Often at this time of year we are so focused on Chanukah and preparing for a hiatus from school and/or professional life that we get the Andrew Lloyd Weber version of this week’s Parashah: Pharaoh has a dream, Joseph interprets it correctly and becomes Vizier. His brothers come to buy some food during the Egyptian surplus; Joseph frames one of them for stealing, tune in again next week for more. Insert song and dance.
In today’s Parashah, Pharaoh is astounded by Joseph’s ability to correctly interpret his dreams and set forth a plan of action. He declares to his courtiers that Joseph has within him ruach elohim, “the spirit of God.” Joseph becomes second-in-command in all of Egypt, with only Pharaoh above him. Part of Pharaoh’s reasoning for promoting Joseph to such a high post comes in the form of a question posed to his courtiers: “Could we find another like him, a man in whom is the spirit of God?”
Such a strange question to ask. Of course, the courtiers would not have defied Pharaoh if they knew the truth. They could find another like Joseph. After all, dream interpreting was as natural to Joseph as shepherding. His family was skilled in dream interpretation. His father Jacob dreamt of a ladder with angels going up and down. When he wakes up he immediately understands his own dream, declaring that God’s very presence was in that place (Genesis 28). When Joseph was younger, he would relay his dreams to his family, who reacted with anger, claiming that Joseph’s dreams meant they were to be subservient to him (Genesis 37). Neither of the previous scenes describes Jacob or any of his children wondering what the dreams mean. They immediately understand the symbolism of their dreams. They react with anger to Joseph because he seems arrogant in their eyes.
So when Pharaoh asks Joseph to interpret his dreams of grain and cattle, for Joseph there is also no question. He immediately understands just like he did with the dreams of the baker and the cupbearer. He interprets correctly, just like anyone from his family would have.
Further, the Pharaoh is impressed that Joseph has in him ruach elohim, “the spirit of God.” He wonders aloud where another like him could be found. If only Pharaoh had more contact with Israelites, he would have known the answer. The spirit of God is in many of the Israelites from Joseph onward. The seventy elders of the Israelite camp, including Eldad and Medad, have God’s spirit put upon them, making them speak in ecstasy (Numbers 11). Many of the shoftim from the book of Judges have the spirit of God in them, including Gideon, Jephthah, and Samson. Saul is gripped by the spirit of God, as are David, Elijah, and Micah. Isaiah likens the spirit of God to “A spirit of wisdom and insight, A spirit of counsel and valor, A spirit of devotion and reverence for the Lord” (Isaiah 11:2). Moses, Joshua, Bezalel, and every Israelite who offered gifts for the building of the tabernacle were endowed with the spirit of God.
In fact, it can be argued that every one of the community of Israel has the ability to be touched by the spirit of God. It has been taught that any of us can experience God if only we let God in. God is constantly a part of each of us. The spirit of God is implanted within every human being. If we take the time to open ourselves to the God within, we too can have within us ruach elohim, the spirit of God.
I personally believe that the spirit of God is stronger in the children of our community. When I walk around the religious school, the ECE, and the day school, I am often greeted with shouts and high-fives that make my day. Their energy is contagious, and the joy they bring to our lives is unparalleled.
That is why this week it is especially difficult for us to focus on the magic and miracle of our Torah tale and our Chanukah traditions. It is even more difficult to sing and dance. The news from Connecticut drowns out the story of Joseph. Pharaoh’s dreams are overshadowed by the dreams cut off and the lives cut short. The spirit of God was snuffed out by a gunman’s bullets.
In the Mishnah, Tractate Niddah says, “A day-old son who dies is to his father and mother like a full bridegroom.” This is a reminder that when we lose a child we do not just lose the person we love. We lose the future with that child. We lose the joy of celebrating that young person becoming a part of the Jewish community, becoming a Bar of Bat Mitzvah, a graduate, a bride or groom, a parent. We are cut off from the spirit of God that provides us with dreams of our own about the future of our children.
Pharaoh asks, “Could we find another like him, a man in whom is the spirit of God?” Yes you could. Anywhere you look. In the people of our community and in the children all around us. Hold on to your children today. Thank God for them and keep them safe.
The spirit of God within us inspires us to keep moving forward. We pray for the people touched by the tragedy in Newtown, and we continue with our lives, looking for inspiration, comfort, and strength in the words of our Torah.