Posted on December 11, 2020 by Rabbi Arnold S. Gluck
The True Miracle that Banishes the Darkness
The Torah contains many examples of what I like to call “billboard moments” — places in the text where a kernel of life’s most profound wisdom is distilled into a pithy statement you would want to put on a billboard to announce to the world.
These include sayings like “Justice, justice shall you pursue,” “Love your neighbor as yourself,” or “Choose life that you and your descendants may live.” One such aphorism appears in this week’s parashah, Vayeishev, which tells the story of young Joseph and his relationship with his brothers.
The eleventh of twelve brothers, Joseph, we are told, was favored by their father in overt and too-obvious ways, including being lavished with gifts, like the k’tonet passim, the infamous “coat of many colors.” Joseph, for his part, seems to have reveled in his status by playing the role of the bratty child who tattled on his brothers to their father. I say “seems to have” because there is a sense that he acted without guile — that he was different from the others and was just being himself. As the story unfolds it will become clear that he was in fact a prodigy, a brilliant young man who later would do great things, like saving an entire region of the world from drought and famine.
His genuineness is revealed in the moment that comes in this parashah. The ten oldest sons are pasturing the flocks in Shechem when Jacob tells Joseph to check on his brothers and report back. Eager to please, Joseph sets out to fulfill this mission, except, given the nature of the shepherd’s work, he doesn’t know their exact location. Undeterred, he sets out to find them, but fails to do so, until he comes upon a certain man who just happens to be in the right place at the right time.
The man asks him, “What are you looking for?” Joseph answers with words that sound simple but are, in fact, profound — words that continue to resonate over the ages: “I am looking for my brothers.”
We all need our brothers, our sisters, our family. We need to love and be loved. We need family and friendship and community. We need closeness and warmth and caring. We need to be held and hugged. We need to belong. This is an emotional and psychological imperative for us to feel whole, and it is also deeply spiritual.
In another billboard moment, in Genesis 2, God says of Adam: “It is not good for Man to be alone.”
It is not good for us to be isolated. We need companionship. As Martin Buber said, we find ourselves and our humanity in relationship to others. The Talmud sharpens the import of human connection when it says: “Either friendship or death.”
It sounds dramatic, but it’s true. A part of us comes alive in the company of others. And a part of us dies when we are cut off from human fellowship. There is a place deep down in our souls that knows this truth and yearns to express it. It says, as Joseph said to that stranger: “I seek my sisters and my brothers.”
Amidst the upcoming flurry of festivity and food, the exchange of gifts, and the glow of the candles, let us not fail to remember that the most important things for us to see by the light of the chanukiah
are the faces of loved ones, of family and friends, whose presence in our lives is the true miracle that banishes the darkness and saves and sustains us at all times.
May you have a joyous Festival of Lights — chag urim sameach! — and Shabbat shalom!
Rabbi Arnie Gluck