William Hamilton

Growth awaits us

At the end of this week’s portion of Torah, everything is narrowing and desperate. Reality itself feels unbearable. Plans are undone. Hopes dashed. Benjamin, Jacob’s most precious surviving child, the only other child born to him by a beloved, deceased Rachel, is to remain in captivity in Egypt. 

Soon enough, the Children of Israel will learn that Joseph does indeed still live. And a happy family reunion will be part of next week’s restorative portion. In the meantime, there is something about Egypt’s Hebrew name, mitzraim, connoting a narrowness, a painful vice grip, that feels vivid for us now. Egypt symbolizes a condition that’s tight and menacing. 

Perhaps we can draw some strength from the instant when Joseph is discovered by Pharaoh, a Pharaoh who knows Joseph quite well. The ruler of Egypt is so pleased by Joseph for his uncanny capacity to interpret dreams. This is a dream-come-true for Pharaoh. So he hurries Joseph up-and-out from the prison dungeon, making him second-in-command. The action verb used to describe Joseph’s being rushed to royalty, yah-reetz-oo’hoo, can have another meaning: to have a strong will (ratzon). As such, this verse can be hinting, he was willed up-and-out from the pit. Perhaps this can be our way up-and-out from a cul de sac of dejection. A strong will has been baked into Zionism’s DNA from its inception. 

This year’s champion in The Great British Bake Off show was the contestant who grew the most. Full disclosure, I’m happy to rely on my wife Debbie who watches the show, in order to know and share this with you. 

Matty almost lost in each of the first three rounds. He narrowly survived each time. In the end, the show’s creators did something they’d never before done for the Finals. They brought the bakers back to the first-round recipe with which the season began. The winner was the one who demonstrated the most improvement. By going back to square one, the growth was most conspicuous. 

Our people’s Torah stories, their lessons and their tools, have rarely mattered to us as they do today. May we take them personally. And collectively. And even invite fellow-travelers from other faith-commitments to treasure them too. In doing so, may we find ways to make our growth conspicuous and inspiring.

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.
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