By Rabbi Yossy Goldman
Not everyone is lucky enough to get a wake-up call in life. Some people get theirs just in time. Others get it but don’t hear it. Still others hear it loud and clear but refuse to take any notice.
Pharaoh got his in this week’s parashah, when Yosef interpreted his dreams and advised him to appoint “a wise and discerning man” who would oversee a macroeconomic plan for the country. Yosef explained to the king of Egypt that because he experienced two dreams and woke up in between, it was a sign from heaven to wake up and act immediately, as the matter was of the utmost urgency. Pharaoh took the message to heart, and the rest is history.
On the health-and-well-being level, a little cholesterol, climbing blood pressure, or recurring bronchitis might be the not-so-subtle signs that it’s time for a change of lifestyle. These are the medical wake-up calls we receive in life. Do we really have to wait for a heart attack, G‑d forbid, to stop smoking or to start eating less and exercising more? That’s what wake-up calls are for: to help us get the message before it’s too late.
Then there are the spiritual signs.
I will never forget a friend who shared with me the story of his own red lights flashing and how a changed spiritual lifestyle literally saved his life. He was a workaholic driving himself to the brink. Had he carried on indefinitely he simply could not have survived. Then he decided to give Shabbat a try. What he had never previously appreciated about Shabbat was that it is a spiritually invigorating day of rest and spiritual serenity. And in discovering Shabbos, he rediscovered his humanity. (He also discovered he could play golf on Sundays instead of Saturdays.)
A short trigger film I once used on a Shabbaton program depicted a series of professionals and artisans at work. As they became engrossed and immersed in their roles, they each became so identified with their work that they lost their own identities. Monday through Friday, the carpenter’s face dissolved into a hammer, the doctor’s face took on the surface of a stethoscope, and the accountant’s head started looking like a calculator. Then on Shabbat as they closed their offices and came home to celebrate the day of rest with their families, slowly but surely, their faces were reshaped and remolded from their professions to their personalities. Total immersion in their work had dehumanized them. They had become machines. Now, thanks to Shabbos, they were human again. That short video left a lasting impression.
It’s not easy to change ingrained habits. But Chanukah, which usually falls during Parashas Mikeitz, carries with it a relevant message in this regard: Take one day at a time. One doesn’t have to do it all at once. One light at a time is all it takes. On the first night, we kindle a single Chanukah light; on the second night, two; and on the third night, three. We add a little light each day, and before long the menorah is complete and all eight Chanukah lights are burning bright.
It’s okay to take one day at a time. It’s not okay to go back to sleep after you get a wake-up call. Whether it’s our medical well-being or our spiritual health, the occasional wake-up call is a valuable sign from Above that it may be time to adjust our attitudes, lifestyles, or priorities. Please G‑d, each of us in our own lives will hear the call and act on the alarm bells with alacrity.
Rabbi Yossy Goldman was born in Brooklyn and was sent in 1976 by the Lubavitcher Rebbe as an emissary to serve the Jewish community of Johannesburg, South Africa. He is Senior Rabbi of the Sydenham Shul and president of the South African Rabbinical Association. His sefer “From Where I Stand: Life Messages from the Weekly Torah Reading” was published by Ktav and is available at Jewish book shops or online at www.ktav.com.