This week we will be reading from parashat Vayeshev. It is the beginning of the Joseph story, made even more famous in popular culture by the Andrew Lloyd Webber Musical: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. This Shabbat is just a couple of days before the start of Chanukah which begins Sunday night at sundown.
Vayeshev is always read near the observance of Chanukah, often falling on the Shabbat that takes place immediately before the lighting of the first candle. In addition, there is a thematic connection between Vayeshev and Chanukah. Vayeshev tells us the beginning of Joseph’s journey. It will be a journey of trials, suffering, more suffering and ultimately redemption. The Chanukah story with the Hasmonean revolt against the Selucid-Greeks is very much the same story as well.
I mention this because we celebrate Chanukah as if the conquest of Jerusalem and the redemption of the Temple by the Maccabees was the culmination of the war. In actuality, it was a seven-year long battle from 167-160 BCE. The Maccabees, led by Judah, defeated Lysias, the Greek General in 165 at the gates of Jerusalem. The Jews then spent months cleansing and purifying the Temple which had been desecrated by the Greeks under Antiochus IV. Its rededication resulted in an eight-day festival, most likely due to Sukkot being delayed because of the war (not because of the later rabbinic story of the miracle of the oil). Following this, the war continued for another five years, where Judah died in battle in 161 and his brother Jonathan took over solidifying Hasmonean rule, which would last for another one hundred years.
Chanukah, therefore, was not the end of the struggles and sorrow, but instead was a brief moment of light and radiance for the entire community. It is also appropriate that as we are entering the darkest time of the year in the northern Hemisphere, we are reminding ourselves that there is light.
At the end of this week’s parasha, Joseph is in Pharaoh’s prison, alone and forgotten. At the end of the historical observance of Chanukah, the enemies of Israel were still an existential threat. Thankfully we know that is not how the story ended. When we light the Chanukiyah, and when we tell the story of Joseph, we know that if they could make it through those times, so too, we can make it through these.
May the lights of our candles and the stories of our people help us find the courage to continue to move forward towards a better tomorrow.
Shabbat Shalom, and an early Chag Urim Sameach (Happy Festival of Lights)!
Rabbi Benjamin A. Sharff