Shabbat Shalom with a Heart-Healthy Dose of Torah – Miketz
Forty is a big number in our tradition. It rained for forty days. Moses was up on the mountain for forty days, and his life was divided into three forty- year segments. We wandered in the desert for forty years. And quite significantly forty years ago yesterday, Mel Brooks delivered Young Frankenstein to the world. It was a most Jewish event, in as much as Mel is perhaps the most creatively comedic Jewish mind of all time (though there are pieces of the Bible that are pretty funny also).
Ok, it is not a Jewish movie, just because Mel Brooks created it. It is Jewish because it teaches an incredible Jewish value. Dr. Frankstein (pronounced “FRAHNKen-shteen”) never gave up on his “monster.” At personal risk of his own life, he gave it life, maintained its life, and in the end, even got “something” in return (beyond just the satisfaction of having helped the creature survive). In every case where we have to make a decision on how to see another person’s dignity, we choose life, and we don’t give up on people.
Our entire tradition is tied into the ethic behind Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), when we recommit ourselves to focusing on doing a better job of taking care of the world than we did the year before. Each year, we begin the holiday acknowledging that, as human beings, we are not capable of perfection and do sometimes fail; we do the best we can. God, thusly, acknowledges our faults and continues to provide us the blessings and miracles that make life so valuable. “Mitzvah goreret mitzvah … one deed begets the next.”
One of the best movies ever … “Blukher” (those who know the movie know what to do now).
We are now in the middle of Khanukkah. Forty years ago, we were also in the middle of Khanukkah this week. Now, I do not know if the timing was intentional or not, but I find spiritual significance in the confluence of releasing this movie during this holiday. It is light (lightening) that gives life to the monster. It is light (electricity) that allows the doctor to share his brain’s capacity with the monster to make him more human. All of the action takes place in a dark setting filled with people who lack faith, who live in fear, and who fail to appreciate the blessing of resurrection. Yes, this film is about faith in resurrection. Jews have celebrated this phenomenon for thousands of years, as we retell he stories of the prophets Elijah and Elisha, honor the yahrtzeits of people in our own pasts, and as we renew relationships that we left for dead over some dispute or geographic relocation.
Khanukkah calls on us to focus on another type of resurrection. We are supposed to resurrect our faith and our dedication to each other over the course of these eight days. As the sage Hillel taught us, the lights (candles) increase each day to remind us of how important enlightenment is, how important renewal is, and how important it is to be able to see each other in fewer shadows … in greater light.
For us, as we finish celebrating a holiday whose light is supposed to increase our vision and our awareness, we will read of the ultimate redemption and resurrection of relationships. The idea that we need to see each other more clearly is also one of the most important lessons taught in this week’s Torah portion. Joseph’s reattachment to his brothers teaches us of the power of faith and healing. Each of us can shed new light on the situations that hold us back emotionally. We can heal.
Joseph has the opportunity to turn the tables on his brothers … the same brothers who despised him in their youth. He can seek retribution, but as we will see through next week, his eyes are opened; he is enlightened … and so are they. Long past the childhood jealousies and egos, long past the favoritisms, they come face to face, they will embrace.
Khanukkah is a minor festival. Let’s be honest, in America it is big because of its time coincident to Christmas, and the manner of gift giving for both is directed by retail. Jews know that it is a minor holiday, though. Or … is it?. Two prayers remind us to recall miracles:the second candle blessing and “Al hanissim v’al ha pourkan …”. Our every day liturgy speaks of miracles, but of the holidays, other than Purim, I do not believe that word “Nes (miracles)” is actually used (even while miraculous events are described).
I want to suggest something radical– that we take the gift- buying out of the holiday. Truth is, if there is something that we need or something we really want to share with another, we should not wait for an artificially selected day to make those things happen. So, the holiday should cause us to do something to bring light into each other’s lives. Perhaps, one might argue that our efforts should focus on helping people resurrect lost hope or faith that people are good and that there is goodness in the world … and that there are miracles in our midst every day. You are that miracle. Khag Samaeakh and Shabbat Shalom.