Candles Fri 30th December at 4:18 pm
Havdalah 31st at 5:18 pm
Yosef and Chanukah have been linked ever since the Talmud in Shabbat gave us the laws of Chanukah and then went on to talk about Joseph being thrown into the pit which was empty and had no water but did have snakes and scorpions.
You might think the connection between Joseph and the Mikeytz is that, as this week, it often happens that the Torah reading on Shabbat is about Joseph emerging from the pit his brothers threw him into. Then he was thrown into the pit of the prison in Egypt by Potiphar. From all this he emerged to become the master of the country. And this is usually read on the Shabbat of Chanukah where the Jewish people emerged from the heel of alien oppression to gain control of their own destiny when they defeated the Syrian Greeks. A fitting message of hope this week where Obama and Kerry have revealed their antipathy towards Israel blaming it alone for the stalemate in the Middle East.
The Talmud however implies something more. The light of Chanukah lasting as long as it did, defied natural law. Similarly, Joseph being thrown into pit of snakes survived. This too defied nature. The rabbis were eager to stress that survival physically is important but not enough. We need spiritual survival too and that is not a matter of arms or winning wars. And that is why the Haftarah this week contains the message of hope to Zerubavel that he would lead the Jews exiled in Babylon back home “Neither by strength nor buy might but by the spirit of God do the Jews survive.”
And yet in addition to our faith, we must do what we can physically to survive. And Joseph represents this combination.
The more I read about Joseph the more impressed I am. The way he rebounded from one disaster after another, how he worked hard to reach the top time and time again and how when he got there he knew how to keep both his boss and the masses happy, avoid offending entrenched priestly interests, running an economy with booms and busts and avoiding irrational exuberance. And throughout it all, the lows and the high, he preserved his spiritual integrity and values. A poster boy for Jewish talent and adaptability. Yet, clearly he had the spiritual dimension. The faith in God that kept him going.
The fact is the narratives of the Torah lend themselves to multiple possibilities and variations. Sometimes one aspect seems more relevant than the other. But each one of us is invited to find the interpretation that most suits our own predicament and circumstances. The real significance for us of the story is the lesson we draw from it.