D’var Torah: Reb Moshe Waldoks (Vayeshev)

A great joke about dreams is the one where Joe dreams the same dream for five consecutive nights. Each dream is filled with five manifestations of five. He is both pleased and perplexed. So to satisfy himself, he goes to the local race track and bets $5,000 on the fifth horse in the fifth race. To his alarm the horse came in fifth.

The Talmud tells us that dreams are 1/60 prophecy. One should interpret dreams (“a dream received and not interpreted is like a letter received and left unopened”) with caution. So much of our interpretations are, of course, projections of our own ego needs. So it was with the brash and undiplomatic Yosef we encounter at the beginning of this week’s parsha. The parsha begins and ends with dreams. Through dreams Yosef falls, and through dreams he ascends. This up and down process is reminiscent of the dream that his father had as he departed from the home of Isaac and Rebecca. There angels ascend and descend; here Yosef descends and ascends. There the dream speaks of Yaakov’s need to mature; so, too, here are the dreams gauges of Yosef’s process of becoming a man.

Elie Wiesel comments that Yosef’s immaturity was exacerbated by both the favoritism shown him by his father and the lack of empathy from his older brothers, sons of different mothers, expressed for their younger orphaned sibling.

“They should have felt sorry for their small orphaned brother, whose mother had died tragically; instead they pounded on him, harassed him. They should have tried to console him; instead they made him feel unwanted, an outsider. Their father favored him above others, and why not? Jacob loved him best because he was unhappy. But they refused to understand and treated him as an intruder. He spoke to them, but they did not answer, says the Midrash. They turned their backs on him. They ignored him; they denied him. To them he was stranger to be driven away.” (Messengers of God, p.153)

Yosef’s dreams are a necessary projection that despite his “favored” status he was an outcast. Dreaming grandiose dreams was the only way he could express his deep sense of powerlessness. His dreams were much more a cry for acceptance that it was a condemnation of his bothers.

These dreams offered Yosef a way to transform himself, and as we will see in next week’s parsha, the immature boy’s dreams of power will be fulfilled.

Reb Moshe Waldoks, Founding Rabbi at Temple Beth Zion, Schechter alumni parent

D’var Torah: Sarah Burd (Miketz)

In Miketz, Pharaoh dreams of 7 large cows standing along the Nile. Soon 7 smaller cows come along and eat the 7 large cows. Pharaoh then wakes up but he fell right back asleep and had a second dream.  In that dream, he saw 7 big ears of corn and 7 small ears of corn.The 7 small ears of corn ate the 7 big ears. Then Pharaoh woke again. He called his interpreters but none of them could tell him what his dreams meant. Then the butler remembered a man in jail (Joseph) who can interpret dreams. 

Joseph, who was still in jail, was prepped and dressed to meet Pharaoh.  Pharaoh tells Joseph about his dreams and then Joseph interprets Pharaoh’s dreams and says: “there will be a long famine in 7 years and he should start collecting crops now for the 7  long years of famine.” After hearing this interpretation, Pharaoh makes Joseph his head chief and they starts collecting and saving crops for all of Egypt and for people from other lands. 

One important theme I have learned from this Torah portion is always to be mindful to save. My grandparents have often said it is important to save for a rainy day. To me this means you should save for when you need it the most and that is what Joseph and Pharaoh were doing. 

It’s not just money that you can save, but you can save time too. Like after getting a homework assignment, it makes sense not to wait until the last minute to complete it so you have more time to review and fix mistakes you might have made. During the time of Pharaoh’s dream there was plenty of food and things were going well in Egypt. He shared the wealth of his community with the people outside. And that is another important theme: to give to people in need. 

Just as Pharaoh did, we must give back to the community. But what happens when you have no more food and clothing to give? You can still be compassionate in other ways. For example, this year my family and I adopted a dog from an animal shelter who was desperate for a good home. Like Joseph, who gave of himself by providing and interpreting the dreams of others while in jail, doing something for someone is another example of tzedakah. Whatever it is we save – money, time or energy – it is important to share it with those in need.

Often times when I am caught up in stress, homework, and very busy with activities I forget that there are those who are not lucky enough to attend a good school and to have the opportunities that I have. This relates to Miketz because the people who did not live in Egypt had to come from far away to get help from Pharaoh in order to survive.  I cannot imagine what they had to go through to get that food from Pharaoh. In Miketz the people who came to Egypt had to pay Pharaoh for the food. But there is no mention that the Egyptians had to pay for the food. Perhaps this is an example of separating in an undignified way those who have from those who need. The shelters that I have donated  to provide food and other materials to people anonymously. 

When Pharaoh required that people from outside Egypt pay for the food they needed, this could be interpreted as people going to a grocery store and paying for their food, but the difference is that Egypt was the only available grocery store. Pharaoh wanted to donate and provide for the people but he also wanted to make a profit.  This made me think what, would I do in Pharaoh’s shoes? Although tzedakah is important it, is also important to take care of your own family, friends, and community. 

When Pharaoh allowed food to be sold  to others, this was not truly tzedaka.  It appears that Pharaoh’s true intention was to only make money for himself and his future heirs.  In fact, in Miketz, the focus is greater on Joseph’s actions than Pharoah’s. Joseph was able to help others through tzedaka and his ability  to forgive his brothers for selling into slavery. Joseph’s actions may be considered as “True Tzedaka.”

Sarah Burd ’20

D’var Torah: Rabbi Marcia R. Plumb (Vayishlach)

 

This week’s parasha, Vayishlach, presents us with a challenge.  The parasha is all about forgiveness.  Even though Jacob tricked his brother, Esau, twice (by cheating him of his birthright and his father’s blessing) and they didn’t speak for many years, in Vayishlach, Jacob seeks forgiveness, and Esau forgives.  It is the first big introduction to the powerful Jewish idea of teshuvah.   When I find forgiveness hard to do, I think of the moment when Jacob and Esau kiss and hug each other in this week’s parasha.  If they can do it, then maybe so can I.

The challenge for me is this:  How did they do it?  How do we forgive someone who has hurt us badly?  What does forgiveness mean anyway?

When I think of forgiveness, I am often reminded of the secular adage, ‘Forgive and Forget.’  But that is very hard to do.  Some hurts don’t go away, and we can’t forget them.  The idea of forgive and forget also seems to imply that we let the person who hurt us ‘off the hook.’   In Judaism, when someone hurts us badly, we may choose to ignore it, and ‘forget.’  But teshuvah means something different.  It is not about forgetting—it is about remembering, and changing.

The word teshuvah can help us understand the Jewish idea of forgiveness.  Teshuvah literally means to turn, or return to our best selves.  It means to let go of that which keeps us from being our best selves.  For example, we are our best selves when we let go of anger and resentment.  There is a wonderful Mussar text which says that ‘Anger is like acid; it destroys the container it is in before it can be poured out.’  In other words, our anger at someone can damage us because it can cause us to be less compassionate, curious and caring.  Anger can make us knotted up inside, stressed, and sad.

Teshuvah is about letting go of the anger that knots us up.  Teshuvah requires us to tell the person who hurt us what they did, and teshuvah asks us to give that person a chance to change and become better.  And it challenges us to let go of anger that may be causing us more harm than good.

This week, take a look at the anger we may hold within us toward someone else.  Can we follow the path of Jacob and Esau, and let it go?  What would it feel like to do that? Can releasing the anger, even briefly, give us some precious moments of peace and freedom?

May we find the blessing of teshuvah this week.

Rabbi Marcia R. Plumb, Congregation Mishkan Tefila, Brookline