As Joseph stands before Pharaoh and listens to his dreams, he faces a classic dilemma, one whose lesson transcends time and place. “Should I tell others what they want to hear or what they need to hear?” Joseph must weigh the risks he faces as messenger to Pharaoh: “An honest assessment may overwhelm people and compromise my future, while a reassuring assessment may appease people at the cost of my integrity.” Talking about dreams brought Joseph trouble in the past, yet his capacity to interpret dreams is precisely what creates the opportunity that stands before him in the present. Joseph chooses conscience over convenience and tells the court of Egypt both the good news and the bad. This story teaches us a powerful lesson. Only with the courage of our convictions, and the trust necessary to engage one another honestly can we create an environment where free and constructive dialogue can flourish. Developing a dynamic wherein we find joy, meaning, and belonging is essential to establishing and sustaining a future for our community. If Joseph fears that his honesty will be returned with cruelty, he might have offered a different interpretation of Pharaoh’s dream. But this is not the brutal Pharaoh whom Moses faces in the story of our Exodus. Genesis gives us a Pharaoh willing to listen. If Pharaoh suspected that Joseph is more concerned with personal advancement than the needs of the nation, he would not have granted him the authority to achieve the goals of their long-range plan, securing the future for generations to come.
My vision of the rabbinate strives to emulate the leadership philosophy of Joseph. I am dedicated to being a rabbi who respects a synagogue’s history but focuses on its future, who is capable of giving and receiving guidance, and who has a passion to teach and a willingness to learn. I am committed to being a rabbi who sees challenges clearly, but has the experience to put them into perspective. I am devoted to being a rabbi who recognizes a congregation’s difficulties, but emphasizes its strengths. Synagogues are less in need of a critic and diagnostician than they are in need of a leader and visionary. Congregations are quite capable of articulating what they would like to improve upon. What they need is someone with the patience, honesty and love to unlock the capacity and potential they already possess. Congregations rightfully expect that their rabbi will bring in new ideas and expand the perspective of the community. Joseph insists that Egypt has the resources to survive, and even prosper, during a seven-year famine. Upon hearing his assessment, Pharaoh doesn’t get defensive, but instead he evaluates Joseph’s plan and helps to implement it. This type of dynamic, founded upon trust and mutual respect, is essential to a working partnership that allows us to live out our ideals in the real world.
Every community is unique, yet there are elements of all congregations that are universal. Whether our libraries are big or small, or our Religious School enrolment up or down, we must work together to maintain a culture of life long learning. Whether the social action committee is struggling or thriving, there is always more we can do to promote tikun olam. Whether the bimah is high or low, congregants seek a rabbi who is accessible, rather than aloof, who looks both inward and outward, and who sees the congregation as partner and participant, rather than spectator and consumer. When a rabbi and congregation share common vision and core values, the relationship is besheret, truly meant to be. I believe that working together, in dynamic partnership, grounded in honesty and integrity, courage and trust, a rabbi and congregation can turn problems into possibilities, and challenges into opportunities. We can create leadership teams of professionals and volunteers who work together as a sacred community. Despite a world riddled with sorrow and madness, we can still find joy in what we do and defend the notion that our existence has meaning. Despite a culture bent on instant gratification, we can continue to emphasize long-term implications over short-term gains. Despite our hectic lives, with all kinds of commitments, we can remain emphatic that Jewish learning, Jewish living, and Jewish values deserve to be at the top of our priorities as individuals, families and communities.
May we, like Joseph, be determined to think imaginatively, speak pragmatically, listen carefully, and work diligently to create the community of our dreams.