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Studying Vayeshev on the First Night of Hanukah

By Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb

Shabbat Vayeshev precedes Hanukah. Our attention this Shabbat will be on the upcoming festival, and hopefully on the unfolding climate talks as well.  This Shabbat, at synagogue or in your home, read this powerful poetic prayer from Yaira Robinson (a Jewish activist with Texas Interfaith Power and Light who’s in Paris now with our own Liya): “Climate Prayer for This Shabbat.” 

For any of the coming Shabbatot, utilize the intense and accessible six-page Torah studyHuman Rights and Climate Change” from Truah.org, linking the famine of Joseph’s Egypt to the famines exacerbated today by our own greenhouse gas emissions. 

The Shabbatot before and during Hannukah open the multi-week Joseph story.  In Vayeshev, our hero bursts onto the scene with great hubris, is cast into a pit, and rises impressively, only to be unjustly imprisoned. In Miketz, his ability to humbly interpret dreams yields long-term thinking, and saves the day. 

This Shabbat (Dec. 4-5), we leave him in a cliffhanger, chastened, forgotten in the dungeon — yet we know that with his growing humility (as he ascribes his abilities not to himself but to God), we will witness not only his deliverance, but that of his country, and of his people. 

Likewise, our collective hubris, the sense that we can extract and pollute and dispose without limit, got us into this climate mess.  The adverse impacts of this hubris are already upon us, and they’ll get far worse before they get better.  True humility is the answer:  willingness to redirect real resources toward sustainability, and to curb our consumption and our carbon, for the sake of current and future humans, and the rest of Creation.  And as it did in Joseph’s time, this true humility will lead to our redemption, too.  

May our humility, our repentance, our commitment, be enduring – and may it be echoed among the negotiators in Paris this week, who have nothing less than the future of our children in their humble hands. 

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