D’var Torah for December 20, 2019

This week’s Torah portion is Parshat Vayeishev. In it, we continue the telling of the epic tale of Joseph and his brothers – the story that will ultimately lead the Jewish people to Egypt, where, after some time has passed, they will be enslaved for four-hundred years before finally being saved in the foundational story of our people’s Exodus and redemption from Egypt. I hope you will humor me, however, as I divert our attention to another epic tale – one that is not so Jewish in nature… or is it?
This week the next movie in the Star Wars series will be released, and we will be celebrating that together on Saturday with “Star Wars Shabbat” followed by lunch and a trip to the theater to see the new movie. So you may wonder – what’s so Jewish about Star Wars? Well, actually a lot.
Let’s begin with the Force – an all-permeating Force that binds together all life in the universe. The Jedi believe that the Dark and Light Sides of the force are both part of the same – seeking equilibrium. Jews believe in a yeitzer hatov – a good inclination and a yeitzer hara – evil inclination. The evil inclination isn’t really evil, though. Without it, we would not try to make a living, or reproduce. When the yeitzer hara and yeitzer hatov are balanced, we are able to fully participate in life while being focused on the performance of mitzvot. But when we become too focused on our yeitzer hara, it leads us to behave poorly. So too with the force – if someone allows their fear and anger to overtake them, they become enmeshed in the dark side of the force. 
The masters of the force are the Jedi. Some have remarked that in Hebrew the yud is often transliterated into a J (as in the name, Jehovah) and notice that Jedi is like Jehudi – Y’hudi – Jew. In addition, we learn about the Jedi from Yoda, whose name translated from Hebrew means – “the one who knows.” A person who studies to be a Jedi learns with a partner in an apprenticeship – much like a chavruta – the Jewish learning style of studying in pairs.
In a few days, we will begin celebrating the festival of Chanukah – the Festival of Lights. We emerge from the darkest days of the winter by bringing ever increasing levels of light – kindling additional candles each night. The story of Chanukah is about a small band of rebels overcoming an evil super power, bringing light and holiness back to the sacred spaces. ‘Nuff said.
May your light sabers shine bright and strong through this Shabbat and Chanukah ahead.
Shabbat Shalom!
Cantor Sally Neff
P.S. Don’t miss our pre-Chanukah Chanukah themed Rock Shabbat this Friday night at 7:30 and Star Wars Shabbat Services Saturday Morning at 11:30am (Taste of Torah will take place as usual at 9:15). Only a few tickets are left for the movie. You don’t need tickets to attend Shabbat Morning Services!