Pharaoh dreams of seven handsome fat cows being eaten by seven ugly, skinny cows. Pharaoh dreams of seven solid healthy ears of wheat on a single stalk, being followed by seven thin sickly ears on a stalk scorched by the east wind. He is a hereditary monarch, and therefore not very bright, so he calls for a man of discernment and wisdom to interpret the dreams, and Joseph is remembered and summoned.
Joseph tells Pharaoh that God had determined there were to be seven years of plenty that would be followed by seven years of famine, when, as Rashi wrote, “the plenty would be forgotten”. Joseph, not being an idiot, follows this interpretation with a recommendation to Pharoah that he find a man of discernment and wisdom to oversee a program of gathering food during the good years so that it can be distributed during the bad years. We know our man Joseph got the job, and the rest is, well, Exodus.
Seven years of plenty and seven years of famine; seven years of good-looking and seven years of ugly; seven years of profit and partying; and seven years of grief and shock. We know this cycle. Boom and bust. And we’re busted.
So now, some of us are oblivious and some of us are scared. Some prosper and some barely get by. Some get bonuses and some have been broken. Some of us blame the greedy and some of us blame ourselves. Some of us have been permanently beaten down and some of us have risen up.
Good times, bad times. Good guys, bad guys. Good and evil. How can the good survive the evil? And, why do we read this parsha, Miketz, on Chanukah, the Festival of Light & Dedication?
Rabbi Arthur Green, in his interpretation of the Hasidic Sefat Emet’s commentary on Miketz, writes:
“Divinity is everywhere: there is no other source of being. All that exists is of God, whether revealed or in hiding. But the power of hiding, the exile of the mind from any awareness of divine presence, can sometimes be very great. And the evil that human beings can perpetrate in the course of hiding from God’s light can indeed be without end.”
I hate the banks. I hate the banks so much that I can’t walk past an ATM without wanting to throw a rock at it. I hate the banks so much, that even as I quote Arthur Green telling you that God’s light is without end, when it comes to banks and bankers, I don’t believe that for a minute. How can God be in something that is so impersonal, so uncaring, a machine that crushes without a glance at who or what it is crushing? It’s hard to see the people in that machine. I know they’re there. I know most of them must think of themselves as good people. I must try to have compassion for them, find God’s light in them, even if they can’t see it themselves, even if they hide from that light, I should be able to see it. But it’s hard work. I want justice. I want consequences.
Since the recession I have not been able to get a full time job but I lived like I was working. I refused to forget the time of plenty. I hid from the truth of my own financial foolishness and trouble, and I hid from the inevitable consequence of waiting to for someone else to fix up my personal mess. I find myself desperately wanting a man of discernment, a Joseph to come and organize me through the lean times. For a while after the recession began, I wanted to rely on Obama to get us through this experience and I squirmed or denied or felt hopeless when he did not or could not fix our economic mess. We are on our own. We must organize ourselves.
Why do we read Miketz on Chanukah, the Festival of Light and Dedication? This is the time when the mighty were delivered into the hands of the weak. Chanukah is a Festival of a light that shines on the lies and delusions, on the delusions of the fat years and the troubles of the lean ones. It shines on the pharaohs and the starving peasants and the banks and the unemployed. And it asks us to choose whether we will embrace or hide from God’s light. Joseph was in prison, falsely accused with no end in sight. The Maccabees lived under the thumb of invaders and a mad capricious king. But neither wallowed in the despair of their situation. They did what they needed to do.
So, are we Joseph, that discerning man who serves the powers-that-be so he can feed the hungry? Or are we Maccabees, resisting the bad guys with direct action?
Good and evil, boom or bust, all that exists is of God.
Rabbi Shefa Gold writes:
“We can honor and protect the seeds of liberation that are in us – our compassion and open-hearted vision of the preciousness of every being. When we carry old hurts, and the bitterness that surrounds those wounds, then our every attempt to do justice is distorted by a sensation of pain. And so the spiritual challenge is to heal those deep places of bitterness. In that healing, the Spirit of God in us is made manifest.”
It’s the winter solstice,
The earth tilts away from the light,
So we can see whatever there is to see.
And the days will grow longer
When the earth tilts toward the sun.
Shabbat Shalom. Happy Chanukah.