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Helping Others Achieve Their Dreams Sermon

Sermon by Rabbi Josh Lobel

Friday, November 22, 2013

Today marked the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. I am sure that many of us have been reflecting on his life and his legacy on this day that changed the course of a nation. For many, President Kennedy was a source of hope, of inspiration, a symbol of a promising future, all of which was dashed on a fateful day in Dallas.

Kennedy was a dreamer. He dreamt of a better future, one where civil liberties would be granted to all, where education was a crown jewel of our nation, and where peace would finally reign over strife and discord. He truly believed that the impossible could be made reality if we kept challenging ourselves to think beyond what exists towards what could be if we worked together. He once remarked, “The problems of the world cannot be solved by skeptics or cynics whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities. We need men who can dream of things that never were.” While we have not yet achieved President Kennedy’s vision of what our world could be if we came together in the spirit of love and justice, the anniversary of his death reminds us that we need to keep working to make our dreams come true. And it also reminds us that the biggest of dreams cannot be realized by one person alone. No, the greatest of dreams requires all of us to lend a helping hand.

This week’s Torah portion begins the story of the most famous dreamer in the Torah, Joseph. Joseph was a man of big dreams and aspirations, though, in his youth, he did not exactly know how to handle them, which led to a tremendous amount of tension and anger in his family.

For Joseph was daddy’s favorite, as Jacob doted on Joseph and presented him with a beautiful ornamented tunic, also known as the coat of many colors, unless you are an Andrew Lloyd Webber fan, and then it is the amazing technicolor dream-coat.

So when Joseph went to tell his brothers of his dreams that implied that they would one day bow down to him, you can imagine his brothers were not particularly amused. They were in no mood to hear his ramblings about his nocturnal visions about sheaves of wheat bowing low to him or having the constellations themselves humbly kneel before him. But Joseph did not realize how strongly his older brothers despised him. I believe he was honestly surprised when his brothers fell upon him and threw him into a pit, finally deciding to sell him into slavery.

Joseph, of course, ends up in Egypt, where, due to his uncanny ability to interpret dreams and his innate ingenuity, he winds up as the second most powerful man in Egypt, second only to Pharaoh. So when a severe famine afflicts the land of his brothers and his father, his brothers are forced to travel to Egypt and beg Joseph, who they do not recognize, for food to take back home, thus fulfilling the prophecy foretold in Joseph’s dreams. Eventually, Joseph’s dreams come true.

When we look at this story, we can view it as a simple case of divine providence – God protects and guides Joseph to exactly where he is supposed to be, taking him from the depths of the pit to the heights of the throne-room. When Joseph reveals himself to his brothers, he forgives them, saying that this was all part of God’s plan and they should not feel bad about their actions. It was God who made his dream come true. But if we read the story closely, we see that there is another figure who plays a role in the realization of Joseph’s dream.

If we go back in the story, to the time directly following a young Joseph boasting to his brothers and father about his dreams, we find another actor in our biblical drama. Jacob sends Joseph out to find his brothers who are taking care of their flocks, but Joseph cannot find them. They are not where they are supposed to be. Continuing his search, he comes upon an unnamed man wandering in the fields. The man approaches him and asks him, “mah t’vakesh”, “what do you seek?” Joseph responds that he is looking for his brothers and the man points him in the right direction.

Reading this story, it is easy to overlook this part of the narrative. Who cares about a Joseph’s random encounter with some dude in the fields? But, if we think about it, without this man, the story of Joseph as we know it would not have occurred. For if Joseph never found his brothers, perhaps cooler heads would have prevailed and his angry brothers never hurl him into a pit and sell him into servitude. While this might sound good on the surface, everything Joseph goes through makes him the person he is supposed to become. More so, Joseph being in Egypt saves an untold number of lives, as it is his foresight and wisdom that is able to lessen the impact of the famine. All of this could not happen without the influence of one seemingly random man in the glen. This one person helped make Joseph’s dream come true.

We all have dreams, visions for our future. There are things we would like to accomplish that perhaps, right now, seem out of reach. Our dreams might seem too big for us to realize on our own. But we should not despair. The story of Joseph reminds us that sometimes, we can’t always make our dreams come true on our own. Sometimes, we need a little help.

We need no further evidence than the story of Miles Scott, also known as Batkid! I am sure many of us heard about Miles, who, last week, got to live out his dream, thanks to the Make A Wish Foundation. As a five year old boy suffering from leukemia, he was contacted by the Make a Wish Foundation and asked what his dream was, and, like many children, he said his dream was to be Batman for a day.

When the Make A Wish Foundation said they would make his dream come true, he expected a Bat-Kid costume and to take a few photographs. Little did he know that last Friday, thousands of volunteers, including actors, local police and government officials, and a cast of well-wishers would transform parts of San Francisco into a real life Gotham City in order to create a once-in-a-lifetime experience for him.

Early in the morning, San Francisco’s Police Chief Greg Suhr announced on TV that he was searching for the location of Batkid, as he was desperately needed to help save the city from the evil super-villains, the Joker, the Riddler and the Penguin. After being presented with a costume by an adult decked out in full Batman regalia, Miles sprang into action. Driving around San Francisco in their makeshift Batmobile, Miles and his friends thwarted the evil plans of his arch-nemeses.

First, over 500 people looked on as Batkid rescued a damsel-in-distress from the HydeStreet cable-car tracks in Nob Hill. He was able to disable a pretend-bomb and release her from her bonds, just before a cable car came crashing into the scene. The crowd went wild. Next, he stopped the Riddler from robbing a downtown vault. San Francisco police hauled the crook off in handcuffs and threw him into the police car. For the finale, Miles was told that the nefarious and notorious crook, the Penguin, had stolen the beloved mascot of the San Francisco Giants – Lou Seal. With crowds cheering him on, Batkid hunted down the Penguin to AT&T Park and freed Lou Seal from captivity to cap off a day of crime-fighting.

For Miles and his family, this was an unbelievable day when a sick child’s dream came true. He received congratulations from people all over the country who followed the story with interest on social media. Even President Obama got into the spirit, sending out a laudatory message to Miles on Twitter. The story of Batkid affirms for us that, yes, dreams can come true. But this could not have happened without the help of so many big-hearted volunteers who worked to help Miles realize his dreams.

The legacy of President Kennedy, the story of Joseph, and the heartwarming story of Miles should serve as an inspiration to us to do whatever we can to help make someone else’s dream come true. Whether it is a loved one or a person we have never met, we have the ability to make a profound difference in their lives. Our words, our actions can help someone else achieve their dream, and we should seize every opportunity to do so. There is a fantastic midrash which teaches that every blade of grass has its own angel that whispers gently to it, “grow, grow.” Let us be like the angels, encouraging others to grow and develop, helping them realize their fondest hopes. Let us remember that, to paraphrase President Kennedy, we should not ask ourselves what others can do for us, but what we can do for others. For when we live in this way, we create a world in which all the dreams that we dare to dream really can come true. Shabbat Shalom.

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