I Kings 7:40-50
Years of plenty. Years of scarcity. Times when material wealth overflows, followed by times when, for many, subsistence itself is a struggle.
This year, the Torah's well-loved story of years of abundant prosperity, followed by times of economic struggle, has special resonance for us. In these difficult times, we have been through our own cycle of years of plenty, followed by years of famine.
Collectively, we have lived through years of relative freedom from war. Even for Israel, there were years when peace actually seemed within reach. Then the "lean years" came: for Israel, a descent into terror and hopelessness. For us as Americans, a first experience of vulnerability, collective trauma and a frighteningly uncertain future. And now we wait, suspended in fear, wondering whether the next horrors will be initiated by terrorists or by our own government.
What does this week's classic Torah text teach us about how to sustain ourselves in the "years of famine" in which we find ourselves?
I just find such a teaching in Joseph's understanding of his own ability to interpret Pharaoh's dreams. In the latter half of Genesis Chapter 41, no less than four times, Joseph emphasizes that his gift for dream interpretation comes from God, and that Pharaoh's dreams represent divine guidance, offered by a loving God who desires to keep humanity safe from the ravages of famine.
Joseph knows how to discern the presence of the divine, even when it appears that hope is lost. Perhaps he learned this through his own dark night of the soul. He had witnessed the suffering engendered by his own narcissism in his youth. Then, it seems that hopeless years in prison taught Joseph to cultivate his own capacity for faithfulness, and to recognize whispers of the transcendent in the midst of experiences that others would find incomprehensible.
As we all know, when things are dark, we must savor the light that breaks through. This is why small gifts — a loving word from a friend, a beautiful blue sky, a moment of laughter — have such great impact during times of great pain. So, too, it is no accident that our religion and others choose to create sacred ritual around lights in the midst of the darkness of winter.
This year, times are hard for many — materially, emotionally and spiritually. Our lives are uncertain in ways we can no longer deny. We face real dangers and sense that we have not seen the end of the horrors. How is it possible to cultivate faith and hopefulness in the midst of so many threats to our well-being?
Chanukah gives us the perfect opportunity to savor the light in our lives. With the candlelighting ritual, our experience of holiness, is meant to increase from the first night of Chanukah to the last.
Surely, it does not help to pretend that darkness will never envelop us again. In the ebb and flow of life we know that pain will come. Wisdom lies in cultivating our own trust that we will survive whatever will come, and treasure this day's light fully today.
May this last day of Chanukah bring radiance to our homes and our hearts, and perhaps kindle a light of peace and justice that will soon illumine the world. Amen.