Emanuel Synagogue

Parashat Mikketz

Almost every year, Parashat Miketz is read on the Shabbat during Chanukah. What is the connection between Miketz and Chanukah?  One connection is being prepared to be unpopular at the time, in order to deliver the right message for the future.

Joseph interprets Pharaoh’s dreams in a prophetic, but critically honest fashion. He tells Pharaoh that there will be a devastating famine and that Pharaoh’s authorities are not prepared for it. Pharaoh’s rule as king could be threatened unless he prepares properly for the future. Many authorities choose to sacrifice tomorrow for today, to turn a blind eye to the future and focus on the glory of the successes of the present.

Pharaoh had many advisers that attempted to interpret his troubling dreams. They were assenters, who only said what they believed Pharaoh wanted to hear. They told him that there was nothing wrong with how matters were being managed, and that future potential dangers were not the fault of the king or lack of planning, and they said that these dangers could not be prevented. Pharaoh eventually ignores their interpretations. Joseph is the only one who dares to explain the meaning of the dreams, and that something needs to be done. There’s a deeper reason why these dreams disturb Pharaoh so much. Not at all a popular approach, but Joseph knows that it’s the truth that will help save Pharaoh and Egypt, as well as others, including Joseph’s extended family.

In its simplest form, the story of Chanukah repeats the same message of facing an unpopular truth, especially in Jewish life and history. The Syrian-Greeks offered a desirable and civilised culture. The Jews, with their established practices and Torah-based ideals, seemed primitive in comparison with the Syrian-Greeks and their customs. Many thousands of Jews converted and became Hellenists. Moreover, they demanded that the Jews who remained loyal to the Torah and the values of their ancestors not only accept them as Hellenists, but also agree that they (the new Hellenists) would be the ones to lead the Jewish people into a brave, new Greek world. They were not willing to face the truth that Hellenizing Jews could eventually mean the destruction of the Jewish people, and thereby Judaism. 

The Hasmoneans not only fought the Syrian-Greeks, liberated the Temple and rekindled its Menorah, but more importantly, they weren’t afraid to deliver an unpleasant truth that struck at the core of what those who had converted to Hellenism would rather not hear. They told them that a Judaism without Shabbat and other important Jewish rituals and practices would have a dire effect on Judaism and the Jewish people. It wasn’t so much about adaptation, but rather complete assimilation.

Both Joseph and the Hasmoneans opted to take the more difficult approach in delivering their respective messages. They both realised that sometimes you have to convey these messages and lessons in a firm and straight-forward manner. Often it’s the last thing people want to hear, but it may be necessary if you want to achieve the desired result.

Shabbat Shalom, Chodesh Tov, and Chag Chanukah Same’ach.

Reverend Sam Zwarenstein