Monday, December 21, 2009

Find the Light in the Night
Blog for Parshat Miketz, performed at 14th Street Y in NYC
by Jon Adam Ross

There was a moment at the beginning of our show, Field of Dreams, when I knew that our audience was fully engaged and ready to go on a journey with us. I was playing ‘Grandpa Judah Maccabee’ and I couldn’t find my hammer (of course it was sticking out of my back pocket). Now as I was spinning around the stage looking for my hammer, many children and adults in the audience started shouting for me to look in my back pocket. One enthusiastic child felt it was his responsibility to grab the hammer out of my pocket and give it to me. It was a kind gesture. But then he wouldn’t let go. For about five minutes, every time I held up the hammer, the little boy would run up to the performance space, and grab the hammer back from me – just as a reminder, I suppose, of who the hero in the audience that found the hammer in the first place really was. Chanukah is a holiday all about heroism; we tell many stories about the bravery of the Maccabees. And yet, I had never made a connection in my head between the Chanukah story and the corresponding narrative in the Torah that we read this week during our festival of lights. But that name for Chanukah, the ‘festival of lights,’ holds the clue.

In Miketz, we hear about Pharaoh’s bad dreams – the ones about the 7 fat cows and the 7 skinny cows, etc. And we hear the tale of how Pharaoh cannot find anyone to satisfactorily translate his dreams into actionable intelligence; that is, until he meets Joseph. Joseph (played in our show by the multi-talented Jewish rock star ShirLaLa - founding company member Shira Kline) not only translates Pharaoh’s dreams for him but gives Pharaoh the gift of en'light'enment. For so long Pharaoh has been unable to sleep through the night – his dark nightmares cursing him to lie awake in bed – staring into even more darkness (not an uplifting situation). But Joseph reveals that 7 years of plenty are on the way, followed by 7 years of famine. And that if Pharaoh can devise a way to take the plenty and make it last 7 more years (kind of like getting oil for a lamp to last 7 more days), then all will be well. A long time ago our ancestors were living through a dark situation themselves: the first winter. It was getting darker and darker as the days were getting shorter, so our ancestors lit a candle, and the next night another candle. For eight whole nights this went on. And they weren’t scared anymore. We can go back even further to God’s first words in the Torah: “Let there be light!” There was only darkness before and God created light to fill the void. Joseph gave that light to Pharaoh, to save all the people in Egypt and the entire region (including his own family). Each time I have the privilege of performing as a Storahtelling maven, I feel that I am being put in Joseph’s position. Just as Joseph translated Pharaoh’s dreams, so I translate the Torah, shedding light on a story that may otherwise seem to dwell in a dark, faraway place that has no relevance or bearing on our lives today. But that sharing of light can happen in our everyday lives too. We ended our show this past Shabbat afternoon by asking people to think about how they might share their light – what wishes they would make on the candlelight of the Chanukah menorah. We have a few more months of winter ahead of us, but hopefully, we can find that light inside ourselves, the light that Joseph shared with Pharaoh, that our ancestors used to scare away the dark, and that God first granted on our new world. As we say goodbye to 2009 and hello to 2010, may we all find and share the light that dwells within each of us.

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