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The Middle is Someplace Special Sermon

Sermon by Rabbi Melanie Aron

Saturday, November 30, 2013

At ball game they say, “it’s not over, until it’s over”. Yogi Berra’s point being, that even if unlikely due to the score, until the game is complete anything could happen.

There’s a similar expression at the opera, but I understand that it doesn’t really relate to the diva singing. It comes from the day when television stations went off the air in the middle of the night. The last show before the station would go off the air, was Kate Smith’s, the singer.

Rachel, your Torah portion is called Mikketz, which means literally, at the end, but the name is a misnomer. Joseph may think it’s the end of his life, that he is going to stay in jail forever, that nothing will ever happen to save him- but then it does.

Your Torah portion isn’t the beginning of the story of Joseph and his brothers, but neither is it the end.

In your portion we actually find ourselves in the middle.

The middle is a very popular place in the Bible. In many ways the bulk of the Torah is about being in the middle- between Egypt and the Promised Land, wandering in the desert for 40 years. Four out of the five books of the Torah deal with this period- clearly this being in the middle was important to the development of our people. This is where they learned to become a community and prepared to enter the Promised land.

You could also argue that the entire Tanach, our Hebrew Scriptures, sees itself as being in the middle. The Tanach is written for the time after creation and before the ultimate redemption the messy middle in the history of the world.

The middle is a challenging place- it lacks the clarity of the beginning and the decisiveness of the end. It is often a tentative place, with false starts and mistakes. Wandering implies that one’s sense of direction has become confused, one is no longer sure that each step leads where you want to go. But the middle is also a place of great growth- lost, sometimes repeatedly, we have no choice but to find new strength and develop skills and capacities, we didn’t know we had.

In the case of your portion Mikketz, Rachel, what we think is the end, is actually the turning point, the hinge of the story as it were, the moment when it could go either way. Will someone step up to rescue Rachel’s son Benjamin, as they didn’t do effectively for Joseph? If they do, then the story can turn from estrangement to reconciliation, from the seeds of exile and enslavement, to the seeds of redemption and return.

Rachel, I can’t help but notice that you are the middle daughter. I’m sure this hasn’t escaped your awareness either- you are not Nina the oldest, the one who gets there first, even to the extent of reading the beginning of your story for her Bat Mitzvah. Nor are you Mia who will follow in both your footsteps, though with her birthday in April, she is more likely to read about their Israelites leaving Egypt than she is to conclude the Joseph story in Parashat Veyechi as they go down to Egypt.

Sometimes, when you are in the middle, that can be frustrating- without the benefits of either end. You have neither the special privileges of the oldest, nor the spoiling of the youngest. But going forward from your Torah portion I’d like you to think about being in the middle most positively. As we mentioned, the middle is the place of growth, it’s where everything happens. It is also the hinge, or perhaps we can understand it more clearly as the connecter.

Remember earlier this morning, you stood in line, with your grandparents and parents, passing the Torah. They represented the past. And not with us on the bimah, but very present in our minds and hearts are the generations that will come after you- they are our future. And there you stand in the middle, the hinge, the connector, the present, which brings past and future together.

As we celebrate your Bat Mitzvah this Hanukah, this festival of rededication, we recall the many times in Jewish history when what could have been MiKetz, the end, was transformed into the middle, the middle of an ongoing story. In that way our people have persevered going on from strength to strength. So may it be for you.

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