Tonight we’re celebrating the sixth night of Hanukkah, and we been talking a lot about miracles at 8831 Venice Blvd. Our conversations have ranged from bearing witness to miracles of recovery to exploring what exactly are the miracles that the holiday of Hanukkah celebrates. Talking about miracles in a time when scientific certainty is a dominant (and welcomed) value can be tricky. Rabbi Schulweiss (z”l) quotes Menachem Mendel of Kotzk saying:
“Whoever believes in miracles is a fool;
and whoever does not believe in miracles is an atheist.”
We are neither fools nor apostates.
So if we are neither fools or apostates, who are we? As a community centered around spiritual recovery, we strive to be open to the daily miracles that occur in our lives. This is one of the reasons that celebrating Hanukkah is so valuable: it helps to focus our attention on the existence of miracles and reminds us to keep looking for them (even when they’re obscured by darkness). This type of awareness is essential to living well, and maintaining it is no small task. But just in time, this week’s parasha (Miketz) is here to guide us in sustaining our awareness of miracles by cultivating humility and faith. The Torah is sharing a subtle message about our pathways towards growth as it describes the path of Joseph’s spiritual maturation.
We find ourselves in the midst of Joseph’s story of growth from an immature teenager to a leader with immense spiritual depth. Early on, Joseph is described as condescending and arrogant, and his special relationship with G!D isn’t obvious to him and can only be inferred (especially by those of us reading about him) through his ability to interpret dreams and escape dangerous circumstances without a scratch. While he doesn’t take credit for his good luck, Joseph generally seems oblivious to G!D’s presence in his life. Later, as his tendency toward good fortune/making the best of a bad situation is also witnessed by contemporaries, the Torah explicitly states: “…the Lord was with Joseph.” Eventually, Joseph is granted his freedom and, through another series of unexpected events, ascends to become Pharaoh’s second-in-command.
But it takes quite a bit of time (and life’s ups and downs) for Joseph to start to recognize and give credit to G!D for his good fortune. Indeed, the first verse in this week’s installment indicates that there has been a two-year break in the action from where the story had left off, and we find Joseph still imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. The precious shift from ignorance to awareness occurs during these two years in prison. Why is this time period so important? Because Joseph comes out of his incarceration a different man than when he entered. While the Torah does not describe the events over these two years, we witness his transformation in the first interaction he has with Pharaoh upon being released:
And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I have had a dream, but no one can interpret it. Now, I have heard it said of you that for you to hear a dream is to tell its meaning.” Joseph answered Pharaoh, saying “Not I! G!D will see to Pharaoh’s welfare.” (Genesis 41:15-16)
Rather than entitlement and self-importance, his response is grounded in humility and grace. We don’t know the exact steps Joseph took to undergo this change, but it’s obvious that he’s a changed man, having taken the time and space to develop a new way of living.
Like many others, Joseph seems to have experienced a “spiritual awakening” while he was incarcerated. A spiritual awakening, as the Big Book describes, is when people:
“… find that they have tapped an unsuspected inner resource which they presently identify with their own conception of a Power greater than themselves.” (p. 567-568)
The second of the two blessings that we say over the Hanukkah candles praises G!D, “who accomplished miracles for our ancestors in ancient days, and in our time.” One of these miracles is a spiritual awakening – the existence of spiritual strength, the “unsuspected inner resources” described above.
Much like Joseph’s awakening during his incarceration, living in a way that connects me with “unsuspected inner resources” means humbly accepting that I can’t manufacture or will spiritual strength into existence, but, once discovered, must accept and embrace it. It’s a gift shared from a Source much more powerful than I am. When I accept the truth that I’m living on G!D’s schedule, not my own, I am reminded where my focus should be and what I need to let go of, and I can be more fully present for myself and for others. As a wise teacher shared with me, I’m able to recognize that miracles are G!D’s business and that my job is to take steps of faith – much like the Maccabees’ lighting of the first cruse of oil – and to keep searching for more containers to help with the celebrations of life.
Shabbat Shalom and Happy Hanukkah!
Chaplain Adam Siegel