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Torah Commentary
Mikeitz (December 24, 2011)

Rachel Brumberg, Assistant Director of Lifelong Learning

THE THING ABOUT Torah study I find so exciting is that this text which has been a central part of our people’s existence for thousands of years still has relevance today. The fun part is finding out what speaks to you as you read it from your current perspective; it’s difficult not to be influenced by what is going on around you at work, at home or in the greater world as you read a particular section. In this manner, each time you read a section — the same section — new meaning can be found, and there’s always something different to find imbedded in the text.

In this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Mikeitz, we read about Pharaoh’s two dreams: one about fat and scrawny cows, the other about healthy and scorched grains. Joseph then is summoned to interpret these dreams and in so doing goes from being a forgotten prisoner to becoming Egypt’s second in command. Only Joseph was able to see that Pharaoh’s dreams were a foretelling of what would come to be in Egypt: seven years of food abundance followed by seven years of famine. Joseph goes on to tell Pharaoh that he needs to appoint someone to oversee the food storage and distribution processes during this time. In response, Pharaoh immediately identifies Joseph as the only person with the ability to control the situation so that no one in Egypt goes hungry during this predicted famine.

Reading this week’s portion, I saw a connection between this story and what has been going on in the Religious School. The A-TEEM (our Religious School internship program for high school students) has been presenting information to our students about City Harvest, our current tzedakah recipient organization chosen recently by our Student Council. During these presentations, the teens explained to our students about City Harvest’s mission to end hunger in New York City through innovative programs such as rescuing food. Similar to Joseph who had the vision to store extra food so that people would not go hungry when food was scarce, City Harvest has created a system where restaurants can donate their surplus to those who are lacking; much of the food that City Harvest receives is obtained by “rescuing” food that otherwise would go to waste. I learned from the A-TEEM that 14 percent of New Yorkers are “food insecure” — meaning that these people, who are probably not homeless, lack the money (and therefore the security) to ensure that they have food for every meal. To help with these issues, in addition to providing food, City Harvest has created many educational programs to teach people how to make healthy choices about nutrition, particularly if they have limited funds available to buy food.

A country facing threat of famine definitely could be defined as “food insecure.” It struck me that the leadership and vision shown by Joseph in creating a countrywide infrastructure in which to deal with regulating food usage and prevent famine is similar to the way that City Harvest operates as they work to eradicate hunger. Both systems are based on equalizing the gap between too much and too little in a way that allows all to get what they need and ensures that nothing is wasted.

Educating the public about the current situation is required in order for success in each case. Furthermore, both scenarios can exist only thanks to a small minority stepping up and responding to a need that initially is seen by few but will wind up benefiting the masses. This group must have both the ability to determine the solution as well as the skills required to implement it. Joseph was successful in doing exactly this; no one needed to go hungry under his watch. We only can hope that City Harvest, with a little help from Emanu-El’s Religious School tzedakah collection, will soon be successful in achieving its similar goal.


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