"It’s always darkest before it’s pitch black"- John McCain
"Close every door to me, hide all the world from me, darken my windows and cut out the light"- Joseph and the Magical Technicolor Dream Coat
The natural human tendency is to believe in the conservation of momentum. If things are going well, we think they’ll continue. However, if they go badly, we believe they’ll get worse and worse and it’s hard to hope for a change in fortune. Our minds perceive patterns, even when there isn’t one, and we think those patterns tend to repeat.
This week’s parsha teaches us a different lesson. Yossef and his brothers suffer many misfortunes. It starts with their bickering. Then they sell Yossef into slavery and pretend he died. Afterwards Yehuda’s family implodes, the remaining brothers separate, and Yossef goes from slavery to imprisonment. Ultimately he is abandoned even by those he had helped and who had promised to remember him. It is easy to despair in such circumstances. It’s easy to think nothing will ever change. However, we know that change is just around the corner. Yossef will be taken from the depths of misery and despair and comes to the heights of power, responsible for all the government of Egypt and feeding the known world. Yehuda’s family will be redeemed, and Yaakov and all his sons will reunite. Things can change. Sometimes it really is only darkest before the dawn.
The story of Channukah carries a similar message. The central motif of the festival is the candles shining out at night, spreading a message of hope and of divine favour. G-d remembers us. G-d still loves us, and He will eventually deliver us. The menorah shine bright for eight days because our relationship with Him is alive and well, and He continues to nurture us.
We tend to think that bad news will just continue and grow, but sometimes it doesn’t. The message of our parsha and of this time of year is to keep hoping and keep Davening. Above all we must always continue to believe that world, however broken, can and will be fixed.