Sunday, December 16, 2012

Nothing is Certain in this World and a Little Commentary on Parshat Miketz

We learn from the travails of our forefathers that almost nothing--perhaps with the exception of the Torah and its teachings--is for certain, and that we should always be happy with our lot in life.

We learn several important lessons from the story of Joseph the Tzaddik. There's a good reason he's the only person in the Five Books of Moses to carry the title of "Tzaddik" or "Righteous one." Joseph endures several monumental tests in his life, not the least of which is his being tempted by Potiphar's wife. Joseph is described as being "good of stature and good of look," in other words, a very handsome guy.

At the beginning of parshat Miketz, he's said to put a lot of effort into "making his hair." We can also make a reasonable case that growing up as Jacob's favorite son, he's very much "full" of himself to a point where he not only dreams of instances that clearly portray his superiority over the other members of his family, but even goes on to describe these dreams to his brothers and Jacob himself.

Joseph is able to overcome his main weakness and withhold himself from acting on his impulses. He goes beyond his calling, one may argue, by refusing to be taken in by Potiphar wife's incessant sexual appeals.

A case is brought up in the Gemora of a very high-statured Rabbi from the times of the Mishna who ends up buring down his own house for the sake of avoiding seeing an attractive women who he's afraid will tempt him into sin. Such are the lengths our holy forefathers took to remain on a spiritually lofty level; a level above that of modern Western culture; a level that religious Jews all over the world try to attain to this day. This is the inherent strength of the Torah: it provides us with guidelines on how to live our lives today as it did 3.5 thousand years ago.

Joseph is referred to as "Joseph the righteous" because of his ability to maintain the highest standard of purity of thought and of action. But nothing in Joseph's life is certain. He goes from being stranded in an "empty" pit with "no water," to being Potiphar's favorite servant whom the former allows all sorts of liberties, to being pent up behind bars in an Egyptian dungeon, to being the Pharaoh’s second-in-command and the most successful man in all Egypt.

Joseph's story is a lesson to us all. It teaches us that while there are no certainties in life, we should be happy with our lot (Pirkei Avot) and never give up no matter what life may throw at us (teachings of Rebbi Nachman).

The theme of dreams is also prevalent in last week's parsha. At the beginning of Miketz, Joseph dreams his two famous dreams in which his brothers and parents are depicted as either stocks of wheat bowing down to a bigger, fatter stock, or the stars in the sky, the sun and the moon bowing down to him. Then, after having been thrown into the dungeon, he's able to solve the two ministers' dreams, and finally, he solves Pharaoh’s repeating dream regarding the "fat" and the "lean" years. The previous week's parsha also features a dream; then it was Jacob's ladder dream as he fled from Esav.

Dreams have always puzzled me. I've had a variety of interesting dreams. Most of my dreams seem to come from an entirely foreign reality. They have nothing in common with my everyday life. My grandfather, on the other hand, has very realistic dreams. He often dreams of real people he's met and of days gone by in Moscow where my family lived for a very long time. I've often wondered if my dreams hold a message; if someone out there is trying to tell me something; if these are hints at what I'm doing wrong, and what I should be doing differently.

As I've mentioned, our forefathers also had dreams. But these were much different than ours. Why the difference? I'd like to suggest that perhaps this is due to the fact that they lived their lives differently and that the more we strive to reach their level, the more meaning our dreams will entail.

שבוע טוב ומבורך מירושלים, איר הקודש

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