“The seven years of abundance that came to pass in the land of Egypt ended.” (Genesis 41:53)
Parashat Miketz describes Joseph’s astonishing ascent from prisoner to power. Pharaoh appoints him second-in-command over all of Egypt, providing him with the clothing, ring, and chain that symbolize authority (Gen. 41:41-43). Pharaoh also bestows upon him an Egyptian name (Tsaf’nat Panei-ach) and an Egyptian wife (Asnat; Gen. 41:45). Joseph is well on his way to becoming Egyptian; will he or won’t he?
Because Miketz is always read during or in close proximity to Chanukkah, it’s worth examining Joseph’s dilemma through the lens of the Chanukkah story. Chanukkah is about two simultaneous conflicts: an internal war between the Jews over the correct way to be Jewish and an external war with the Greeks over religious coercion. The Greeks seek to impose their culture upon the Jews by forbidding three Jewish practices, specifically: observing Shabbat, the symbol of God’s authority; proclaiming the New Moon, representing the sanctity of time; and, performing circumcision, the physical sign of the covenant.
Now, Pharaoh has not forbidden Joseph anything (and inasmuch as the Torah has not yet been revealed, there’s not so much to forbid!) so Joseph can continue to live as he pleases. Still, he names the first of his two children Menashe, “…for God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s household” (Gen. 41:50-52). Can Joseph remain a Hebrew (read: Jewish) if he forgets the ways of his people? Joseph embodies the Chanukkah story and anticipates the challenge Jews confront in every age: how to navigate the inherent tension between loyalty to tradition and openness to change.
Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom
A Freyliche Chanike/Chag Urim Sameach/Happy Chanukah