DA BEARS! NO, DA JEWS!
Remember the fabulous skits from Saturday Night Live where a group of bar buddies go back and forth and everything relates to, all payoff lines ended with “Da Bears.” Their total commitment beyond everything else was to “Da Bears.” Well, I think while Joseph has certainly shown his commitment (as was shared in my last essay) to all the teams of the world, this Parasha demonstrates his intimate connection, vision and focus to his team, “Da Jews.”
First a Chassidishe story…..
A number of years ago, we produced a video to enhance enrollment of the lower school at Solomon Schechter on Long Island. One of the elements of the program featured highlights of an interview with the school principal Phillip Dickstein. I asked, “what was the shining, most enlightening moment of the school that reflected its character and potential.” Mr. Dickstein shared a story about a heated soccer game where it was 1-1 with one minute to go and it was the finals. The boys on the team noticed that one boy, Dave, hadn’t played yet. He wasn’t a really good player but he was part of the team. The boys at the time out asked the coach to put him in. Buzzer rings, final play begins, the clock is running down, Schechter gets the ball & brings it down, kick pass to Dave, he kicks………..he misses. The other team goes on to win in the final seconds. Not the magic of a movie ending, but as Mr. Dickstein shared it demonstrated light, the care for a fellow Jew what was truly important in an educational environment. The Flame of the Menorah for each other to see, for all of us to see…How a team of Jews regardless of the consequences envelops one another, that is the word of Torah, this is Joseph to his brothers in and out of Egypt and the lights of Chanukah.
Last week I wrote about Joseph representing the light unto nations with the connection to Chanukah. The Menorah reflecting who we are and his recognizing our need to interact with and educate, displaying to the world what a Jew is about. This week the story turns inward, the dramatic display of Yoseph’s concern, awareness , prophesy and actions toward his own people, to those distant and to those on the team and what I believe is the start of Kiruv (outreach).
Sfas Emes’ grandfather on Chanukah pointed out that the wicks and oils one may not use to light Shabbat lamps may be used for the lights of Chanukah…because it refers to the impure souls of Israel…those non-observant. That the light that skips in them and the wicks are not drawn up—they can be brought up on Chanukah.. The Sfas Emes points out that Chanukah and Purim belong to the Oral Torah- The Talmud. Indicating that these Holidays are special times that Israel merited by their own deeds because these deeds were accomplished by Israel, the people. He points out, our actions and celebrations arouse G-d just as his festivals Succot, Pesach and Shavuot from G-d arouses us…Every Jew finds a way of belonging and attaching to the lights of Chanukah….no matter what level of observance, every Jew can be restored through these lights. Chanukah tells us that we merit in our life what we do with it, what light you share with the Menorah of life shines back to you…and the importance of dedicating a portion of our reaching, taking actions to bringing other Jews the lights of our existence creates a flame in the darkness. The author of the “Language of the Truth” Professor Arthur Green—influenced by Heschel to write this book on the Sfas Emes’ adds the Chanukah and Purim Jews in Warsaw of the 1870s when this thought was given…who were not Shomer Shabbat showed up at the Rebbe’s home for the lighting of the Chanukah candles. “They stayed to warm their souls by the light of his teachings.” This I believe is the message of Yoseph, his actions, his accomplishments, his being the Oral Torah comparative to Avraham, Yitzhak and Yaakov who were the Written Torah.
Rabbi Heschel wrote and spoke with intensity about the dangers of assimilation, of losing the yiddishkeit in yiddim and its consequences. With a powerful discourse in a work so critical at the time “The Plight of Russian Jews” (keep in mind his spectacular outreach to all people), turns the power of his pen towards his/our people enslaved in the Egypt of that time. “Our history is a history of indifference, dominated by….’Am I my brother’s keeper?’” “That the essence of a Jew is his involvement in the plight of other people as G-d is involved…this is the secret of our legacy, that G-d is implied in the human situation and man must be involved.” He shares that to him personally regarding the plight of the Russian Jews, … “we were witnessing a spiritual liquidation of millions of Jews.” “How can I call myself a Jew and remain indifferent to the spiritual extinction of so many Jews?” I believe this is a calling of Chanukah, of Joseph, of the team at Schechter. Heschel points out that a Russian Jew said “I don’t believe Jews live in America, because had there been Jews in America, they wouldn’t have been indifferent to our plight….the Lord has forsaken me….My Lord has forgotten me.” We must look at our friends, relatives and acquaintances in that light—we are Joseph, responsible for the feeding of their souls, we are Sfas Emes, if we as Observant Jews are not inclusive, not burning our lights bright then there are no Jews.
Heschel shares “whoever forgets one segment of Torah, commits a great sin. How much more is a person guilty if he remains careless to the agony of one human being!” We are our brother’s keeper, we are the lights of the Menorah. Heschel says “we must be ready to suffer in order to assure their survival. The Commandment You shall not stand by the blood of your neighbor implies that one is obligated to render help at the cost of personal danger” …. Think Joseph.
Susannah Heschel his daughter writes of her father’s sleepless nights on account of the concerns of humanity and remember that Heschel lost just about everyone in the Holocaust and considers himself “a brand plucked from the fire in which my people were burned to death.” He writes in the cited work “Living in this country one doesn’t know whether it is a privilege or punishment to be around those who have been saved from the Holocaust”….it should be on our minds weighing on us what we need to do, that no matter what game we are in, the true win is bringing our brother Dave into the game.
There is a challenge to us today a grave one, we can walk away and ignore as Heschel says in the Russian piece and say to ourselves—“it is impossible, nothing can be achieved, all efforts will remain futile!” On the challenges of saving souls … “To do the impossible is the beginning of Faith!…Judaism is the art of the impossible”……How about those not in the tent? Joseph may have fed the world but he wanted his bones to be buried with our bones.
Consider these thoughts and Joseph’s situation. He was literally on top of the world. His world from a security and materialistic level were very good. Why would he jeopardize what he had, his very life. Yet he boldly extended himself at great risk in a number of scenarios following his vision in his first dreams. Now to connect this connection I am trying to raise, let me pose a new look at what may have been Joseph’s true reception and response to the dreams in this Parasha which we can refer to as The plight of the Egyptian Jews..….
Joseph was the Observant one, he told all “ It is not me…it is G-d…Dreams belong to G-d”. Pharaoh in finding Joseph to interpret his dreams says “find such a one as this, a man in whom the spirit of G-d is”…and he is brought Joseph “there is none so discreet and wise as thou”.What did Joseph really see..why did he do what he did…is there yet another interpretation of his interpretation? Let’s look at the text in a perhaps a Heschelilian way keeping Heschel’s thoughts on Russian Jewry and all Jewry in mind.
In Pharaoh sharing his dream “”I stood upon the brink of the river..” Do we not refer to Torah and Talmud as water as vast as the waters of the oceans?….. “behold there came up out of the river seven kine fat fleshed”….Could that represent Hebrews that are with Torah?..Let’s apply that possibility and that Joseph knew that was the meaning… “And behold seven other kine came up after them, poor and very ill favoured and lean fleshed.…..” …..“the ill favoured kine did eat up the first seven fat kine…and when they had eaten them up it could not be known that they had eaten them…….but they were still ill-favoured as at the beginning”……..could he be seeing the loss of the Hebrew identity. Why 7, maybe because it takes everyday for 7 years to go through all of the Talmud. Could it possibly be that Yosef really knew that this was a signal from G-d to him of what was happening to the Hebrews in Egypt and the consequences to future generations. Yes, there were G-d fearing Hebrews– but no match for assimilation—Yoseph needed to lead a charge…of caring, of being the Maccabees…of being the light…so he interpreted for Pharaoh as would fit his plan…reading on cements this theory.
“….and all the plenty shall be forgotten in the land of Egypt..” Yoseph saw the lack of Torah or a distancing from faith happening in Mitzrayim. Remember, it is said that only one fifth of the Hebrews left Egypt. If you only live in a observant community, interact with only with observant Jews…it seems that there is plenty. While we seem “well fleshed” the greater Jewish population in our blindness is fading, but we must recognize they may still be lighting the Menorah.
“And Joseph saw his brethren and he knew them….” Does this not reflect Joseph’s active Kiruv, reaching out? Consider, there were millions of people in Egypt and many more millions from around the world that needed and wanted to see Joseph….how did a band of brothers get to see him, it was impossible? Yes, Joseph cared for and educated the nations, Da Bears, but it was a unique and penetrating obligation of destiny he had to all his brothers, even those that plotted to eliminate him. He saw them, Da Jews “To do the impossible is the beginning of Faith!” He had to see them, educate them for the future in spite of the past, all the Hebrews were equal.
I heard a fabulous Shiur this week delivered by Joel Steinmetz about the maximum height of a Menorah, no more than 20 Amos, there are no exceptions. Also, a question arises where to put the Menorah in our doorway, as was done, to the left or the right? An answer is that the Mezuzah is on the right therefore the Menorah is placed on the left so that on entering we surround ourselves with Torah. There are posted maximum heights of a Succah and of Poles to make the Eruv, also 20 Amos. There are exceptions however, for example if you build the foundation of the Succah higher then it is thought that one’s eyes can make the effort from the foundation up to be able to see the Scach of the Succah, so 20 Amos is not firm. The Eruv poles also have flexibility, but no exceptions to the Menorah. Remember as cited above, that the rituals of Succah and Eruv emanate from the Written Torah and the Menorah is from the Oral Torah. This notion says to us that all are to see the flame of the Menorah without discriminating, all are to experience, to be educated by the light no matter what level they are at, no differences in height….do not make it too high for anyone to reach. If you think about the Menorah, some can afford a magnificent glorious Menorah. However, when the candles are lit in the dark and provide light , the flame of each candle is all that is seen, they are all the same. They each require the same elements and are capable of providing the same light….that is ultimately all that we see.
Heschel writes “it is a burning sin that we remain indifferent…what is happening in our own days in America proves beyond doubt that a strong voice, ringing with force and dignity has the power to pierce the iron shield of a dormant conscience.”
We read later in the Torah that there was a “cry” in Egypt during the taking of the first born. Well, there is a cry that we must hear and it is a silent cry. Dave was just sitting on the bench not saying anything in the Schechter game, his team heard his quiet cry. Sure they wanted to win the game and stand out, be that magnificent and glorious team, they were the lights that shined bright. When the lights went out in that night in the Gym, the Flame of Da Jews of that
team lit up the entire world. I pray that we all recognize and respond to the message of the Menorah and Yosef.
Harold Zvi Hersh Ben Naftali