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December 20, 2019
22 Kislev 5780

Parashat Vayeshev
Genesis 37:1 - 40:23

Dear Friends,

This week, we at Tehillah celebrated the light of Chanukah early. We sang, we lit candles, we ate, and we welcomed individuals across the generations to our community. We are grateful to Julian Reich for bringing members of the High School of American Studies Muslim Student Association to join us. On a day where our focus could have been elsewhere, we were reminded of the power of welcoming people and the way that seemingly simple act creates its own light.

As we prepare to light the first Chanukah candle on Sunday evening, the need to shed light in the world is all-important. The world is in disarray in every possible way, and each of us as individuals feels powerless to fix all that is broken.

One of the high school students asked me an extremely important and powerful question on Wednesday: “how do we turn our association into a safe space?”

This question is for all of us. How do we create safe spaces where we can fully be ourselves and be present for others?

Being fully present does not mean that differences are cast aside; rather, it means that we are sensitive to those differences. This way of thinking is not merely about difference. It is about getting out of our own way so that we can be there for others.

The story of Joseph begins this week. His journey is different from that of his great-grandfather Abraham, his grandfather Isaac, and his father Jacob. God does not speak to Joseph, yet his belief in the Divine is palpable. In that way, Joseph is us.

We watch as Joseph grows through his journey from an individual who is the favored son -- spoiled, 

 somewhat self-involved, and unaware of the impact of his telling his brothers about his dreams has on them. He is certainly not someone who reads the room as he begins his journey.

It makes one wonder if he had any kind of epiphany of self-awareness during a night in the pit after being thrown in by his brothers and listening to them argue about his fate?

Joseph seems to grow in maturity after being sold to the caravan heading for Egypt. He is able to rise in Potiphar’s household, where he is essentially a slave, to the one who runs the household. He still isn’t fully aware of his environment as he doesn’t seem to have been aware that Potiphar’s wife wanted more from him than running the household.

She cries assault when he refuses her advances, so that he is thrown into prison. He rises to the top in prison, becoming the warden’s assistant, thereby giving him access to the other prisoners. This week’s Torah portion ends with Joseph interpreting the dreams of the cup bearer and the baker. In order to interpret the dreams correctly, Joseph had to be fully present, truly seeing and listening to the two individuals before him. The Torah portion ends with Joseph in prison, no longer the same self-centered individual we met at the beginning of his story.

Joseph’s journey is our own. We cannot access the light that each of us carries within until we begin to listen and see.

May that light come through as we begin to celebrate the Festival of Lights.

Happy Chanukah and Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Linda Shriner-Cahn

Sat, September 19 2020 1 Tishrei 5781