This Shabbat coincides with the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. A few days later we will begin kindling Hanukkah candles, increasing the light each night, just as the sun’s illumination grows during the day. This is an expression of both trust and hope—we know that the winter will end and that spring and summer will again come in their turn.
If only that were true in our own individual lives. All of us experience times we might describe as dark, but we do not always believe that they will end. The biblical story of Joseph can be understood as addressing this issue. In this week’s Torah portion, he is literally thrown into a pit by his brothers, an apt metaphor for the depths of despair. It is only through a combination of sustained effort and luck that he eventually emerges.
In Joseph’s case we know how the story concludes but when faced with our own struggles, it may be hard to be optimistic. Our Jewish tradition can be a source of support in several ways. One is the spiritual sustenance that comes from the message of the Hanukkah candles—that there is a cycle in which light always comes after darkness. In reflecting on the story of Joseph and our other biblical ancestors we may feel less alone in knowing that others have faced adversity as well and were able to grow as a result. On a practical level, we are blessed with our synagogue community where we can always find connection and others to share our pains as well as our joys.
In this season of growing light, I hope that we may all, like Joseph, find our path opening to increasing strength and wisdom.
–Rabbi Drorah Setel