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Cantor's Comments - Parshat Miketz                                December 19, 2020 - 4 Tevet 5781

12/18/2020 08:06:09 AM


As of Monday, I’ll be taking a couple of weeks off for a COVID-friendly winter stay-cation.  I’m looking forward to spending some down time with my lovely wife who just finished her last exam for her bachelor of social work, and hopefully I’ll get back into some woodworking which has been one of my happy hobbies over the last few years.  This means that this will be my last video d’var torah for the year 2020, and it feels like an appropriate time for a bit of reflection.

2020 has been a rough year that has upended our lives.  No matter what your political views may be, I believe we can all agree that in Canada, we are fortunate that our political leadership has been unified, strong, and cohesive enough to keep relative control of the outbreak, especially compared to some other countries whose names rhyme with Shmamerica.  But even so, 14,000 Canadian COVID-related deaths is certainly no laughing matter.  It’s not a laughing matter that so many have lost their jobs and businesses because of lockdowns and quarantine.  It’s not a laughing matter than children’s education is suffering as both schools and students struggle to adjust to a very different way of learning.  And it’s definitely no laughing matter that not a single household in our entire country has been spared from the rapidly escalating mental health crisis as people deal with being isolated from their friends, family and community.

I also think it’s strange to think about just how long we’ve been doing this for.  For example, it’s been so long that somehow I now have more hair than I’ve ever had in my life, while at the exact same time having less hair than I’ve ever had in my life.  Honestly, though, I feel the magnitude of the pandemic’s impact when I think about the fact that I have two beautiful new nieces that I have not yet met in person, which is only made sadder by the fact that my parents have a nine-month-old granddaughter whom they haven’t met in person.  Jamie and I got married in July of last year, which means that more than 50% of our 18 months of marriage has been spent in quarantine.  Quarantine has defined our marriage, because Jamie and I can honestly say that we barely know what married life is like without quarantine.  Each one of us has our own story about how the year 2020 has redefined our existence.  

This week’s parsha is Mikeitz.  We’ve left ourselves off from last week smack dab in the middle of the story of Joseph.  Last week, we heard about his father, Jacob, giving him his beautiful coat of many colours.  We read about how Joseph behaved like a complete brat about it when he lorded his father’s favour over his brothers, telling them about his dreams where they all bowed down to him.  And of course, we learned about how Joseph was then sold into slavery by his brothers,  after which a false accusation lands him in an Egyptian prison.  It’s a really depressing note to end a story on, but as bad as it seems, it is actually a very natural stopping point in the story.  If you haven’t seen the Andrew Lloyd Weber musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat in a while, or especially if you haven’t seen it yet at all, you can download it and watch a TV version as a great lockdown activity for the family this season.  And if you do, you’ll notice that the exact spot in the Torah narrative that ends last week’s parsha with Joseph in prison is precisely the spot that was chosen for the end of Act I in the Broadway musical, just before the curtain comes down for the intermission.  It was chosen because it’s the big turning point in Joseph’s life.  Before buying the theatre ticket, we’re already supposed to be familiar with the end of the story, which is that Joseph is destined to rise to the 2nd in command position over all of Egypt, next only to the Pharaoh, himself.  So while Joseph sits in prison singing “Close Every Door To Me”, we already know that Joseph’s experience, his leadership skills, his visions, his gift of dream interpreting and listening have all matured, preparing him for his epic rise to power.

As 2020 draws to a close and Toronto continues the lockdown, I see some inspiring parallels between the strange lives we are living today, and what we are reading in the Biblical narrative.  We’re all sitting in prison with Joseph right now, singing right along with him.  But as the lyrics of the song go, “Children of Israel are never alone, ‘cause we know we shall find,our own piece of mind, ‘cause we have been promised a land of our own”.  We’ve come to the turning point.  Although there’s still a long way to go, the vaccines are out and being administered around the world.  As the political pundits and health professionals have been telling us on the news, we’re now at the beginning of the end to the pandemic.  And as we start to see the light at the end of the tunnel, we begin to look at our own narratives in a different way.  As difficult as life has been over the last year, we’ve learned many valuable lessons along the way.  We’ve learned to appreciate things that we used to take for granted like the way we used to spend time with friends and family.  We’ve learned new ways to define and build communities where geographical borders no longer exist. We’ve learned to integrate technology into our lives that will undoubtedly redefine how we live, learn and work forever.  Even as Jamie and I reflect on our quarantine marriage, we wonder if the lessons we’ve learned about communication, respect and cooperation in this strange time are actually lessons that would have been otherwise much harder, and taken much longer to learn.  It’s hard to quantify just how much this year has affected each of our lives.  But I believe that if we remain hopeful that we will come out stronger, if we remember the lessons that 2020 has taught us, and seize this perhaps once in a lifetime opportunity to reboot our lives with some long overdue upgrades, I think that we can all look forward to a beautiful, uplifting and satisfying second act.  Jamie and I wish you all out there a restful winter vacation, and we look forward to reconnecting with you all again in the new year.

Shabbat Shalom

Mon, July 4 2022 5 Tammuz 5782