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Potatoes, eggs and coffee!?

By Rabbi Jonathan Tawil
January 5, 2017

Yosef at a young age faced many challenges. Sold down to Egypt as a slave at the age of 17, he was able to work his way through the prisons to eventually become viceroy of Egypt. He is the first man to be known as wise, to be recognized as a fountain of wisdom and it is the Pharaoh of Egypt who calls him wise.

What was his secret and what’s the connection to this Shabbat Chanukah?

Every day we live on this earth we make choices. Things happen, we make decisions, and that shapes our life. It’s that simple, but do we put enough thought into how we react to things that happen to us?

A story is told of a young girl who complained to her father that her life was miserable and that she didn’t know how she was going to make it. She was tired of fighting and struggling all the time. It seemed that just as one problem was solved, another soon followed.

Her father, a chef, took her to the kitchen. He filled three pots with water and placed each on a high fire. Once the three pots began to boil, he placed the potatoes in one pot, eggs in the second and ground coffee beans in the third. He then let them sit and boil without saying a word to his daughter. The daughter waited impatiently, wondering what he was doing. After twenty minutes he turned off the burners. He took the potatoes out of the pot and placed them in a bowl. He took the eggs out and placed them in a bowl. He then ladled the coffee out and placed it in a cup.

Turning to her, he asked. “What do you see?” “Potatoes, eggs and coffee,” she hastily replied.

“Look closer”, he said, “and touch the potatoes.” She did and noted that they were soft.

He then asked her to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she observed the hard-boiled egg.

Finally, he asked her to sip the coffee. Its rich aroma brought a smile to her face.

“Father, what does this mean?” she asked.

He explained that the potatoes, the eggs and coffee beans had each faced the same adversity – the boiling water. However, each one reacted differently.

The potato went in strong, hard and unrelenting, but in boiling water, it became soft and weak. The egg was fragile, with the thin outer shell protecting its liquid interior until it was put in the boiling water. Then the inside of the egg became hard. However, the ground coffee beans were unique. After they were exposed to the boiling water, they changed the water and created something new.

“Which one are you?” he asked his daughter. “When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? Are you a potato, an egg, or a coffee bean?”

In life, things happen around us, and things happen to us. The only thing that truly matters is our choice of how we react to and what we make of circumstances. We must learn, adapt and choose to make the best of each experience.

Our reaction has the power of turning boiling hot water in to tasty coffee.

This week is Shabbat Chanukah, and the weekly portion is Miketz, which we supplement with verses from the book of Numbers that relate to the Chanukah, or inauguration, of the Tabernacle as well as a special Haftarah taken from Zechariah relating to the Menorah.

Zechariah was a man who saw many mysterious visions. He would typically ask an angel or the Almighty Himself, to explain the meaning of his visions. And so we find, near the end of the passage we read this week, the following vision:

“I see a lamp stand full of gold, with a bowl above it. The lamps are seven in number; each has seven pipes above it, and by it are two olive trees…”
Characteristically, Zechariah asks the angel, “What do these things mean, my lord?” The angel, like a good psychotherapist, asks him what he thinks the dream means. But the prophet confesses he has no clue.

The angel finally responds, “This is the word of the Lord: ‘Not by might, and not by power, but by My spirit, says the Lord of Hosts.’”

Rashi explains that in his vision Zechariah saw seven tubes going to each lamp. There were two olive trees next to the menorah, one on either side.

The menorah ran on “automatic.” The trees would beat themselves into the vats and the oil would flow into the lamps by itself. The message was that Zerubavel was destined to put the cornerstone of the Temple and that no nation would be able to stop it’s rebuilding. The motion had begun and through the efforts of the righteous the second Temple would be built.

This is the lesson of Chanukah. When there is a G-dly spark, the mighty are subdued by the weak, and the many by the few.

In our own little homes, we wish to make the point, to ourselves if not for the rest of the world, that “a little light can drive away much darkness.”

The lesson of the power of the single little candle is especially important in this day and age. We are bombarded by the images and sounds of cyberspace, and their message is often pernicious and malicious. The negative effects of most of what we hear and see on the internet and via other media outlets are typically devastating to our hearts and souls, if not our minds.

Yosef too found himself in a foreign land surrounded by negativity. He was far from his father’s influence and the righteous surrounding he grew up in. What was he to do? How would he cope? Many of us would have given up in the face of adversity. Yet he persevered and was able to transform the boiling water into a place that would eventually host his father and family. He shone his light in the dark and changed Egypt for the better.

In our day and age, how do we counteract the immense influence of such overwhelming forces? We can only do so if each of us is committed to use the power of modern technology to assert tolerance, kindness, morality, and ethical behaviour. In essence we are to be wise like Yosef and use the challenges of this generation to turn the boiling water into delicious coffee. Through our little light, we are able to shine through a lot of darkness. When we use and light that spark of G-d, then no one can stop the rebuilding of our nation.

Our voices may be soft, but they will be heard. The positive images that we present may be dim, but they will be seen.


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