“The Lovers, The Dreamers, and Me”
By Cantor Rebekah Mirsky, ‘10
There is a boy that will be having his bar mitzvah next Saturday. For the sake of this drash, we’ll call him Joseph.
I began working with Joseph a few months ago. My impression was that academics on familiar subjects came pretty easily to Joseph. But, when he decided he was interested in having a bar mitzvah, he found himself growing agitated when he had to study something out of his comfort zone. He was a self -proclaimed procrastinator. His attitude became filled with surly teenage angst and I began to dread tutoring him.
I had a few talks with the parents. It was soon revealed to me that the other kids never took kindly to Joseph’s bratitude in early elementary school. In fact, several parent couples had “broken up” with them because they found Joseph’s behavior intolerable. A stark contrast to his congenial parents.
His folks are secular Jews. They are creative and smart and very nice. But they were admittedly without much of a Jewish identity before Joseph came along. They explained to me that they had always been confused about what to do around the Winter holiday season in Joseph’s early years and had at one point even thought of having a Christmas tree but decided they couldn’t go through with it.
It was Joseph that wanted to have Chanukah parties as he grew older and invited his friends. It was Joseph who wanted to light the candles and bring Judaism into the home
So over the years they began celebrating Chanukah. Maybe not all eight nights- but they certainly gained clarity on its rituals and meaning.
In the beginning of Vayeshev, bibical Joseph brags about having dreams where essentially his brothers bow down to him. Since they already resent him for being their father, Jacob’s favorite, they grow extremely irritated with what seems like a very arrogant attitude. Joseph’s famous rainbow colored coat is already a sign that he gets things without working for them.
So they do the only fitting choice they can think of and throw him in a pit. An act Joseph seemed to have brought upon himself by virtue of his own intolerable behavior.
Fortunately, the action appeared to have paid off. No one ever speaks much about Josephs experience in the pit but we know that it was a life changing experience for him, as surmised later in the story. Josephs pit was not spent in self pity.
What a glorious lesson to glean from the story. Life throws us all in a pit at some point in our lives. Daring us to climb out gracefully. The dark nights of the soul are what shape us, scar us, heal us, change us and mature us into wiser beings.
We know that Joseph becomes the Prime minister of Egypt and that he becomes responsible for saving the nation from famine.
He becomes ethical and moral and he forgives his brothers for what they did to him. Perhaps because he recognizes his own part in what drove their actions or maybe simply because he realized he needed their love, which compelled him to be magnanimous as he grew into a more compassionate being.
These nuances are what give the story its wondrously magical and miraculous elements. It is especially satisfying because we get to witness the transformation of Josephs soul. Something I eventually got to bare witness to in my student, Joseph.
As he got closer to his bar mitzvah, something amazing happened. He began to work hard and he began to practice on his own. He began to ask me questions. He began to see his best self, developing a well-earned pride in all he had overcome in order to work so tirelessly to accomplish his goal.
And this hard work managed to transform the spirit of the whole family. His mother later told me that early on, they never dreamed that Joseph would have a bar mitzvah. Yet, it was Joseph who asked to have one.
So, these secular parents were forced to face and re-evaluate their prior lack of connection and involvement in a faith that would come to represent their most healing moments as a family. Joseph managed to make them aware of his ability to go from a challenged soul with social issues, to a thriving soul with his faith at the root of his identity. A kid who went from being a pariah to a kid who loves going to Hess Kramer and who will stand up as a young man and compare himself the original Joseph a week from Saturday. He will wrap himself
in a rainbow colored tallit and he will sing “Any dream will Do” … a dream I am truly proud to help realize in my own growth.
As I light my first Chanukah candle next week, I will be thinking about the miracle that I will have just watched. I will be basking in the light of the smile of my Joseph.
“Al Hanisim, V’al Ha Purkan, V’al Ha niflaot , V’al Hatishuot.
V’al Hamilchamot She’ asita…”
May we all be blessed to witness the transformation of our own souls and the souls of others. May we emerge from whatever pit we may be thrown in, with light in our eyes and a dream in our hearts. Any dream will do.