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Torah Tuesdays with Hennie Black- Parshat Miketz




This week’s Torah portion, Miketz, is almost always read on the Shabbat of Chanukah, which is apt as there are many parallels between the story of Yosef and the story of Chanukah.

Yosef is finally taken out of prison in order to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams.  He does so successfully, but does not take any personal credit for his talents and abilities. At that moment, Yosef could have asked for anything he wanted as Pharaoh was at his mercy.  Yet Yosef asserts that it was G-d who was the interpreter of dreams and it was G-d who guided him in his success.

The Maccabees, in their victory over the Greeks, displayed the same self-effacing attitude. Being a small army, the Maccabean victory against the powerful Green army, was indeed miraculous. Yet, it would have been so easy for the Maccabees to credit themselves alone for their victory.  

Instead, by lighting the menorah and rededicating the temple as soon as possible after the victory, they acknowledged G-d as the force behind their victory. 

There is no holiday in Judaism established to mark the original dedication of the Temple, which took place during the reign of King Solomon more than 800 years before the Chanukah story. During Chanukah, we are actually celebrating the rededication and restoration of the Temple to its former glory. 

Why don’t we have a holiday to celebrate the original dedication of the Temple rather than a holiday to celebrate the rededication?

When things are new and exciting, people love to celebrate.  When the novelty wears off, continuing with the same passion and enthusiasm is so much more difficult. When we rededicate ourselves to something, we commit ourselves anew to becoming actively involved and investing in the process and outcome.

In Judaism, rededication is key.  Shabbat and the holidays are opportunities for us to rededicate ourselves to our mission and our purpose. 

Rosh Chodesh, which always takes place during the holiday of Chanukah, also celebrates rededication and renewal. Rosh Chodesh celebrates the new moon and, just like the moon, we as the Jewish people have moments of waxing and waning and moments of ups and downs. The moon reminds us to rededicate ourselves to the possibility of being bigger and brighter.

The holiday of Chanukah helps us tap into something greater than a one-time celebratory occasion, as the original temple dedication. We do not celebrate Jewish holidays only because of an event that happened in our history.  We celebrate Jewish holidays because we are meant to tap into the spiritual energy of that day, an eternal message that we are supposed to rededicate ourselves to the message of the given holiday.

One of the miracles of Chanukah is that one jug of oil, with enough oil to last for one day, lasted for eight days. Since the miracle took place only after the oil kept burning from day 2 to day 8, the first day was actually not miraculous. By that reasoning, the holiday of Chanukah should actually last 7 days, corresponding to the 7 days of the actual miracle.

Many commentaries discuss this.  Some say the fact that the Maccabees even found one small jug of pure oil, stamped with the kohen’s seal, was a miracle in itself. Others say the fact that oil generates light when burning is a miracle in itself. And others teach us that the miracle we celebrate on Chanukah is the miracle of the Maccabean victory—that the Maccabees fought so hard to reclaim their rights to practice their religion, even after so much assimilation and persecution, is the greatest miracle of all.

Throughout our history, the Jewish people have dealt with many challenges, requiring us to build anew after devastating losses. Yet, as a nation and people, we have not despaired or given up. Rather, we have demonstrated remarkable resilience, rededicating ourselves to living meaningful and purposeful lives.

On Chanukah, we must ask ourselves, what are we doing to rededicate ourselves to our inner light? How are we rededicating ourselves to learning and growth, to helping others, to ensuring that we are a strong link in the chain that will pass on our beautiful tradition to our children and grandchildren?

We all have opportunities to rededicate ourselves in whatever way is meaningful to us. Let us tap into the light of Chanukah and dedicate ourselves to making the world a reflection of our dearest and most cherished values.

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