Sleep is always precious. Benny and Henry frequently wake me up long before the time I have to be up. In contrast to a natural awakening, the sounds of Benny or Henry are stark (but music to my ears).
These two types of awakenings are reminiscent of the two awakenings we encounter this week: "...and Pharaoh awoke." He awoke to the puzzling images of his dreams and immediately queried what they meant and what response they demanded. We awake with an equal sense of confusing reality-a mixture of hope and anxiety attends our arising, and each of us always wonders, "What should I do?" "What dramas can be put aside, and what new challenges demand my full attention?" Increasingly, we ARE Joseph-called upon to be a voice of wisdom and holiness in a world of fear and hatred. Exercising this form of leadership is a privilege but also a burden. Our parashah is about the assumption of responsibility and living with the consequences of our decisions.
Miketz means "at the end," and in a way this parashah signals the end of the preliminaries of the Torah and the childhood of our people. The transition from being merely a family in Canaan to a nascent nation in Egypt has begun. The decisions made by our biblical characters increasingly impact not only on their own destinies but also the destiny of the whole world. From a modest beginning will come a mighty narrative that will eventually define the parameters of civilized society.
It seems appropriate that Miketz is connected each year to the festival ofHanukkah, which represents both a middle and a new beginning. This is an activist festival-the one more than any other when the initiatives of the people determined their destiny. The festival's name refers, of course, to the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem. But it also alludes to chinnukh, or education-this is a time to train ourselves with new skills and insights. Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav brings out a beautiful word play-through Hanukkah we reveal the hidden light of God's face.
There is a tradition of reciting the passage "Hanerot Hallalu" after lighting the Hanukkah candles. The earliest version of the text is found in theTalmud, Sofrim 20:6. It emphasizes that we are forbidden to use the light ofHanukkah (e.g. to read or cook by it), but we are merely to look at it and thereby praise God's name.
Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz (1565-1630), known generally as the "Shelah" for the name of his book, Shnei Luchot HaBerit says that Hanukkah is the "coming out" celebration where the righteous are able to reveal light that had previously been hidden and share it with the world. What is that light? It is the light is of the Shekhinah, the divine presence; the light of Torah; and the light of mitzvot.
It is our collective responsibility and joy to reveal hidden light-sources of joy on this festival. We can rise in darkness and feel burdened and overwhelmed by the troubles of the world. We can bemoan the weakness of our institutions and despair in our inability to redeem goodness, tranquility and holiness in this world. Or we can assert hope and banish darkness. Hanukkah teaches us to simply light and look at the dancing flames: not to use them but to absorb their light until we gain hope and courage and the ability to carry on our holy work.
Shabbat Shalom and Hanukkah Sameach!
Rabbi Jeffrey Abraham
Please note that Rabbi Abraham will be away for the holidays. His message will return on Friday, January 9th.