Community Rabbi Corner, Dec. 11, 2020

Rabbi Rachel Ain
Sutton Place Synagogue
New York, NY
Parashat Vayashev

The Importance of Hope: Lessons from our Ancestors
When I was a child, the miracle of Chanukah was the miracle of the oil - that after the war, the Jews went back into the destroyed Temple to find one cruse of oil that they wanted to light, even if it would only last for a day. Miraculously the oil lasted for 8 days, and this is one of the explanations of why we light the menorah and celebrate the holiday for 8 days. Why is this the story that we share with our families?
I believe that there is a sense of timelessness to it. The fact that the Jews could light the oil, even if there was just a little left, demonstrates a sense of hope and optimism. Even though they had won the battle, they might have assumed that the light couldn’t have been lit and they could have just walked away. What do we learn from this model and a model in our parasha of having faith in the face of potential despair?
In Vayeshev, we begin to see that in the face of despair, the ability to hold out similar optimism will do a person well throughout life.
This week we are introduced to Joseph, the eternal optimist. Joseph tells his brothers that they will all bow down to him, and they throw him in a pit where he ends up enslaved in Potiphar’s house, a rich Egyptian. But this part of his narrative doesn’t end well either. Joseph quickly falls back down again, as he is falsely accused of sexual harassment by Potiphar’s wife. Potiphar throws Joseph in jail for years. The Lord was with him, and the chief jailer put Joseph in charge of all of the other prisoners. How was it that Joseph could maintain a sense of optimism, a hope for a miracle, in a time of despair, and how can we maintain a sense of optimism, a hope for a miracle, in a time of despair?
In the world today, many might say that there is no reason to look up and see any sense of hope. There is no question that this year in particular has been particularly hard for all of us. But I do believe in the scientists and doctors who are bringing us the oil of our day, a vaccine, that can help us continue to tell our story. It won’t all happen in one night. It will take faith, patience, partnership, and collaboration. And it will take optimism that tomorrow can be better than today. 
Joseph could have said, enough already, but he didn’t say that. In fact, he kept looking up. Like the flames of the candles, which increase night after night, optimism prevailed, dreams came true, and hope restored.
As we celebrate the miracle of Chanukah, may each of us be blessed with a sense of hope and optimism, dreams to strive for, and maybe even miracles that we can recognize in our day.