The Torah portion this week, Mi-keitz, discusses the dream interpretation ability of Joseph that allows for his rise to a position of power in Egypt. We also confront a reunion of sorts (the great revelation is yet to come) when brothers arrive in the Court as a result of famine in Canaan. (Genesis 41:1-44:17). So many stories here, however, I wanted to look at this issue of the famine which drives Joseph’s brothers to Egypt.
We associate famine with lack of food, a hunger, a desire for sustenace. All true. Yet, I am thinking also of a different type of famine, one that I have encountered in my travels for Jewish Sacred Aging. The hunger is on the part of adults, people of our generation who look to the organized Jewish community for adult responses to the issues that confront them. Longevity, as many of us know, presents a wide variety of new challenges and issues that confront us daily. Often we turn to our institutions to provide us with how Judaism can enlighten and guide us through these transitions and challenges. It is not only the confrontation of time passing and the slow realization that we are mortal. It is also the new life stages that we encounter, from care-giver, to medical manager of a loved one; from grand-parent to the need to examine the great spiritual question of how to deal with the time we have left to live in a way that brings meaning to life. I submit to you that there is a hunger for adult answers to these questions, answers drawn from the depth of the genius that is our tradition. The lack of large scale programs of education to teach how Jewish texts and tradition speak to these life stages is, in truth, a famine of faith.
Please understand that we are aware that in many communities there are excellent opportunities for serious adult learning. Often they are at local JCCs or colleges rather than our congregations. Perhaps the time is coming near when agencies, organizations and instiutions will join forces to create such educational models for adults. The need is there. The hunger for this, I submit, is present. The time is at hand. Modeling study serves as a very teachable moment for the generations that come after us, generations that studies tell us are slowly drifting away from Jewish competency. There is a golden opportunity as the baby boomer generation ages, to develop serious communal programs of educational outreach. One day “Limmud” communal programs are a good model, a model that can be extended through the year. To teach our people the lessons of our tradition and how that tradition can impact and guide them through the new issues of longevity can be an exciting and transformative adventure. To ignore this need is to allow this famine to spread into a growing wilderness of the souls.
Rabbi Richard F Address