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As Long as the Candle Burns

Then ten of Joseph’s brothers went down to buy grain from Egypt. — Genesis 42:3

The Torah portion for this week is Mikeitz, which means “at the end,” from Genesis 41:1–44:17, and the Haftorah is from 1 Kings 3:15–4:1.

By the time Jacob’s sons go down to Egypt because of the famine in Canaan, Joseph has been gone for 22 years. So the Jewish sages find it strange that in the Scriptures, the ten brothers are referred to as “Joseph’s brothers.” They haven’t had anything to do with Joseph for over two decades and they certainly hadn’t acted much like brothers the last time they saw Joseph! Wouldn’t “Jacob’s sons” have been a more appropriate term?

The sages explain that they are called “Joseph’s brothers” in order to teach us that when they came down to Egypt, they were indeed behaving like family. They had long regretted their act of selling Joseph and were desperate to find him. But that leads to another question: Why would they even imagine that Joseph would still be alive? The life expectancy for slaves in Egypt wasn’t very long!

A story is told about a great rabbi in the 19th century who lived in a town where there was an atheist shoemaker. One evening, as the rabbi was walking home from the synagogue, his shoe broke. As providence would have it, he was right next to the atheist’s shoe repair shop. The rabbi gave his shoes over to the man and waited for his shoes to be ready.

After much time had passed, the rabbi politely asked the shoemaker if there was any hope that his shoes would be ready that evening. The man replied, “As long as the candle is burning, there is hope that the work will be completed.”

The rabbi rejoiced, not because there was hope for his shoes, but because he had learned a valuable lesson from the atheist. He often quoted that shoemaker, because for him, the words had a deeper meaning: “As long as a person is breathing, he must not give up hope!”

Hope and faith have long been two pillars of Judaism. And that’s why Joseph’s brothers went down to Egypt full of hope. Even if there was the slightest chance that they would find their brother and make  amends, they had to have faith. In the end, their hope was validated. But even if they hadn’t found Joseph, their hope would have still been appropriate. Every time we hope for the best, we affirm our faith in God Almighty, Who is all-powerful and all-loving.

What are you hoping for? Are the odds against you? Do you feel like giving up? Don’t! A person must have hope until his or her very last breath. And even then, there is hope. We have faith that anything is possible with God and trust that everything which happens is for the best.

With prayers for shalom, peace,

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President

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