Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Miketz
To dedicate this lesson

Come Together, Right Now


Rabbi Stewart Weiss

Two questions stare out at me as I contemplate this week's Parsha: First, why does Yosef not reveal himself immediately to his brothers, rather than accuse them of being spies & making their lives miserable? Is he out for revenge? Is this the way a "Tzadik" behaves? And second, why is the story of Yosef & his siblings always, always read on Chanuka?

I will suggest one answer that addresses both questions.

Chanuka, of all the Jewish holidays, does not have a Talmudic tractate of its own; a brief discussion about it is contained within the Gemara of Shabbat. In the midst of talking about Chanuka, the Gemara (22a) suddenly, inexplicably, turns to the story of Yosef & says, "the pit in which Yosef was thrown had no water; but it DID contain snakes & scorpions."

Huh? What is THIS doing here?!

On a technical level, the Gemara may be telling us that when you light the Chanukiya, it may not be too high, & it also may not be too low – such as at the bottom of a pit - because then other people will not be able to see it. And if they can't see the Chanukiya, then the crucial, added element of pirsumei nisa, publicizing the miracle, will be absent.

OK, that makes sense, but I still want to understand how Yosef fits into all this. So consider:

When Yosef first encounters his brothers in Egypt, he sees that they have not changed significantly from the siblings who cruelly threw him into the pit & sold him off as a slave. They still are at each other’s throats, fighting constantly among themselves & blaming one another. In Yosef's eyes, they are more "snakes & scorpions," hissing & biting each other, than loving family members.

And so he does not want to reveal himself & publicize the fact that he, too, is "one of them." That would surely not distinguish him in the eyes of the Egyptians, over whom he ruled.

But then the brothers, finally, admit their previous sin against Yosef. Led by Yehuda - Yosef’s rival in the family & the one who recommended that he be sold as a slave in the first place - they stand up in defense of their youngest brother Binyamin, Yosef’s only full sibling. Yosef now realizes that his brothers have done Teshuva & that they have finally come together in unity of purpose. At that point, Yosef is willing to unmask, & proudly "show off" his family to all of Egypt.

Chanuka – like the story of Yosef – is all about the tragedy that results when we are at odds with one another, & the miraculous things that can occur when we unite as a family, displaying our love for all the world to see.

As we here in Israel (here we go - again!) enter into pre-election mode, I shudder to hear all the rancor & ugly rhetoric that is already being cast by some Jews upon their fellow Jews. Let us internalize the lesson of Yosef & the lesson of Chanuka, and cast OUR vote for those who unite - rather than divide – the nation. That would be the greatest pirsumei nisa of all.
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