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Reflecting Radiance: On Dreams, People, Light
Decades ago, I heard a humorous tale from the late Rabbi Yaakov Rosenberg, who was known for his contributions both to Philadelphia and world Jewry. He cast a large shadow figuratively, through his accomplishments, and literally, through his considerable size.
One year, when visiting Israel, the rabbi was waiting in line. Many of us know that "standing on queue" in Israel is a contact sport; those without sharp elbows are relegated to the back. Deftly, a young woman tried to cut in. B'vakasha -- "excuse me?" chided the rabbi. S'licha, responded the woman, "I didn't see you."
Eyes twinkling, the rabbi turned to his audience, "Can you imagine ... she didn't see me!"
Aside from a chuckle, this tale offers a lesson as we conclude Chanukah. Each festival morning, we recite Hallel, a selection from Psalms. Denouncing lifeless idols, a verse declares: "They have eyes, but see not." One Chasidic master noted that the exact Hebrew syntax might offer an alternative meaning: focused on themselves, their eyes don't see. This text applies to us all. By focusing on our own prerogatives, we remain blind to others' needs and to the divine light that often goes unnoticed in our world.
When exploring the causes of the Maccabean revolt, many historians have noted that the Antiochus decrees proscribing Judaism were actually solicited by a Hellenized Judean elite. Some were blinded by the allure of bringing their "backward" Jewish culture into alignment with the "modern" transnational culture of their time. Others felt they could gain economic advantages through integrating themselves into Hellenistic culture. Both were blind to the sacred beauty of our tradition, the loyalty it engenders and the strife their policies would create.
The Torah reading for this Shabbat, the last day of Chanukah, is Parshat Miketz. It begins with Pharaoh's dreams of seven withered sheaves of grain consuming seven healthy sheaves and seven emaciated cows devouring seven healthy head of cattle. When no one can interpret Pharaoh's dream, the Chief Butler mentions a "Hebrew lad" who had divined the meaning of both the Butler and the Chief Baker's dreams when the two were imprisoned. Joseph is summoned from jail, foretells the coming of seven years of plenty and stresses the need to make preparations for the seven years of famine that would follow. Impressed, Pharaoh promotes Joseph to the position of viceroy and charges him to carry out his plan.
From his youth, Joseph found his destiny tied to dreams. Yet an interesting shift occurs as he matures. When we first meet him, he's busy solely with his own dreams, envisioning his brothers and parents bowing down to him. He is blind to the hurts his grandiosity causes. The mature Joseph interprets the dreams of others and brings them to realization. When his brothers do bow to him, in the guise of an Egyptian lord, Joseph realizes that his dreams would be fulfilled not through self-aggrandizement, but through aiding his brothers and others who hungered at that time.
The last night of Chanukah finds all eight candles ablaze, but the most important is No. 9 -- the Shamash. Not focusing on its own brilliance, this "Servant of Light" ignites its fellows, creating a radiant community to roll away the darkness. May we, too, aim to do this, the better to illumine God's presence in our midst.
Rabbi Howard A. Addison is religious leader of Congregation Melrose B'nai Israel Emanu-El in Cheltenham. E-mail him at: Rabbia [email protected].