Saturday, November 23, 2013

Parashat Vayeishev – Talking to G-d

Once I was at the hairdresser with my mother. I don’t remember exactly when, but given that I haven’t gone to a “hairdresser” in years, I had to have been somewhere between 16 and 20. As the hairdresser was doing my hair, she and my mom were talking about religion. I was quiet so that I would remain still while my precious hair was under the scissors. At some point in the conversation, my mother told the hairdresser that I talked to G-d. The hairdresser said, “Well, I think we can all talk to G-d if we open up our hearts.” True. My mother responded, something to the effect of, “No, I think Elizabeth converses with G-d and knows more than she tells us.” Not true. I remained silent and never addressed this with my mom, until very recently. By now, she had forgotten about it and just kind of laughed it off, didn’t know what she had been thinking. I will never know where she got that idea from, or how long she held that belief about me.
Often in the Torah we do see one-on-one conversations between G-d and people. G-d spoke to our patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and when we get to Exodus we’ll see G-d speaking to Moses, too. But G-d does not speak to Joseph. Perhaps Joseph speaks to G-d, though. The first mention of G-d in Joseph’s story is in chapter 39 of Genesis, when the Torah says, “Now Joseph had been brought down to Egypt, and Potiphar, Pharaoh's chamberlain, chief of the slaughterers, an Egyptian man, purchased him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him down there. The Lord was with Joseph, and he was a successful man, and he was in the house of his Egyptian master. And his master saw that the Lord was with him, and whatever he (Joseph) did the Lord made prosper in his hand.” The Tanhuma, a book of additional stories and commentaries on the Torah, adds that “the Lord was with him” means “the name of heaven was frequently in his mouth.”
Though the Lord is with him in Potiphar’s house, Joseph still ends up getting thrown in jail. But there, too, the Torah says, “the Lord is with him”. When in prison, he interprets the dreams of the royal cupbearer and baker, and he attributes the interpretations to G-d. But again, we are never shown G-d speaking to Joseph the way G-d did with Joseph’s father and grandfather and great grandfather, G-d never explicitly whispers dream meanings into Joseph’s ear. While, Abraham and Noah can be (and sometimes are) credited with being the world’s first faithful, because when G-d tells them to do something, they do it, no questions asked, I think Joseph’s faith can be a lot more meaningful to us in our modern day, when we know G-d does not speak to us the way G-d spoke to Noah and Abraham. As the hairdresser said, we can all talk to G-d if we just open up our hearts, we can have the kind of relationship Joseph has with G-d.
Like Joseph, we all have G-d-given talents. Like Joseph, those talents may not always be so easy to use or to get by with. They come with hardships; they don’t always make us popular or rich, or at least not right away. But when times are hard, even if it feels like G-d is not with you, if it feels like G-d has not made you to be perfect, if you are wondering why you keep doing something or feeling something or wanting something that does not seem to be beneficial to you now, do not stop dreaming. Do not stop talking to G-d. Joseph was unlucky at first. But he never lost faith. He believed in who he was and he believed that G-d was with him. Eventually his luck changed, and still he believed that G-d was with him all along. There is great comfort in talking to G-d, even if G-d never directly answers us. In life, there are hard times, when even our best traits will feel useless, but if you “think it, want it, dream it,” as Joseph did, “then it’s real. You are what you feel.” May you all find yourselves always open to a one-sided chat with G-d, may those chats give you comfort and strength in who you are, and may your dreams come true. Amen and Shabbat Shalom.

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