Joseph's Grain, Chanukah Oil, and Your Support

As Parashat Miketz opens, Pharaoh is troubled by two dreams he has dreamt back-to-back: one about 14 cows (seven handsome and sturdy ones, and seven ugly and gaunt ones) and another about 14 ears of grain (seven solid and healthy ones, and seven that are thin and scorched). Joseph is called up from prison to interpret these, and he quickly surmises that "Pharaoh's dreams are one and the same" (Gen. 41:25).

As Parashat Miketz opens, Pharaoh is troubled by two dreams he has dreamt back-to-back: one about 14 cows (seven handsome and sturdy ones, and seven ugly and gaunt ones) and another about 14 ears of grain (seven solid and healthy ones, and seven that are thin and scorched). Joseph is called up from prison to interpret these, and he quickly surmises that "Pharaoh's dreams are one and the same" (Gen. 41:25).

Based on Joseph's interpretation -- that there will be seven years of abundance followed by seven years of famine -- Joseph institutes a national plan to conserve resources, storing up grain during the years of plenty so that it will last during the coming years of scarcity. Joseph's policy is both sensible and effective. Pharaoh calls Joseph an "ish asher ruach elohim bo," "a man in whom is the spirit of God" and exclaims "ein navon v'chacham kamocha," "there is none so discerning and wise as you" (Gen. 41:38-39); later Jewish tradition holds up the Joseph narrative as an example of Wisdom literature, pairing this week's Torah portion with a haftorah about Solomon's great wisdom in judgment (I Kings 3:15-4:1).

Joseph's brilliance lies, at least in part, in his ability to stretch resources during a time of scarcity. This feels somewhat parallel to the essence of the Chanukah story, as explained in the Talmud (BT Shabbat 21b): “that when the Hasmoneans entered the desecrated Temple, they searched and found only one small cruse of oil, sufficient to light the menorah for a day; and yet, the menorah was kindled from this oil for eight days.”

Of course, the two stories aren't completely identical. In Parashat Miketz, Joseph attributes his dream interpretation abilities to God, but manages to implement policy on a decidedly human level, whereas in the Chanukah story, the oil that lasts for eight nights is deemed a supernatural miracle. Still, both of these stories -- and really, the overarching theme of making resources last -- ring true when I think about Kavana's experience of the past year.

On an organizational level, Kavana has long tried to emulate Joseph's wisdom. For at least the past seven years (maybe more), our board has been working slowly and steadily to build up healthy operational reserves (a "rainy day fund") so that our non-profit organization would have the capacity to weather whatever famine might come someday. During 2020 and 2021, that famine came in the form of the Covid-19 pandemic and all its accompanying hardships; fortunately, we were prepared and had the resources we needed to make it through.

On a spiritual and communal level, the Chanukah story also resonates deeply. This year has been filled with challenges and constraints, but our community has managed to make the most of it. During 2021, Kavana deepened focus on meeting people’s core needs for communal, emotional, and spiritual support. And when we did find ways to come together -- in virtual space, in backyards and parks, through our powerful High Holiday experiences, etc. -- it felt so good that it was almost magical!! Our small amount of oil shouldn’t have sustained us through this challenging year, and yet, somehow, it did… and also left us feeling elevated. This feels like its own miracle!

As we close out 2021 and begin to turn our attention to 2022, not only is Kavana’s oil still burning, but we are also ready to rededicate, build and grow our community. Right now, we are working to expand our staff team by hiring a second rabbi and (soon) also an education director. We have an ambitious vision for a coming year filled with more communal gatherings, more Jewish learning, deeper social justice commitments, and more community connections and partnerships. We are also delighted to be embarking on a 2-year program with Project Accelerate, which supports Jewish non-profits in building organizational capacity. On all of these fronts, Kavana enters the new year with a sense of excitement and possibility!

This is where you come in. First, we want to thank you for providing us the resources we have needed to make it through this past year -- the grain and the oil. These have fueled our community, and we are deeply grateful!

Second, here's the ask: At this exciting moment of possibility and renewal, will you be part of our rededication project? Year-end gifts from our Kavana partners, participants, friends and family help us make our budget each year. Your gift of grain or your cruse of oil, whatever the size, will go such a long way this year in helping us continue to build an innovative, model Jewish cooperative that focuses on creating meaningful Jewish life, developing positive identity, and providing the kind of support we all need on our life journeys. (As always, we welcome donations online at kavana.org/support or by mail to Kavana, PO Box 19666, Seattle, WA 98109. Kavana is also set up to receive gifts of stock and/or corporate matches from many companies; please contact us if you need help setting any kind of donation in motion.)

Thank you for being part of our miracle! Thank you for helping Kavana fully embrace Joseph's spirit of being both a dreamer and a planner! And, we hope to see you very soon... perhaps even online tonight as we welcome the Shabbat of Chanukah together with Traci Marx.

Happy Chanukah and Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Rachel Nussbaum