Shalom Shaarei Kodesh,
I want to begin by thanking all those who helped make our New Member Orientation a success! Every year, we welcome our new ‘chaverim’ by taking them to our Federation’s campus and walking the labyrinth. After each person takes their journey, they share their unique and sacred story with the rest of the community. It is always one of my favorite programs, but this year was even more special because we were back in person after a year! I am happy to report that we are growing with new souls who have come along on our journey. Our congregation has grown from 183 households to 196 since last year! Our congregation has always valued quality over quantity, and although we are overjoyed with our growth, we are even more overjoyed with the quality of the souls who have decided to become part of our holy community.
My favorite question to ask our new chaverim is: "What brought you to Shaarei Kodesh?" Oftentimes, it is a trusted friend, or maybe even a stranger who pointed them in our direction. I found an interesting parallel to our parashah this week, Vayeshev, after listening to the various ways that people came to Shaarei Kodesh. Vayeshev concerns itself with the next generation of our ancestors, Jacob’s sons, and their internal conflicts. We all know the story of Joseph being thrown into the pit by his brothers and how Joseph descends to Egypt, but we oftentimes forget how Joseph got to the pit in the first place.
As soon as we are introduced to Joseph and his background, we see a very interesting scene.
וַיִּמְצָאֵהוּ אִישׁ וְהִנֵּה תֹעֶה בַּשָּׂדֶה וַיִּשְׁאָלֵהוּ הָאִישׁ לֵאמֹר מַה־תְּבַקֵּשׁ׃
A man came upon him wandering in the fields. The man asked him, “What are you looking for?”
וַיֹּאמֶר אֶת־אַחַי אָנֹכִי מְבַקֵּשׁ הַגִּידָה־נָּא לִי אֵיפֹה הֵם רֹעִים׃
He answered, “I am looking for my brothers. Could you tell me where they are pasturing?”
וַיֹּאמֶר הָאִישׁ נָסְעוּ מִזֶּה כִּי שָׁמַעְתִּי אֹמְרִים נֵלְכָה דֹּתָיְנָה וַיֵּלֶךְ יוֹסֵף אַחַר אֶחָיו וַיִּמְצָאֵם בְּדֹתָן׃
The man said, “They have gone from here, for I heard them say: Let us go to Dothan.” So Joseph followed his brothers and found them at Dothan.
What continues, the story of Joseph in Egypt, is one of the most intricate and interesting narratives in the Torah. So the question is, "Why does the Torah insert this seemingly banal scene where Joseph receives directions"? To put it into a contemporary lens, can you imagine if you were telling a long story about a trip that changed your life and you included getting directions at a gas station from a stranger? The Rabbis look at this scene as vital to Joseph’s narrative because of this unnamed, anonymous man, or in Hebrew, ‘Ish’. Throughout Genesis, we see the blurring of the lines between human and angel, and a couple of medieval commentators, Rashi and Ramban, claim that this man was not a man, but an angel, or in other words, a divine messenger.
Joseph seems to be focused only on the task at hand: finding his brothers. The angel points him in the direction of Dotan, where Joseph’s life and the life of his family, and his people for the future, change. It is in Dotan where Joseph is brought as a slave to Egypt, which led to Joseph becoming a leader in Egypt, which ultimately led to the settlement of Jacob’s family in Egypt, which led to the slavery of the people and the Exodus from Egypt, the seminal story of the Jewish people.
What would have happened had Joseph continued to roam the field and just come home to his father? Would the story ever have occurred?
How many times has someone asked you a deeper question, what are you looking for in life, what are you missing and how can I help you find it, and it changed the trajectory of your life?
I think we have to ask this question more of others, and I am grateful that our community treasures these types of sacred conversations.
Perhaps this small passage is here to teach us about the power we have - we may not be angels, divine messengers, but we can be messengers for the divine, and if we can help people find the Jewish spark within them, perhaps that line between divine messengers and messengers for the divine can also be blurred.
The power we have is the free will that God has granted humanity. It is through the idea that we take steps with God, rather than God taking steps for us, that we find the power of the holiday of Chanukah. We saw the Al HaNissim prayer on Chanukah, where we praise God for the miracles God performed, but the miracles we list are all human-driven.
The Hassidic master, the Sefat Emet, wrote that Chanukah is a special time that Israel merited by their own actions. This holiday is a witness that Israel chose God, and, due to their actions, created a new sacred time. Because this holiday was brought about by Israel’s own actions, their own deeds, every Jewish soul can be restored through this holiday.
That “Ish” was a small light in the darkness that led Joseph to his destiny. You too can be that “Ish,” a small light to lead others to the next steps in their Jewish journeys, and we are grateful that so many new people chose Shaarei Kodesh as their next destination.
Happy Thanksgiving, Shabbat Shalom and an early Hag Urim Sameach, a Happy Chanukah to all!
Rabbi David Baum