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Thursday, December 09, 2004

Miketz - The Spirit of God (Hanukkah)

ויאמר פרעה אל עבדיו: הנמצא כזה איש אשר רוח אלהים בו

(בראשית מ"א, ל"ח)

This year, as in most years, parashat Miketz coincides with Hanukkah. Even though the events of Hanukkah occurred long before the rules of the Torah readings was set, many commentators still find connecting ties and similarities between the events recounted in Miketz and those of Hannukah. One of these similarities is the relationship between Jews and other nations.

Miketz opens with with the interpretation of the dreams of Pharaoh by Yossef and the latter's swift ascent to the throne, as second-in-command and deputy ruler of Egypt. We find no discrimination against Yossef on account of him being a Hebrew; there is no "anti-semitism" in Egypt (at least not an obvious one in the text). Pharaoh himself describes Yossef thus:

And Pharaoh said unto his servants, 'Can we find such a one such as this is, a man in whom the spirit of God is?'

(Bereshit 41:38; KJV)

Even though Yossef is an "infidel" in the eyes of the Egyptians, and despite him being a captive servant and an ex-convict, Pharaoh, after witnessing his abilities, describes him as a man with a "spirit of God". The Egyptians accept to appoint a foreigner as ruler of Egypt, second only to their king, thus displaying an astonishingly flexible and open-minded attitude (in comparison, US law today forbids an American who was born overseas to run for President).

Let's turn to Hanukkah, the story of another relationship between Jews and other nations. Before and after reading the Torah this coming Shabbat, we will recite the Al HaNissim prayer during the Amidah. In it we remember the fight against the "evil Greek kingdom", a fight on both the cultural/religious and physical levels. Hanukkah has become symbolic of the hatred of Israel expressed by other nations throughout history. In the traditional Hanukkah song, Maoz Tsur, we read verses about this relationship of hatred from the days of Egypt (the Pharaoh "who did not know Yossef") until the days of the Second Temple.

These contrasting views are an example of the contrasting ways of Jewish history and one may be tempted to draw a pessimistic conclusion from this: conflicts between Jews and other nations are unavoidable. Rather than letting in to despair, we must try to build a more hopeful vision for the future. The key is in the "spirit of God".

Hanukkah is Chag HaUrim, the Festival of Lights, and the Halacha tells us to light one more candle every night, in order to "go up in holiness" and not down. We must apply this principle also to our lives, to the way we contribute to the world around us. If Pharaoh saw the "Spirit of God" in Yossef, surely we must rely on this very Spirit to influence the nations in Israel's favour. Force is not always the way, and certainly not the only way. King Shlomo writes in Kohellet: "a time for war and a time for peace". As much as possible, we should try to turn to the Spirit and not to the sword. As the prophet Zechariah writes (in the Haftarah we read on Shabbat Hanukkah):

This is the word of the Lord unto Zerubbabel, saying: Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord of hosts.

(Zechariah 4, 6; KJV)

The idea for this week's Parasha Thought is from Dr. Ariel Rathaus of the Hebrew University.

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