This week we will be reading from parashat Miketz. It is a continuation of the Joseph novella. It begins with Pharaoh having a dream, two years after Joseph’s imprisonment, that no one is able to interpret. Eventually the chief cupbearer finally remembers the kindness Joseph bestowed upon him when he was in prison and tells Pharaoh of Joseph’s interpretive abilities. To make a long story short, Joseph is released, cleaned up, and presented to Pharaoh. Joseph then tells Pharaoh what the dreams mean. Joseph predicts seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine. At the end of it all, Pharaoh places Joseph as his right-hand-man to oversee the preparations for the seven years of famine.
What struck me is that Joseph truly is a stranger in a strange land. He adopts many of the customs of the Egyptians including his style of dress and appearance. Nonetheless, as the rabbis argue, Joseph remained faithful to Jewish tradition during his entire time in Egypt. He never lost that sense of being Jewish and connected to God and the burgeoning heritage he received from his family.
This is one of those years where Chanukah and Christmas overlap, and there is often an effort to merge these two vastly different religious celebrations. It is particularly noticeable in stores where they will often take Christmas items and simply paint them white and blue and declare them appropriate for Chanukah.
The reality is, Chanukah was all about a fight for religious freedom against the oppressive regime of the Selucid-Greeks. Christmas, on the other hand is a celebration of the birth of the Christian messiah. Perhaps the only true overlap is that because they are both winter festivals, we enjoy the use of light during these dark times.
Like Joseph, even as we are part of the broader society, we can remind ourselves that there is power in keeping our own customs and traditions. Chanukah is not simply Jewish-Christmas. It is its own celebration that is unique and special. From making latkes, to spinning the dreidel, to lighting the Chanukiyah, to the melodies of songs like Maoz Tzur and Adam Sandler’s Chanukah Song, and the many myriad of acapella parodies, we are reminded of the importance of acknowledging our heritage.
Our tradition does not need to be subsumed by the larger societal celebrations. Chanukah and Shabbat are celebrations in and of themselves. And to observe them adds a richness and beauty to our Jewish journeys. We don’t need to lose that uniqueness to the consumerism brought on by this season. There is no need to buy a ‘mensch on bench,’ but if you come across a Star Wars menorah, let me know, I’d love to have one.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Urim Sameach,
Rabbi Benjamin A. Sharff