I am looking forward to the beginning of Hanukkah this Sunday night, because the days are getting shorter and I am looking forward to the light of the candles in my menorah.
In my humble opinion, this world needs as much light as it can get. There is a darkness creeping across the face of the earth, fueled by hatred and closed minds. It’s not the first time this has happened, and I’m sure it’s not the last.
Do you need me to remind you? Of the 11 people murdered at the Tree of Life Synagogue? Of the women and children at the Mexican border being tear gassed because they want to make a better life for themselves? Of the Jewish professor at Columbia University who opened her office door this week and found swastikas painted on the walls? Of the white supremacist who now claims that he was acting in self defense when he drove his car into a crowd of people, killing one and injuring others?
We learned in the last century what happens when good people turn their backs and pretend that evil is not flourishing around them.
We know what happens when prejudice and hatred become so ingrained in a society that normal people, people like you and me, find themselves swept up in circumstances beyond their control.
This week’s Torah portion begins the saga of Joseph. While the stories of our patriarchs are integral to our history, Joseph’s marks the turning point. Soon we will begin reading the book of Exodus, the transformative journey of our people.
But before then, there is a brief passage near the beginning of his own journey where we see Joseph wandering aimlessly. A man approaches and asks, “What are you looking for?” and Joseph answers, “I am looking for my brothers. Please tell me, where are they?” (Genesis 37:15-16)
He doesn’t ask if the man knows where they are; he assumes that the man does indeed know where they have gone. And he’s right – the man does know. Maimonides believed that the man was an angel, sent to ensure that Joseph didn’t get lost. But, he did get lost. The passage begins with him wandering in the fields.
Did the angel wait until Joseph had strayed? Was he standing by, just in case he was needed? And I cannot help but wonder; could he have stepped in earlier, before Joseph got lost?
It occurs to me that Joseph and the angel are a metaphor for us today, for a society that seems to be on the brink of becoming lost. And I believe that we are the hands of God in this world, we are the angels whose task is to help guide our society. As winter descends and the days grow shorter, as the darkness of prejudice spreads, we cannot stand idly by.
It is our task to shine a light in the darkness, to light as many candles as we can.
On this, the 183rd anniversary of his birth, I’ll end by quoting Mark Twain: “It is curious that physical courage should be so common in the world, and moral courage so rare.”