Dvar Torah - Myfanwy Greene - 21 December 2016
Welcome! Family, friends and congregants of the Synagogue who happened to find themselves here on this very magical Shabbat. I am so glad that so many of you could make it, especially from afar.
I am Myfanwy Greene and I have been coming to Synagogue every Saturday for the past 7 years of my life. Some days I did not want to go. But standing here today, I'm very glad I did.
Today I will be reading Parasha Miketz. A Parasha is a potion of the Torah and we read one every week. The Parasha Miketz is from the book of Genesis and is about Joseph interpreting Pharaoh's dreams, saving Egypt from famine and meeting his brothers. Miketz means 'at the end of' and it is the last story about Joseph; Dream Interpreter, Boy Wonder, Technicolor Fashionista.
I would like to quote an idea about Joseph, written in another Miketz Dvar, by our own Josie Kinchin, Honorary Secretary of our Synagogue. It says, ”Joseph is the first civilian appointed to a position of authority based solely on his merits. Not inheritance. Not brute force. Simply and clearly on merit.” Sadly for Josie, I disagree. (But her Dvar was amazing, by the way.)
He was appointed on merit. But not solely on merit. Oh no. Joseph is witty and sly; he knows how to get his way, thanks to his father Jacob. Joseph was very spoiled as a child by Jacob. Jacob openly favoured Joseph and constantly fussed over him, ignoring his 11 other sons. Now I think about it, that is probably why his other brothers threw him into a pit and sold him as a slave to some Ishmaelites. Yeah.
In my Parasha, Joseph helpfully volunteers himself for the job of preparing Egypt for 7 years of famine. He tells Pharaoh, 'You must now select a person who is sensible and wise, and set them over the land of Egypt.' In my eyes, I see a young man anticipating the chance to become omnipotent. This may not be a bad thing. Joseph clearly is an intelligent person and shows good strategic thinking.
Joseph does his job well, and for the first 7 years prepares Egypt thoroughly. However, when the famine arrives, Joseph's starving family come from the neighbouring land of Canaan begging for food. Joseph does not reveal his true identity, toying with them, and making it more and more difficult for them to receive food.
Some Rabbis say that he was merely testing his brothers. Would they treat him with more respect? Was it safe to reveal himself to them? However, I think that his real motivation was revenge. Joseph was thrown in a pit and then sold as a slave. By his own brothers.
The Torah is showing us that sometimes power can be abused. Do not say, “I will do to her as she has done to me” (Proverbs Chapter 24: Verse 29). Joseph is not only good, nor only bad. Nobody is perfect.
I am reading my Parasha from a Czech scroll. These scrolls are very special and have an amazing life story. The Czech scrolls were taken by the Nazis from Jewish communities all over Czechoslovakia in the Second World War. They were treated scornfully and with the utmost disrespect, thrown into warehouses by the hundreds. Luckily, the 1,564 scrolls were rescued and restored in 1964 by Ralph Yablon of Westminster Synagogue and then loaned out to Jewish communities all over the world.Why did I choose a Czech scroll to read from? Two reasons. The first reason is that I think that they are very inspiring and I believe that their wonderful story should be remembered and appreciated. Secondly, my parents met in Prague so, if they hadn't been in the right place at the right time, I wouldn't exist.
My family has quite a relaxed attitude towards Judaism but it’s really important to us that we keep the tradition and I feel very Jewish. For me, being a Jew has really helped me overcome some difficult times. Knowing I am different from all my classmates makes me feel unique, confident in who I am and strong.
I am half English (my Mum) and half American (my Dad). Having a Bat Mitzvah was important to me because I wanted to find out more about my Jewish identity and heritage. I have never experienced the Orthodox side of Judaism so I can't really relate to any difference between this and Progressive Judaism, which I am very comfortable with.
The English side of my family are not Jewish but my Mum teaches in a Jewish primary school and was happy to bring her children up in a Jewish environment, luckily for me...! We all celebrate the holidays together, and often have homemade Challah on Shabbat, made by the Reception class!
I wanted to have a Bat Mitzvah because it was going to be another challenge to work on and have a lovely celebration with all my friends and family at the end. I wanted to learn more Hebrew, because it is very interesting and I love learning languages.
My grandparents have influenced me very much. Yet, I know that a Jewish childhood in 1950s Illinois and Michigan would have been very very different to Finchley in 2016. However, we still have a strong and meaningful connection. When my grandparents celebrate the festivals at their house with us we always have two seders and act out the parts from the Haggadah for Pesach. It feels so special to take part in it with them and means a lot.
The two particular themes that shone out at me while I was studying this portion were 'Dreams' ,and 'Plenty and Famine'. I found both of these themes really interesting because I could relate to them easily in our modern world.
To start off with, dreams. What is a dream? Is it a hope, something you wish for in the future? Or is it just something that you look forward to when you lie down in bed at night, anticipating it to be a good one?
The scientific study of dreams is called oneirology. A dream is a series of thoughts, images, and sensations occurring in a person's mind during sleep, usually a mixture of memories, experiences and thoughts of the past days or weeks.
In my Parasha the interpretations of Pharaoh's dreams turn out to be very important for the Land of Egypt because if Joseph didn't interpret Pharaoh's dreams correctly then Egypt would have starved.
Do you think dreams are as important now as they would have been thousands of years ago?
Martin Luther King Jr famously stated, “I have a dream”. However, dreams are not always the remnants of a day's work being filed and filtered in the brain. Sometimes, they are wishes, hopes for the future. Desires and aspirations are what keep us all strong in life. If we had never had those desires, we would not be where we all are today. If you hadn't had the courage to ask, you would never had the courage to make mistakes. If you hadn't had the courage to make mistakes, you would never have learnt. I decided to take a walk into the depths of my Jewish identity and I have come out the other side, knowing I am now a mature young adult, ready to make even more mistakes.
On my Bat Mitzvah as well as learning Torah and Jewish tradition I also wanted to look to the future. Being Jewish was, to me, about making a difference. I wanted to make that connection between the themes of my portion and a special charity that means a lot to me.
I chose the charity Medecins Sans Frontieres, Doctors without Borders in English. I chose to support this amazing charity because I believe that they go above and beyond, working in the harshest and most dangerous places on Earth, treating people in need. MSF works in over sixty countries where medical care is needed most.
This links to my Parasha because of the themes Plenty and Famine. Joseph manages to turn the famine of the land around to help the people of Egypt in times of need by using his knowledge.
Joseph, the Czech scrolls and I are all connected. We all came on an unlikely journey, filled with ups and downs to get to where we are now. Joseph ended up as second in charge of Egypt. The scrolls travelled thousands of miles to get to Westminster to be restored. And eventually, here, to Finchley Progressive Synagogue. And I, ended up in this community too. I am extremely grateful that I did. Shabbat Shalom!