I am going to start this week with an apology. I am about to make a fair number of people feel very old. This year marks 24 years since I became a Bar Mitzvah. There is one congregant in particular who regularly comments that I’m too young to be the Executive Director and is upset he didn’t get an invite to the Bar Mitzvah. Of course a lot of things have changed since I chanted from the bima on that late November afternoon. I got an amazing Torah portion and one of the greatest Haftorahs to present. But I remember one of the hardest things for thirteen-year-old Danny was trying to figure out how to craft a D’var Torah. The majority of the emphasis was on being prepared to chant both Torah and Haftorah. There were also some mitzvah projects we had to complete on our own and hand in signed documents proving we did what we said we did. But no one from the synagogue took time to help me understand what I was reading or craft the lesson I was going to be sharing that afternoon. My mom eventually enlisted our neighbor, a former ad man and jingle writer, to spend some time with me developing the lesson. As I recall, we wrote in rhyme about the Haftorah, which involved Solomon and the episode of two women claiming to each be the mother of one child. In retrospect I wish I would have pushed myself to learn more about the portions, but that’s one of the nice things about Torah, you can go back as much as you want and take away as much as you can.
I mentioned earlier that I was blessed with a great Torah portion and my personal favorite Haftorah. For the sake of time, I want to quickly summarize. In this week’s Torah portion, Mikeitz, we begin with Joseph still imprisoned. Pharaoh has two dreams, one about seven healthy cows which are eventually eaten by seven sickly cows, and one dream about seven healthy ears of grain which were eaten up by seven thin ears of grain. Pharaoh troubled by these visions calls out for soothsayers and sages but no one can interpret the dreams. Then the butler spoke to the Pharaoh about Joseph and Joseph was immediately sent for. As you probably know, Joseph interprets the dreams, saying Egypt will experience seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine. He continues to advise Pharaoh on a solution to this dilemma. Amazed with Joseph and his abilities, Pharaoh appoints him to be his second in command. The seven years of plenty came and went and famine entered the land. Jacob sent all of his sons but Benjamin to buy food in Egypt. Jacob was afraid that an accident might befall his youngest son. Upon seeing his brothers, Joseph declares they are spies and forces them to return to Jacob to retrieve Benjamin. Jacob does not want to send his youngest son, but he knows the famine is too challenging to face so he sends his sons, along with Benjamin, back to Egypt. Joseph holds a feast upon their return but sneaks a silver goblet into Benjamin’s pack in order to continue with his master plan. The next day Joseph’s servants confront the brothers about the “stolen” goblet and find it in Benjamin’s pack. He now must stay as a slave and Joseph sends his brothers back to Jacob without Benjamin.
I find it interesting that in this parsha Joseph had the audacity to advise Pharaoh on dealing with the impending famine. The only thing Pharaoh asked Joseph to do was to interpret his dreams for him. Most people standing before a king would only do what he or she was told, and nothing more. It is a unique person who identifies a problem and who also has the courage to actually come up with a solution and verbalize it.
There’s so much to do, fix, and change in the world and there certainly isn’t a shortage of people who can point out all of the problems that exist. They’re only too excited to share their negative thoughts with anyone who’ll listen. But how many of these people will just as eagerly and readily offer up solutions? The tendency to be problem-oriented and not solution-oriented usually parallels our own lives. It’s not that we proactively choose to focus on negative things (although a lot of people do just that), but negativity and problems are just the default thoughts for our brain.
I remember a spirituality class I took when studying in Israel and the rabbi there likened our minds to a garden – whatever seed you plant in a garden, that seed will grow. But if you don’t plant anything in the garden, then weeds grow in abundance. Our minds work the same way. Absent of our thinking of productive thoughts, our minds will naturally drift toward something negative and unproductive. People who are moving and growing tend to have many positive and productive thoughts while those who are stuck and not moving will usually focus only on negative thoughts.
There’s a surefire way to instantly rid yourself of negative, unproductive, and unhealthy thoughts. Since our brain is capable of having only one thought at a time, focus on a positive future, be action-minded, and work each day toward meaningful objectives. We live in a world where people love to point out all the things that are wrong. Be that rare person who offers up concrete answers and will even commit to being a part of the solution. This can easily be achieved once you plant productive seeds in your mind which are then certain to yield a large and full crop of productive and happy thoughts. And this will make you want to go out there and change the world.
Happy Chanukah and Shabbat Shalom!