Thursday, 14 Dec 2017

Written by Peter Luijendijk

“And now, the end is near
And so I face the final curtain”
Frank Sinatra

 

We all have experienced it at least once in our lives – a noisy neighbour. Before my husband and I moved from The Netherlands to the United Kingdom we lived in a relatively well-insulated, new house. Here in London, much is different. Houses aren’t new (and if they are, they are unaffordable) and aren’t well insulated.

I sometimes complain that we are living in a cardboard box. We can hear everything that happens on the street, and, while I am writing this piece, I am annoyed that I can hear my upstairs neighbour walking up and down his room for the last two hours (non stop).

This week’s Parashah is called Miketz – at the end (or from the end). Although I find myself thinking out loud: “when does this noise end?”, similarly we have to be aware that all ends are simultaneously new beginnings. Our Parashah starts with the words: “at the end”. But it isn’t the end, on the contrary. Pharaoh has a dream, and he finds out that Joseph is able to read dreams. After a successful interpretation by Joseph, Pharaoh grants him a prestigious position at his court. He even marries Potiphar’s daughter (speaking about an upside).

In Joseph’s newly found beginning (which started at the end of his turmoil) he is contemplating what to do next. What would be the right thing to do? Joseph’s actions might come across a little peculiar, especially given Joseph’s history (his actions were proven as a whole not to be very favourable). He decides to trick his brothers and to exact a little “pay back”. The roles are reversed now. The story of Joseph started with famine and poverty and ends with plenty and richness. Joseph started as victim, but he turns the roles around and is victorious over his brothers (whatever we may think of this).

I am definitely not suggesting that this is what we ought to do. I don’t believe in retaliation. Not even when a noisy neighbour keeps me up until late at night.

Instead I would like to offer something else. Frank Sinatra once sang: “And now, the end is near, and so I face the final curtain”. From our tradition we know that this is not the case, as the above example shows us. As Jews we learn that everything is cyclic, we even apply this principle to our prayer services. Everything is a unit with an ostensible beginning and end, but simultaneously carried by an overarching unit of something which is bigger. This idea that everything is part of a chain of events, to which there is no end, can also be very difficult to live with.

Being confronted with bereavement, the loss of a job you really loved, separation, divorce, (mental) health issues. All sorts of things that causes us to just focus on the end. The story of Joseph is telling us that we are NOT facing the final curtain, it is just a curtain, we can move it aside and move towards the next curtain.

In this period of the year it is generally more difficult to wake up and to remove the “sleep from [our] eyes and slumber from our eyelids”.[1] But as Hanukkah is upon us, as we are enjoying the lights of our special menorah designated for this holiday, let that be a reminder that also this will pass. Winter is not the end of summer, winter too will pas – making way for summer yet again. It’s not an end of the year it is simultaneously the beginning of a new one. Endings and beginnings are tied tight together, they live in the same house. Even though endings can be like noisy neighbours that keep us awake at night. We shouldn’t retaliate by stamping our feet and let it control us. Rather we should look for a way, comfortable for each and every one of us, to be able to deal with it.

Maybe, as I kindle my Hanukkiah this week, I will stare at its flames and contemplate on all the wonderful things I left behind and on all the wonderful things I am building up. Just like Abraham I left my hometown, my country, in order to settle in a new land. Just like Joseph I acquired new friends and found my dreams coming true. As we are moving towards the end of Genesis we also know that this is not the end.

Our Parashah started with Miketz, from the end, and unfolds into the next chapters. Let all of our endings be like new chapters on which we can build with our being, our memories and our good intentions. Just remember, it is not “Game Over” and it is not the “final curtain”.

I wish you all a happy and thoughtful Hanukkah.

 

Student rabbi Peter Luijendijk

 

 

 

 

[1] Forms of prayer 34.