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The sidra is cast against the background of a regional famine. Yossef rises literally from the depths of a prison pit to second in the Egyptian leadership and his brothers’ initial forays in reuniting with their estranged sibling. This sidra is generally read during the festival of Chanukah. Consequently the fact these events coincide belies a connection between them. What is the common thread between Yossef and the Maccabim?
A common theme between the two is how one remains true to one’s identity when the surrounding society not only does not share one’s creed but is hostile to it. One needs to analyze what exactly was Yossef’s standing in Pharaoh’s court? When the wine steward suggests Yossef for interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams Yossef is described in derogatory terms (see Bereshith 41:12 and Rashi ad loc). Pharaoh showers Yossef with praise. Yossef is declared as peerless amongst his countrymen with unparalleled spiritual and analytic skills that earn his a place as a national leader (see 41:38-40 Rashi ad loc). Even with all his power and Pharaoh’s enthusiastic patronage Yossef was not accepted fully in Egyptian society (see 43:32 Rashbam ad loc).
It would seem Yossef would do whatever it took to secure his position within his adopted home. Yossef would be reasonably expected to conduct himself in a manner to fully integrate, assimilate and ingratiate his way to full acceptance. However in 42:19 Yossef has no hesitation in telling his brothers that he is a G-D fearing person and as Nachmonidies ZT’L ZY’A explains this fear of G-D will not allow the prisoners’ family perish from hunger. Egypt was hardly a place renown for pious behavior as Yossef leant first hand in Potiphar’s house (see Chapter 39) and anecdotally from Great-Grandfather Avraham’s experience with Sara (see 12:11-20). Even so Yossef persisted in leading a pious life. Yossef chose to remain Yossef and not to totally assume Egyptian morals and mores. Yossef retained his identity by himself, no family or community of like minded people at all. The whole environment contradicted Yossef’s world view it did not matter.
The Maccabim began as a grassroots movement. The leader Matityahu the High Priest was called Hashmonae an acrostic for Chodesh, the New Moon, Shabbat, the Sabbath and Mila, circumcision the three most iconic Jewish practices the Greeks outlawed in their campaign against Judaism. Matisyahu and his sons could have gone with the flow and followed the path of so many peoples and cultures absorbed by Hellenism.
The Hashmonean attracted followers who could not allow what defines their lives be corrupted. The Hashmonean understood wresting D-vine authorship from the Torah and its laws would mean living a lie a contradiction no manner rationalization could justify. The Chanukah celebration is two tiered one the military success in retaking the Temple Mount though warfare continued for years afterwards and secondly the miracle of the oil lasting for eight days when is was only sufficient for a single day. Rabbi Nachman of Breslov ZT’L ZY’A (Lekutei MaRan II:2(1)) comments on the significance of Chanukah being characterized in the Talmud (Shabbat 21b) as days of praise and thanksgiving. The implication is “ . . .[T]\o recognize Him, may He be blessed so one can rely on and be closer to Him may He be blessed. As one’s knowledge and perception of G-D increases one’s reliance on G-D grows proportionally greater. . . .” The things fought for lie at the core of the Jewish national consciousness and belief. As both Rabbi Yossef Dov Solevechick of Boston ZT’L and Bene Yisacher ZT’L ZY’A there is no scriptural record of the events to be recited on the holiday. Rather there is liturgy and actions both ordained by the Sages. Both observances are anchored in a belief not just in scripture’s D-vine origins but in the underlying faith that guides one’s instincts.
Chanukah like Yossef exemplify the fidelity to identity and faith one is capable to embrace even if it means standing alone in isolation because being anything else just does not fit.