The convergence of Chanuka and the week’s Torah reading presents fertile ground for homiletic cultivation. A shared theme between our parasha and Chanuka is the belief in the hidden Hand of Hashem in the world, which blurs the lines between that which we call miraculous and that which we call natural. As believing Jews, we are expected to believe that everything is in Hashem’s Hands. As halachic Jews, we are commanded to act with the natural course of life as a given to ensure our physical security, even when caution prevents us from maximizing our quest for a more complete, spiritual life.
The original Chashmonaim of Chanuka fame put their lives on the line in what strategically must have been considered a suicidal war in a situation where religiously they had little or no viable alternative. They trusted in Hashem and were victorious, gaining freedom for the nation and stopping religious persecution. Hashem rewarded them with a miracle, the longevity of a little, pure oil. Although the miracle’s practical ramifications appear limited, it has served as a sign of love and a reminder that as important as physical efforts are, ultimately all success is a Divine miracle. The Chashmonaim’s dynasty did not maintain success in finding the right balance between doing what is politically prudent and clinging to a full belief in Hashem. As the Ramban (Bereishit 32:4) points out, they precipitated our fall into the Roman hands that destroyed our Temple by making treaties with the Romans that invited their control over the Jewish commonwealth.
The Ramban hints at the extreme difficulty in finding the right balance beween natural pragmatism and belief in Hashem in his treatment of Yaakov’s approach toward his evil, powerful brother. After praising Yaakov’s three-pronged strategy of prayer, appeasement and readiness to fight as a model for future Jewish behavior, he criticizes Yaakov’s overture as a premature one, which was the precursor to the aforementioned Chashmonaic failure.
In this week’s parasha we find Yosef waiting two years to be taken out of jail because he put too much faith in the Sar Hamashkim’s ability to save him. Indeed, the Sar Hamashkim did end up being the vehicle for his extrication from jail, but not in the time frame and manner he anticipated. It was apparently not that the fact that Yosef made efforts was fundamentally wrong. Rather, something about the balance between his approach and the deep belief in Hashem’s control of everything was less than was expected of such a great tzaddik.
It is hard to expect that we can figure out an exact formula for choosing between practical actions we take in the natural world and the degree to which we rely on Divine Providence. But we find an instructive, complex approach in our parasha (43: 11-14). Upon sending Binyamin to the perils of Egypt, Yaakov prepares naturally with gifts, turns to Hashem to bless the efforts, and prepares himself psychologically and theologically for either a favorable or a tragic Divine Judgment. We would do well to study these (and other p’sukim) well.