Weekly Torah Commentary — Miketz and Hanukkah Dec. 23, 2011

This week’s Torah portion which continues the story of Joseph begins with the words, “It was two years to the day…”  Such a specific explanation of time has a reason.  The Sages say that it is to teach us that there is no suffering that lasts forever.  Joseph’s 12 years in prison were coming to an end, even as it is written in Job 28:3 “He sets an end to darkness…”

Immediately following this opening statement, we read of Pharaoh’s two dreams and his frustration when his own seers could not interpret them.  It is at this point that the Cupbearer remembers Joseph in prison and tells Pharaoh about him.  Joseph is rushed from the prison to appear before the ruler of Egypt and upon hearing Pharaoh’s dreams, explains their message and advises Pharaoh on how to prepare for the coming calamity.  It is interesting to note that dreams (Joseph’s own) brought about his humiliation and now dreams (Pharaoh’s) bring about his exaltation.

On appointing Joseph as ruler of Egypt, second only to himself, Pharaoh gives Joseph a new name, Zaphenath Paneah which means “the revealer of that which is hidden…” Joseph had indeed himself been hidden in slavery and then in prison yet within him was the ‘light’ which Pharaoh would need at the appropriate time to save not just the Egyptians but Jacob and his descendants as well.  He was hidden in order to be revealed at the right time.

Is it any wonder that the story of Joseph is read each year around the time of Hanukkah? There is a deep connection between the two.  When the Greeks had destroyed the Temple but the Macabbees prevailed over them, one small vial of pure oil was found in the rubble – hidden to be revealed at just the right time.  There was only enough oil for one day yet miraculously, the Menorah burned for eight days.

In Hebrew, the word ‘chinuch’ which means education shares the same root as the word Hanukkah which tells us that Hanukkah is meant to educate, both Jews and non-Jews.  To the Jew, Hanukkah is a powerful reminder of our calling as a people:  to be a LIGHT TO THE NATIONS.  To the non-Jew, Hanukkah testifies that though we suffer persecution, destruction, and exile, there will always be, as it were, at least one ‘vial of oil’ of Judaism left hidden among the nations to preserve the covenant which Hashem made with Avraham, Yitzhak and Ya’acov.  This is why Hanukkah is the only Jewish holiday which we are commanded to celebrate publicly.  The eight branch menorah, called a Hanukkiah, is to be placed in a window or just outside the front door of the home so its lights can be seen by everyone.

During the course of Hanukkah we light a total of 36 candles, each one a reminder that within every Jew is the spark of a tzaddik (a holy, righteous person) as Isaiah 60:21 declares ‘all Your people are tzaddikim…’

If Israel is going to fulfill her calling to be a light to the nations, how can our observance of Hanukkah help us achieve that goal?

The lighting of the candles each night has a profound meaning, far deeper than just preserving the memory of a great miracle.  It has been suggested that the the eight candles represent individually the following concepts:  knowledge, understanding, wisdom, righteous fear of G-d, love for G-d, love for the Torah, love for the Land of Israel and love towards our fellow Jews. 

On the first night, we pray as we light the candle that our knowledge of G-d would increase; the second night, our understanding of His ways; the third night, for wisdom and son on.  By the last day of Hanukkah, as we have focused on these eight qualities needed in every Jewish soul, we begin to see the vision emerge of how Israel can truly be a “Light to the Nations”.  As each individual Jew, represented by the individual candles of the hanukkiah, grows in knowledge, understanding and wisdom, in righteous fear of heaven, love of G-d and His Torah, love of Israel and all her people, the entire nation is elevated closer and closer to its mission of being a holy people unto Hashem and through that holiness spreading His light throughout the world.

Joseph, the ‘revealer of that which is hidden, typifies all of Am Yisrael, hidden among the nations, but ONLY hidden, like the flask of oil for the PURPOSE of being revealed at the right time.

May Israel’s mission come forth and be fulfilled, even in our day.

Shabbat Shalom and Hanukkah Sameach!

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