Detail from "Joseph Interprets the Dream of Pharaoh," Jean-Adrien Guignet, 19th century
Detail from "Joseph Interprets the Dream of Pharaoh," Jean-Adrien Guignet, 19th century

We all feel alone and forgotten sometimes. Even Joseph the dreamer.


Shabbat Hanukkah

Genesis 41:1–44:17

Zechariah 2:14–4:7

When I was a kid, during one of our trips to New York City, we visited the once-acclaimed FAO Schwarz. While I have vague recollections of the toy store’s magnificence, and fond memories of watching Tom Hanks play “Heart and Soul” on the floor piano in the movie “Big,” what I most remember is that somehow, we lost my brother amid the aisles of toys. And while we did, thank God, eventually find him, I can’t even begin to imagine the fear that both he and my parents felt in that forgotten moment. There must have been a deep sense aloneness, of being trapped and hidden from view.

No one ever wants to feel lost or go unacknowledged. Yet, all too often, we forget about the people who matter the most.

Last week’s Torah portion, Vayeshev, concluded with a cliffhanger. After correctly interpreting the dreams of Pharaoh’s chief cupbearer and baker, Joseph asks the chief cupbearer to forget about him as he goes free and Joseph remains in jail. Joseph says, “Think of me when all is well with you again, and do me the kindness of mentioning me to Pharaoh, so as to free me from this place” (Genesis 20:14). And despite Joseph’s best efforts, the chapter ends by saying “The chief cupbearer did not think of Joseph; he forgot him” (Genesis 40:23).

After saving his life, the cupbearer returns to Pharaoh’s house, leaving Joseph forgotten and in the dark despair he had known earlier in his life when his brothers threw him into the pit. It’s not until this week’s Torah reading, Miketz, that Joseph is remembered nearly two years later. Why does the Torah tell us that not only did the cupbearer not remember Joseph, but he also forgot him?

The Spanish commentator Ibn Ezra suggests that this double language indicates that the cupbearer forgot Joseph in speech and in feelings. By not immediately sharing with Pharaoh how Joseph saved his life, over time he forgot about him in his heart (Ibn Ezra on Genesis 40:23). It’s not until someone needs Jacob, in this case to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams, that the cupbearer realizes his wrongdoing: “Et Hata’ai Ani Mazkir Hayom — I must remember today my transgressions” (Genesis 41:9).

By verbalizing his sin to Pharaoh, his heart is stirred once again. Forgetting someone and not remembering them, both in speech and action, can have incredible consequences, especially when we forget those who are right in front of us.

It’s hard to remember everything that we need to do, let alone every relationship that we ought to nurture. And while there are apps to make sure we don’t forget, we frequently overlook the power of what it means to take notice of and remember those who are hidden from view. In the broken world we live in, people deserve to be remembered, thought about and paid attention to. It is our job to help restore light to places of darkness, so that we can see and care for the vulnerable, restoring dignity to those who have been cast aside.

Parashat Miketz is frequently read on the Shabbat of Hanukkah, a holiday that reminds us it is within our power to bring light to the darkness. Perhaps that’s why the Hanukkah light is referred to as Or HaGanuz, the hidden light that doesn’t need to remain forgotten, for we have the power to remember and reveal its warm glow. In the Broadway musical “Dear Evan Hansen,” Evan sings in “You Will Be Found”:

“Have you ever felt like nobody was there? Have you ever felt forgotten in the middle of nowhere? Have you ever felt like you could disappear? Like you could fall, and no one would hear? …Well, let that lonely feeling wash away. Maybe there’s a reason to believe you’ll be okay. ’Cause when you don’t feel strong enough to stand. You can reach, reach out your hand. And oh, someone will coming running. And I know, they’ll take you home. Even when the dark comes crashing through, when you need a friend to carry you. And when you’re broken on the ground. You will be found. So let the sun come streaming in. ’Cause you’ll reach up and you’ll rise again. Lift your head and look around. You will be found.”

As we think about the story of the forgotten Joseph, of my brother, and of the countless people who feel forgotten and left behind, let us reveal that light that exists within each of us. We have the power to illuminate the world around us, through our words and deeds, in our minds and in our hearts. This Hanukkah, let us actively go out into the world and be present for those who are forgotten, supporting those who feel alone. For in doing so, we will never forget to remember that we can restore light to the darkness.

Rabbi Corey Helfand
Rabbi Corey Helfand

Rabbi Corey Helfand is the spiritual leader of Peninsula Sinai Congregation in Foster City. He can be reached at [email protected].