Parshat Vayeshev

Torah Reading for Week of December 6 – December 12, 2009

“Mirror Ball and Chanukah Light”

by Rabbi Yocheved Mintz ’04

When Donny Osmond danced his way to the mirrored ball trophy of “Dancing with the Stars” last week, I could not help but remember his portrayal of Joseph in “Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat.” That musical helped thousands of youngsters get into the Joseph story. And ironically, here we are, once again, at the point of our annual cycle where we encounter the ups and downs (literally) of the story of Joseph.

This Shabbat we also begin the holiday of Chanukah just when we read Parshat VayeshevVayeshev is filled with parent-child interactions, dreams and visions, youthful hubris, and sibling rivalry so creatively interpreted in the musical; but the biblical account contains what many contend is the turning point of Jewish history, when Joseph is thrown into the pit by his jealous brothers and is sold into Egyptian slavery. So, what could the story of Joseph have in common with Chanukah, the Festival of Lights?

In the Babylonian Talmud, Massechet Shabbat, Amud 22a), there is a convergence of statements that are also found separately elsewhere in rabbinic literature but, when put side-by-side, are fairly pertinent to this query. First, as a digression from the topic of Shabbat candles, Rabbi Tanchum teaches that the kindling of the Chanukah lights cannot be higher than 20 cubits, about 13 feet, off the ground, or they will not fulfill the mitzvah of pirsuma d’nisa, publicizing the miracle, an important part of Chanukah. This is juxtaposed with his comment on Vayeshev, when he notes that narrative of Joseph’s being thrown into the pit is described by two phrases: “HaBor raak,” the pit was empty, and “Ayn bo mayim” there was no water in it (Genesis 37:24). The miraculous survival of Joseph in what might have been a scorpion-filled pit and his later ascendancy to new heights are totally astonishing, for each is accompanied by Divine providence. And the juxtaposition of the discussion of the height of the Chanukah lights and the depth of the pit into which Joseph had been thrown has an especially strong message at Chanukah; for as we approach the darkest time of the year, we are to be reminded by the lights of the Chanukiah, to keep a sense of perspective and to keep miracles in sight.

This year, the message has added significance. Many of us are dealing with the very real pits of despair being felt by people suffering from the lack of parnassah, loss of home, and, more important, loss of hope. The candles of Shabbat and Chanukah are beacons of separation, unity, and always, always hope. Furthermore, many congregations have earmarked this Shabbat as “Human Rights Shabbat”, when we rededicate ourselves to seeking the spark of the Divine in every human; renew our determination to obliterate human trafficking and the slavery that still exists, diligently work to eliminate the use of governmentally sanctioned torture, and ensure that the right to due process is being upheld, just as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, ratified over 61 years ago, affirms the ancient Jewish tenet, that every human being is created b’tzelem Elohim, in the image of the Almighty.

May this Shabbat of Parshat Vayeshev, Chanukah, and Human Rights see us rededicate ourselves to pursuing righteousness and seeking out the Divine spark in one-another. As we light our candles this Chanukah, may they remind us to appreciate the small miracles that abound in our lives, every day, and may we be thankful for them. May this Chanukah remind us of our responsibilities to our past and to our future. May we strive to enrich our lives with the meaning of our Jewish heritage and may we demonstrate our Jewish values wherever we may go. May we gain the strength to face the challenges of contemporary life by moving our Jewish faith from the periphery to the core of our very being; and may the glow of our Chanukah candles light our paths to healing, reconciliation, and peace. And may we dance around the Chanukiah with all the grace, panache, and joy of the star of Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat…and this year’s winner of Dancing with the Stars!

Shabbat Shalom u-M’vorach
V’Chag Urim Sameiach

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