Rabbi Ralph Genende
“I must remember there’ll be days like this when no one steps on my dreams.
There’ll be days like this when people understand what I mean.
There’ll be days like this when you ring out the changes of how everything is.
Well my mama told me there’ll be days like this.”
The lyrics are from Van Morrison’s 1995 album by the same name. But they could have come out of the life of the young Biblical Joseph. Yes, the same Joseph of the Technicolour Dreamcoat.
At the cusp of his adulthood, full of hope and promise, supremely confident in his own capacity – as only a young man deeply loved by his parents can be – the young Joseph dreams great dreams.
He imagines this as “one of those days”, to share the dreams, to ring out the changes.
ויחלום יוסף חלום ויגד לאחיו
And Joseph dreamed and told the dream to his brothers.
Listen to this dream:
“There we were binding sheaves in the field when mine stood up and all of yours gathered around and bowed low to mine.”
Undeterred by his brother’s outraged reaction to this dream (not the best way to win friends and influence people), he dreams again and again insist on sharing it:
ויחלום עוד חלום
And Joseph dreamed another dream.
This time, the sun, the moon and eleven stars are bowing down to him…
Eminent 20th century scholar Rabbi Joseph B. Soleveichik suggests that Joseph was able to see beyond the present moment, to intuitively sense the winds of change, to grasp that different days were coming.
Of course, we know how right Joseph was, how he saved the embryonic Jewish people from destruction. If not for Joseph, Israel would have been history, just another page in an ancient document.
We adapted, we changed.
In fact, in Gandhi’s memorable phrase – we became the change. We were the change.
And we, the Jewish people, became the agent provocateurs, the game changers again and again.
Like Joseph’s brothers, we stand on the cusp of a new digital age. We have every reason to be fearful and anxious about the tsunami of change transforming our world. The rate of change in one year now eclipses the cumulative change of centuries.
Journalist and social commentator Thomas Friedman suggests that we’ve got two choices about how to react: We can become “wall people” or “web people.”
Wall people build bigger walls to keep out the chaos, to stop the unruly tides of chaos.
Web people embrace the change and focus on empowering people to compete and collaborate in a world without walls, to become more flexible, more agile, to learn how to transform yourself and your environment.
Joseph’s brothers opted for walls. Joseph chose the web.
Neat as this is, it’s a little too simplistic: The truth is, the world still needs some walls. Even the world-wide-web needs to protect itself with fire-walls. We need walls to protect our way of life.
Despite this, there’s a magic and a wonder to the web and it’s actually linking and transforming us in untold and enthralling ways.
It’s giving us more access to knowledge than the most brilliant minds that ever roamed our vast and wonderful universe ever had access to.
It’s giving us the freedom to explore ideas and identities, and to reach out to others in countless new ways, too.
It’s a disruption of centuries of behaviour, a disjunction of routine, a challenge of habit.
In a sense, it’s Teshuvah on a universal scale.
For what is Teshuvah – Repentance – if not breaking the back of the old, כח ההרגל, the rut of routine.
We Jews have always been better ‘webbers’ than ‘wallers’, disruptive rather than docile, questioning rather than quiescent.
From Abraham destroying his father’s idols to Moses taking on Pharoah, from Spinoza confronting authority to Freud challenging convention, we have been at the forefront of change, a nation that prefers to start up, rather than shut-up.
And that’s why we as Jews and Israel as a nation are ideally placed to ride this tiger into the future.
But it’s paradoxical that we can’t seem to shed our webbed feet when it comes to the critical challenges of Jewish identity today. That we lose our nerve when trying to adapt to changes in the makeup of our community.
I remember living in South Africa as the apartheid government began to realise they would never be able to stem the winds of change and freedom that were sweeping across the country.
Pik Botha, then FM of South Africa made the famous statement “adapt or die”.
We as a proud and strong diaspora community need to say to the Ultra-Orthodox (Chareidi) Rabbinate of Israel: adapt or die.
We need to join the Rabbinic Council of America in their condemnation of the Charedi men who, on pseudo-Halachic grounds, disgracefully refuse to sit next to women on El Al planes and say: “adapt or die”.
And we need to ensure that we as a community are recognizing that you can’t assume that the next generation are going to come to synagogue, support our organisations and schools, and give charity to our traditional charities.
The times they are changing and we need to become more agile and flexible in the way we keep Jews Jewish.
We need to reach out and be part of the change.
We need more openness to those who are different whether they are gay, or whether they are women seeking greater involvement in their community.
We need to ensure we’re part of the multicultural and multifaith face of Melbourne, because that’s the changing face of our globe.
As Jews we’ve always understood that to be open, doesn’t mean you stand for everything.
We’ve always known that only the sure of faith, with confidence in themselves, can afford to be open.
The stronger we are as Jews, the more we will have to offer.
So stand strong, deepen your Jewish knowledge, expand your Jewish practice, be a literate Jew, be a serious Jew, because only then can you be a serious Jewish contributor to the revolution which is already here.
Change is inevitable and change is constant.
“Change,” said John F Kennedy, “is the law of life. And those who only look to the past or present are certain to miss the future.”
Stay with us, stand with us ,join us, as we help lead the change here in Melbourne.
Stay with us, stand with us, join us, as we continue as we have for the past 10 years to transform our community.
Be part of the change.
After all, my mum told me there will be days like this:
When people share the dream, when they ring out the changes.
I have to remember days like this.
Adapted from his First Day Jewish New Year sermon 2016
Rosh Hashana 5777