Today’s post focuses on Genesis 42:1 – 44:1-17. In today’s post we will find a wonderful certainty, a wondrous grace, and a deep mystery. We will be looking at these things from a Jewish perspective, but please do not let that scare you off. A lot can be learned from looking at things from another perspective, and for me, taking the word back to its original Hebrew has been most beneficial. As we explore these chapters, we will also get a glimpse of Chanukah. This year, Chanukah coincides with Thanksgiving and I find it all quite remarkable. I pray that God blesses you through this post, and as you prepare for your Thanksgiving/Chanukah celebrations God’s favor rest upon you.
Flames and Fortitude
Imagine if we, as busy women, were able to take a half an hour out of our day and just sit and relax, completely guilt free. For eight straight days this is exactly what we are commanded to do (because if we weren’t, we probably wouldn’t actually allow ourselves to do it!). This precious rabbinic gift of relaxation time is one of the biggest reasons I love Chanukah.
Who doesn’t enjoy watching the dancing flames?
For one half an hour Jewish women are required to sit and contemplate our lives before beautiful burning candles. Who doesn’t enjoy watching the dancing flames? This commandment is a reward related to the special role of Jewish women in the Chanukah miracle. Because of our fortitude and dedication to the Torah in the face of the powerful Greeks, we are actually commanded to sit for one half hour and enjoy the light of the Chanukah candles. Jewish women showed unimaginable restraint in their ability to maintain a Jewish way of life despite the pressure, and later persecution, to assimilate into Greek culture. The seduction of the Greek way of life was powerful with its focus on external beauty.
Restraint is an important theme in the Torah portion of Miketz, which almost always falls on the Shabbat of Chanukah. In this dramatic cliffhanger of a portion, Joseph showed tremendous restraint in not revealing his true identity to his brothers when they came to Egypt during the widespread famine. Many commentators have asked why Joseph did not immediately tell his brothers who he was. What powerful motivation allowed him to restrain himself from confronting those who had sold him into slavery?
The famous fifteenth century Spanish commentator, the Abarbenel, explains Joseph’s entire strategy as an attempt to bring his brothers towards proper repentance. Joseph was able to see past his personal suffering, as a result of his brothers’ treatment of him, to the greater good. Joseph was able to see past his personal sufferingKnowing that he and his brothers were the foundation to the future of the Jewish people, Joseph arranged a plan so that his brothers would see that they were no longer the same people they were years ago when they sold him into slavery. He arranged for one of his silver goblets to be placed in his youngest brother Benjamin’s bag. Benjamin was the only other son of Jacob’s beloved wife Rachel. Part of the enmity between Joseph and his brothers stemmed from the fact that Jacob favored Rachel over Leah and the maidservants, and hence Joseph over the other wives’ sons. Would the older brothers hold the same resentment toward Benjamin?
The famous 12th century Jewish Legalist Maimonides defines a true repentant as one who is confronted by the identical situation wherein he previously sinned, and it lies within his power to commit the sin again, but he nevertheless does not succumb because he wishes to repent- and not because he is too fearful or too weak to repeat the sin. Through Joseph’s scheme, and self-restraint in revealing his identity, he allows the brothers to be put in a situation where they could be very likely to hate Benjamin, the only other child from Jacob’s wife Rachel, and send him back to Egypt as a slave while they return home free.
The cliff hanger is what decision the brothers will make. Will they sacrifice Benjamin for their own freedom, or will they show complete repentance from their previous senseless hatred and rush to their little brother’s protection? If Joseph had immediately let them know his identity, the brothers would never have known if they had truly grown from their past mistakes. Through their courageous decision (as laid out in next week’s portion), they are able to confidently assume their places as the head of the twelve tribes through which the Jewish people will forge their nationhood. They are able to rededicate themselves to their true purpose in life. Rededication is one of the themes that link this portion to Chanukah.
As Jewish women we are given a special gift of an extra half hour every night
The word “Chanukah” means “dedication.” On this holiday we celebrate the Maccabbees’ victory over the Greeks and their rededication of the Temple. They cleaned out all the Greek idolatry and found one pure vessel of oil with which they could light the Menorah, which had been lit every morning before the Temple’s defilement. The purpose of these flames was to give light- and to direct our eyes and hearts to G-d’s presence.
As Jewish women we are given a special gift of an extra half hour every night of Chanukah to rededicate ourselves, to reinvigorate our souls and contemplate our vital role in the world. This is the gift of the half an hour that we sit and watch the flames dance, constantly yearning higher and higher. As we strengthen the light each night with an additional candle, may we strengthen our own resolve and commitment to bring that light into our souls and to the people around us.
- The Truth About Chanukah and Pomegranate Sugar-Dusted White Chocolate Doughnuts. (saltandserenity.com)
- The Eight Nights of Chanukah (wqxr.org)
- DoubleTapper: Thanksgiving on the first day of Chanukah. (doubletapper.blogspot.com)