A hid­den les­son of the Hanukkah story

The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - OBSERVATIONS - • DAVID GOLINKIN The writer, a rabbi and pro­fes­sor, is the pres­i­dent of the Schechter In­sti­tutes, Inc., Jerusalem.

This year, the weekly por­tion of Miketz oc­curs dur­ing the hol­i­day of Hanukkah. While this might be a sim­ple co­in­ci­dence of the Jewish cal­en­dar, there is, nev­er­the­less, a strong con­nec­tion be­tween Hanukkah and the story of Joseph and his broth­ers. It can be summed up in a say­ing of Rabbi Yitzhak Abar­banel (on Judges 21:5): “All the good of Is­rael and its sur­vival de­pends on its unity.”

We were all taught as chil­dren that the Mac­cabees were “the good guys” and the Greeks were “the bad guys.” This is un­doubt­edly true, as we read in the First Book of Mac­cabees (1:41-50):

“Then the king [An­ti­ochus] wrote to his whole king­dom that all should be one peo­ple, and that each should give up his cus­toms… And the king sent let­ters by mes­sen­gers to Jerusalem and the cities of Ju­dah. He di­rected them to fol­low cus­toms strange to the land, to for­bid… sac­ri­fices… in the sanc­tu­ary, to pro­fane Sab­baths and feasts…, to build al­tars… for idols, to sac­ri­fice swine and un­clean an­i­mals, and to leave their sons un­cir­cum­cised… And who­ever does not obey the com­mand of the king shall die.”

But ac­cord­ing to the Sec­ond Book of Mac­cabees (Chap­ters 4-6), the de­crees of An­ti­ochus were the re­sult of the sense­less ha­tred among the Jewish lead­ers at the time, who plot­ted cease­lessly against one an­other, like an episode from Game of Thrones: Ja­son grabbed the High Priest­hood from his brother Onias; Menelaus grabbed it, in turn, from Ja­son. Onias slan­dered Menelaus to the au­thor­i­ties, who re­tal­i­ated by hav­ing Onias mur­dered. Ja­son then tried to cap­ture Jerusalem by force. As a re­sult, An­ti­ochus thought that the Jews were re­volt­ing against him. He cap­tured Jerusalem, killed 80,000 Jews, plun­dered the Tem­ple, out­lawed Jewish prac­tices and de­filed the Tem­ple – all on ac­count of the sense­less ha­tred men­tioned above.

The les­son of the Joseph story is the same. As our sages stress (Shab­bat 10b), if not for the sense­less en­mity be­tween Joseph and his broth­ers, Joseph would not have been sold into slav­ery in Egypt, and the Chil­dren of Is­rael would not have been enslaved there for 400 years.

His­tory re­peated it­self in the year 70 CE, as we have learned in the Tal­mud (Yoma 9b): “…but the Sec­ond Tem­ple in which they en­gaged in To­rah and mitzvot and acts of lov­ing kind­ness – why was it de­stroyed? Be­cause of sense­less ha­tred.” And so we learn from the sto­ries about the De­struc­tion found in the trac­tate of Git­tin (56a). There was enough food and wood in Jerusalem for a siege of 21 years. When the rebels saw that they could not con­vince the sages to fight against the Ro­mans, they burned all the wheat and bar­ley and a famine en­sued. In­deed, this story is con­firmed by Jose­phus (Wars IV, 6, 1-2; V, 1, 1-6).

Our prophets and sages un­der­stood the dan­ger of dis­unity and they there­fore stressed time af­ter time that unity leads to re­demp­tion. In Ezekiel 37, the prophet pre­dicts the re­u­ni­fi­ca­tion of the king­doms of Ju­dah and Is­rael (v. 16-22):

“Take a stick and write on it ‘Of Ju­dah’…and take an­other stick and write on it ‘Of Joseph – the stick of Ephraim’ … Bring them close to each other, so that they be­come one stick in your hand…Thus said the Lord God: ‘I am go­ing to take the Is­raelite peo­ple from among the na­tions… and gather them from ev­ery quar­ter, and bring them to their own land. I will make them a sin­gle na­tion in the land.’”

And so we have learned in Midrash Tan­huma (ed. Bu­ber, Nitza­vim, pp. 48-49):

“If a per­son takes a bun­dle of reeds – can he break them at the same time? But if he takes one at a time, even a child can break them. And so you find that the peo­ple of Is­rael will not be re­deemed un­til they are one bun­dle…”

The United States re­cently held midterm elec­tions, while the State of Is­rael re­cently held mu­nic­i­pal elec­tions. As is fre­quently the case, many can­di­dates in both coun­tries en­gaged in mud­sling­ing against their ri­vals, ac­cus­ing them of this, that or the other. One no­table ex­cep­tion was Al­iza Bloch, a re­li­gious-Zion­ist can­di­date who was elected mayor of Beit Shemesh, de­spite the fact that Beit Shemesh has a ma­jor­ity of haredim. She ran a cam­paign based on unity. She said in her vic­tory speech: “The peo­ple of Is­rael look to­day to Beit Shemesh with new hope. Beit Shemesh de­cided to can­cel its walls. Beit Shemesh de­cided to tear down its mehit­zot [di­viders]” (The Jerusalem Post, Novem­ber 1).

This is the dual les­son of Hanukkah and of Joseph and his broth­ers: dis­unity leads to de­feat and ex­ile; unity leads to re­demp­tion. May we re­mem­ber this les­son as we light the Hanukkah can­dles. Happy Hanukkah!

Our prophets and sages un­der­stood the dan­ger of dis­unity and they there­fore stressed time af­ter time that unity leads to re­demp­tion

(Wiki­me­dia Com­mons)

REEDS GROW in a Scot­tish salt marsh: ‘If a per­son takes a bun­dle of reeds – can he break them at the same time? But if he takes one at a time, even a child can break them.’


A CY­CLIST rides past cam­paign signs for Ari­zona US sen­a­to­rial can­di­dates Kyrsten Sinema and Martha McSally, fol­low­ing the US midterm elec­tions in Scotts­dale, Ari­zona, on Novem­ber 7.

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