Miketz ends, moments before Tsafnat Paneiach, overcome with emotion, reveals himself to be Yosef, the brother who was sold into slavery and assumed lost. As Yosef diverts his brothers, hiding from them and stringing them along, our commentators teach that throughout, Yosef was connected to haShem’s overall plan – that this reunification ultimately, was meant to be – and that Ya’akov and his family were destined to move to Egypt, and the Jewish people into exile. All of this dissembling by Tsafanat Paneiach is somehow inevitable. But let us consider Yosef – in stark contrast to his ancestors, he was a young man when he was handed authority – having led a life of transition and unexpected circumstances, prior to his ascension to power and the assumption of his exile name. He owes his freedom and the recovery of his name to the direct intervention of Pharaoh, the greatest ruler in the Ancient Near East. As much as he may possess ruach Elohim, Yosef is constantly adjusting to change and his circumstances. He may possess deep insight and even vision, but he too must react to life – in his life, he must sort out what he has the ability to change and what for him can never be altered and how circumstances can change, instantly.
Pharaoh is the agent to deliver haShem’s plan, in this moment. Our sages teach that the only difference between exile and redemption is the revelation of the shechinah — all of the exiles and troubles that we endure have an aspect of hester panim, the concealment of G-d’s Presence. Once we notice the light within our hardship, our hardship can instantaneously dissipate and the shell in which we cloak ourselves, can then fall away.
Like Yosef, we are often, in times of flux or unexpected circumstance, perhaps crafting or caught in a situation beyond our control. Frequently we find ourselves in situations not of our own making or having to balance between time commitments, obligations or even the lesser of two evils. To who are we loyal? To what are we loyal? How do we shift responsibility, or sidestep blame? What deserves our attention and our time? How do we keep focused on what matters most to us? The odd maneuvering that Yosef displays with his brothers are his attempts to find control in his life. He is struggling with this new reality (his brothers appear in Mitzrayim to buy food in a time of famine) and he is trying to come to terms with his conflicting emotions, doubts, insecurities, fears and anger. As we celebrate this Festival of Dedication (Hanukah), may we echo the actions of G-d who dared to bring a world into being, declaring, “Let there be light!” Let us too, promote life and act godly when we declare, “Let there be light in our world that contains so much darkness—the darkness of suffering, of loneliness, of pain. May the light of our goodness dispel even a little of the darkness, and may our true names shine forth from the dark chambers of delay and evasion.”