The name of this week's Torah portion, Miketz, means "the end." It refers to the end of a two-year period of time after the release of one of Pharaoh's servants. This manumission had been predicted by Yosef (Joseph), one of the twelve sons of Yaakov (Jacob), who was destined to become not only the Viceroy of Egypt but also the leader of the Children of Israel.
At the end of these two years, Pharaoh, the leader of Egypt, dreams some scenes that trouble him, and his servant remembers the correct interpretation to a dream given by Yosef two years earlier. He recommends that Yosef be called upon to interpret Pharaoh's dream, which resulted in the prediction of seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine in Egypt. The famine caused the Children of Israel to travel to Egypt for food, where the entire family eventually is reunited with Yosef, and their period of sojourn in the land of Egypt begins. This would be the prelude to their subsequent slavery in Egypt which would be followed by their freedom from Egypt at the time of the Exodus. This whole chain of events begins with Pharaoh's dreams in this week's portion.
It is strange that the portion is called "the end," especially since this reading actually introduces the beginning of the Israelite experience in Egypt. I believe that this juxtaposition actually teaches us an important lesson.
Life is a series of beginnings and endings, ups and downs, peaks and valleys. When things are very dark and dreary and we think that we are nearing the end, often there is a ray of light that shines forth and a new beginning emerges. Yosef was stuck in a prison for two years after he had predicted the freedom of Pharaoh's servant, and his hope that he immediately would be liberated gave way to bleak disillusionment. When Yosef least expected it, Pharaoh has a dream, and the opportunity for Yosef's freedom ensues. What he thought was an end--would be the beginning of the process leading to the Exodus from Egypt and God's Revelation of the Torah on Mt. Sinai.
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In a sense, "the end" has come to the Rabbinic Cabinet, as presently constituted, at the United Jewish Communities. With the reorganization of UJC into four pillars, the Rabbinic Cabinet, which had been an independent constituency servicing rabbis, now becomes part of the larger Jewish Renaissance and Renewal Pillar. Within this Pillar, the rabbinate will work with a wider group of professionals and lay leaders seeking to serve the spiritual needs of the American Jewish community. As such, my position as Director of the Rabbinic Cabinet comes to an end, too, since the responsibilities of the Cabinet will be assumed by the staff of the Renaissance and Renewal Pillar. Therefore, this is my last Shabbat Message, since these changes will take place with the new calendar year.
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For some seven years, since UJA first introduced its computer linkup, while I was a neophyte as regards the use of computers, I immediately sensed that this would be a wonderful way by which to communicate with all of our staff and share with them some spiritual and meaningful lessons of our faith as regards our work. On the first Erev Shabbat after we all had our computers, I sent off a Shabbat message to our staff, hoping that they would appreciate the importance of the "J" for Jewish in our name, United Jewish Appeal. No doubt to the chagrin of some, I was the first to master this ability to send regular messages far and wide, even while I still needed help with the technical aspects. I was impressed and thankful that these weekly messages took on a life of their own, so that when I would be out of town, I would receive complaints as to why that Sabbath's message and lesson was skipped. I thereafter made sure that every Shabbat would be accounted for, even if I was on military duty or vacation.
I was especially grateful for what would happen shortly after our move to our new site at 111 Eighth Avenue, two and a half years ago. Within a month, my computer, along with a few others, was stolen, and with it--every single Shabbat Message of the previous years up to then which had been on my hard drive. I not only learned then about the importance of backing up files, but also began to appreciate the fact that other staff members had saved at least a year to two years of my Messages for their own educational enhancement, and there was a sense of personal satisfaction in knowing that they were being referenced and utilized.
Ultimately, it is to you--UJC's dedicated staff and the other readers of these Messages--to whom I am most thankful. Your favorable comments and encouragement gave me the impetus to continue these weekly missives--especially the weekly reply that I always received from one of our Gentile secretaries, Pandora Robinson--"Thanks, Rabbs"! Your constructive criticism and disagreements also were most appreciated, as they gave us the opportunity to further explore points that had been raised. I have been overwhelmed by the way these Messages, initially intended for just the UJA staff, have been so widely disseminated, and even found a home on UJC's web page a few years ago.
Our Rabbis derive from a verse in the Book of Exodus: "This is my God and I will glorify Him," that there is a special honor in doing mitzvot in a beautiful and pleasant manner so as to glorify the Almighty. In this vein, I especially want to thank Richard Klein for not only sharing these Shabbat Messages with UJC's Network of Independent Communities, but also for preparing the beautiful text and design that recently have been introducing and concluding each Message--so that they could be esthetically appealing, too. If my content was not always the best, at least the presentation was beautiful!
While I shall be maintaining my office, e-mail and phone at UJC for a few months to assist in the transition of the Rabbinic Cabinet to the Jewish Renaissance and Renewal Pillar, I pray that this end and change for the Rabbinic Cabinet (and for myself) will be the beginning of a new and better future.
May the Almighty bless all of our endeavors with success, and may His teachings infuse all of our activities with meaning and purpose, Amen.
Since I came to UJA over twelve years ago, every Erev Shabbat I have tried to visit each staff member at our National office to extend a personal Shabbat Shalom. Therefore, in a very personal way, I hope that this greeting will accompany all of you on this and all future Sabbaths: Shabbat Shalom Umevorach -- a peaceful and blessed Sabbath.