LIFE’S CHALLENGE – A LESSON FROM RABBI LORD SACKS
At the end of the sidra we read how Joseph found himself in prison together with the Pharaoh’s baker and butler. One morning the men awoke, disturbed by dreams they had the night before. Joseph offered to listen and attempt to interpret the dreams.
The butler related his dream to Joseph, who explained that in three days, the butler would be back in his former capacity dutifully serving Pharaoh.
The baker was encouraged by this interpretation. He told Joseph his dream, expecting also to be given good news. To his surprise, Joseph explained that in three days, Pharaoh would execute the baker, and the birds would eat of his flesh.
What did Joseph see in these dreams that led him to offer these differing interpretations? Rav Elchanan Wasserman (1874-1941) explains that Joseph saw a fundamental difference in the two dreams. The butler’s dream was filled with dynamic activity, the baker’s was not. The butler saw himself serving and doing, the baker saw himself passive and at rest. Where there is movement, there is life. Where there is passivity there is death.
Perhaps, this insight sheds light on the opening of the sidra. On the phrase Veyeisheiv Ya’akov, “And Jacob dwelt”, our Sages say that Jacob wanted to dwell in peace, having returned to Israel. Instead, he was beset by the tragedy of the disappearance of Joseph.
Jacob may have thought that he was entitled to peace and tranquility. After all, he had established a family of righteous sons, unlike his father and grandfather. He had endured the travails of living with Laban. He had lost his beloved Rachel. He had put his struggle with his brother, Esau, behind him. What was wrong with yearning for peace and tranquility? Instead, he is given the message that being alive, in this world is to move and to strive. This world, like the butler’s dream, is for movement and for growth, for dynamic life activity. There is plenty of time in the next world for peace and tranquility.
Last Monday morning, I participated in a Sheloshim event in tribute to Rabbi Lord Sacks for Australian Jewry. (The event can be seen here, https://fb.watch/2h25HSidvb/.) Gila Sacks, who also participated, offered an explanation to the famous question as to why we observe Chanukah for eight days when the miracle of the oil was only for seven nights. There was already, oil sufficient for one night. Gila suggested that it was the fact the Jews threw themselves back immediately into the routine of Temple service that constituted a miracle. They did not pause for a holiday, or wait until workmen had deep-cleaned the Temple. They embraced straight away the aspect of Temple service that was available and restarted its daily routine.
Gila observed that this was a quality that her father demonstrated throughout his life. He had been endowed by G-d with remarkable gifts and, during his life, he acquired further talents and skills for himself. But more than this, he always kept going. Whatever the challenges, whatever the circumstances he applied the lesson of the biblical Jacob not to think he could seek tranquility in this world.
May we apply this lesson in our lives and strive to reach our maximum potential.