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Torah Tuesdays with Hennie Black-Parshat Vayeshev

Torah tuesdays parshat vayeshev

By Hennie Black

Each week NCSY Canada’s Jewish family experience (JFX) program brings lessons of the weekly parsha to JFx moms with “torah tuesdays,” a class currently delivered online by Jfx director hennie black.

this parsha blog series allows us to bring one highlight from the torah tuesday class to a wider audience. 

we hope that you enjoy its insights and use its lessons throughout the week as we approach each shabbat’s torah reading.

In this week’s parsha, Vayeshev, Yosef finds himself in jail with Pharaoh’s chief butler and baker. Yosef notices their despondency and learns they are both bothered by recent dreams they have had. Yosef offers to interpret the dreams with the help of G-d.

The butler related his dream as follows: “I had a dream where I saw a grapevine with three branches of blossoming buds and clusters of grapes.  I pressed the grapes into Pharaoh’s cup and handed it into Pharaoh’s hand.”

As for the baker, he related his dream as follows: “I saw in my dream three wicker baskets atop my head. The top basket contained all kinds of baked goods, and birds were eating from it.”

Yosef immediately interprets the two dreams: The butler will be reinstated to his position in three days’ time, whereas the baker will be hanged and killed. And true to Yosef’s interpretations, that is exactly what happened.

There are differing commentaries addressing the question of where Yosef’s ability to interpret dreams came from: some explain that Yosef had Divine inspiration, while others say that Yosef arrived at his conclusion just by analyzing the details of the dream itself.

Whatever Yosef’s source of inspiration, what was it about the two dreams that led Yosef to draw opposite conclusions? Which elements of the butler’s dream portended life and which elements of the baker’s dream portended death?

In the butler’s dream, the butler proactively squeezed grapes and served wine. In the baker’s dream, the baker passively held the basket and did not bake the items within it. Yosef understood that the quality of being proactive meant life, while the quality of being passive meant death.

This message is so important to our lives as well. We must ask ourselves – are we proactive or are we passive?

Being proactive means taking responsibility for our lives and creating an environment so that life happens for us. Being passive means being a victim to our circumstances and allowing life to happen to us.

While we can’t always choose the circumstances we find ourselves in, we can choose how we respond to them. How we respond to what life throws our way determines the type of people we will be and the type of life we will experience.

This Thursday marks the beginning of Chanukah, which tells the remarkable story of how being proactive can change the course of history.

During the second century B.C. while the second temple was still standing, many Jews assimilated to the Syrian-Greek culture. A small group of Jews, known as the Maccabees, decided that they could not sit around and let life happen to them. They decided to fight back, being proactive in combatting what they saw around them.

Not only did the Maccabees defeat the Syrian-Greek armies, they re-captured Jerusalem and the temple and restored Jews’ ability to practice Judaism.

When the Maccabees entered the temple, they witnessed a scene of utter destruction and defilement. Determined not to accept this fate as their reality, the Maccabees searched all around for some oil to light the menorah.

After an exhaustive search, they finally found just enough oil to light the menorah for one day. Undeterred, the Maccabees lit the menorah anyway. They did what they could, even though the circumstances were far from ideal. Miraculously, the tiny amount of oil lasted for 8 days.

This year, when we light our Chanukah candles, let us contemplate the question of how we respond to our own life experiences and situations. Will we be proactive or passive? Will we take a moment to recognize that it is in our power to make life happen for us, rather than to us?

The Maccabees are heroes in many ways—particularly in their military strength and valour—but it is perhaps their ability to make life happen for them that is the most important lesson of all. In so doing, they not only changed the lives of Jews in their own time, they changed the course of history for all time.

Wishing you a Happy Chanukah!