The strength of Joseph’s administrative rule in Egypt hangs on his handling of bumper years, followed by famine. How well do we prepare when things are good, both as individuals and as communal institutions, to be ready when things get a bit leaner? Jewish models such as shmittah (the sabbatical year) help us continually think about the ways we need to prepare and share resources, but are easily ignored in the diaspora, and if you don’t work in agriculture.
It suddenly struck me this year how timely it is that the narrative of Joseph’s excellent skills in resource management is read at Chanukah. We think of Chanukah as a story of miraculous victories; small armies over large; oil lasting for far longer than expected. But it is also a story of resource management. Partly ensuring the resources of Jewish learning are maintained, even if in secret, during a time of oppression, but more obviously, making one day’s oil/energy last for eight days.
We are potentially approaching a time when we will similarly need to make our resources stretch; our communal resources will need to go further and our energy will need to be made to last longer. Oil and other fossil fuels are not endless pools from which we can continually take forever. At some point we will need to find new and creative ways to make the energy go further or manage our lives on less energy, or using new technologies that don’t rely on fossil fuels.
If we are like Jacob and his sons back in Canaan, we will end be entirely reliant on others for handouts, if not starving. If we are like Joseph (and the menorah of the Temple), we will take control of our own futures and make sure our distribution and management of limited resources go further and are shared among all.