The reading of Parashat Miketz, a Torah portion toward the end of the book of Genesis, always coincides with Chanukah and the themes of this section of Torah and the Festival of Lights are closely linked.
The song “Maoz Tzur,” which we sing during Chanukah, celebrates the times when God redeemed the Jewish people from oppression. Each great empire in turn – Egypt, Babylon, Persia, and Greece – collapsed while the Jewish people survived. And yet, when we read the story of the Maccabees’ rebellion, it is clear that Chanukah does not primarily commemorate the end of an external persecution of the Jewish people but rather an internal struggle.
Many Jews adopted Greek customs and mores. These “Hellenizers” sought to turn Jerusalem into a Greek state, complete with a gymnasium and pagan temples which were abhorrent to those Jews who held fast to the tradition of their ancestors. The Maccabean led rebellion opposed not only their Greek oppressors but also their eager supporters among the Jews. At issue was the very identity of the Jewish people.
Jewish identity is also a central issue in the story of Joseph. Joseph rises to the pinnacle of power as Pharaoh’s vizier but he never denies that he is a Jew. At every opportunity he declares that his gift for interpreting dreams comes from God. He balances a dedication to his faith with a commitment to his family and the traditions of his ancestors.
When Joseph determines that his brothers are truly repentant, he brings them and their families to Egypt, introduces them to Pharaoh and settles them on the best lands. He is never ashamed of his origins; he retains his identity with pride.
The message of both Chanukah and the story of Joseph is that Jewish survival relies neither on military might nor political expertise. It depends on the continued observance of our traditions and customs, and strong Jewish identity, a connection to our past, and a commitment to our future.
Chag Orim Sameach.
May you have a happy Festival of Lights.