By Ezra Kiers, Rabbinical Student at Hebrew Seminary


It’s early December and רֹאשׁ חֹדֶשׁ טֵבֵת‎‎ (Rosh Chodesh Tevet, the beginning of the Hebrew month of Tevet), and these are particularly dark times. Yes, they are physically dark; the days are getting shorter, colder, and more severe. But they are also metaphorically dark; in light of the sociopolitical events of recent months both domestically and overseas, we as Jews have felt a looming heaviness among our community that has rarely been paralleled. Through our stress, grief, and anger, we turn to Torah for a glimmer of hope. This week’s Torah portion, וַיֵּשֶׁב (Vayyeshev) can offer insight into how we can move forward.

This Torah portion contains the story of our ancestor Joseph and his siblings. Joseph, most loved by his father, dreams that the crops in the field, the sun, the moon, and the stars bow down to him, which angers his siblings. Joseph’s siblings become jealous of him, and they plot to kill him. Luckily, they do not follow through on their plan to kill Joseph, but not because the siblings agree that perhaps killing Joseph is wrong. Instead, they ask, “What will we gain by killing our brother…?” (Genesis 37:26) and decide to sell him into slavery instead. For a mere 20 pieces of silver, Joseph’s siblings discard him and coerce their father into believing that he was killed by a wild animal. And what was the sole motive for these horrific actions? The (unfortunately) all-too-relatable combination of fear, anger, and jealousy.

You see, lately I’ve been seeing a whole lot of Joseph’s siblings around. Whether online or in my own communities, recent events have evoked responses from loved ones that I didn’t know they had in them. At alarming rates, I’m witnessing more and more people every day feeling hopeless and alone. Where we used to see siblings, friends, and colleagues, we now see people who threaten our sense of self and force us to come face to face with our own moral dilemmas. We shut people out. We refuse to have real dialogue and ask, “What can we gain from your absence?” as opposed to “What will we be missing when you’re gone?” In times of strife, we are no longer concerned with the richness and beauty of diversity, but with the misguided illusion of comfort that accompanies homogeny.

But this Shabbat, we can make a different choice. Every Friday when the sun goes down, we as Jews have a unique opportunity to breathe in sweetness, even when the world seems so bitter. On Rosh Chodesh (רֹאשׁ חֹדֶשׁ, “the beginning of the [new] month”), we celebrate a clean slate instead of hiding from the darkness of a new moon. With the new secular year coming up, we get the chance to rededicate ourselves to making different and better decisions for ourselves and our loved ones. And during Chanukkah, which begins tonight, we get to add a little bit of light into some of the darkest and coldest nights of the year.

Now is the time to learn from Joseph’s siblings, to let them teach us what not to do. They show us what happens when we let our fear and our jealousy consume us, and we see that nothing good comes from it. So this Shabbat, this Chanukah, and each day thereafter, we can do things differently. We can choose light. So put your chanukiyah in the window and brighten up your community. Buy a snack for someone who has fewer resources than you. Reach out to a friend you’ve allowed to become distant. Educate yourself on the experiences of those in communities you don’t belong to. Find humanity in someone you find easy to hate or ignore. These may be challenging times, and we may not be able to solve all of the inequities and atrocities that we encounter. But if we do this, if we commit to embracing siblings instead of discarding perceived enemies, we can make the world a little brighter, a little better, and a little less lonely. No, it’s not easy, so let’s take it one day at a time. Start with Shabbat, then Chanukkah, and then, little by little, the light will start to come back.




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