Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Miketz
To dedicate this lesson

Yosef’s Menora


Rabbi Stewart Weiss

Kislev 29 5780
Is there a connection between Yosef & Chanuka? True, Yosef lived long before the Maccabim ever did. But then, why do we always read the saga of Yosef on Chanuka each year? And why does the Gemara in Shabbat, that discusses the Menora, suddenly throw in a mention of Yosef stranded in the pit?

We’ll answer this in a bit. But first, let’s turn to the famous dispute between Hillel & Shammai, as to how we are to light. Shammai says that we start with 8 lights & wind down to 1; Hillel counters that we start with 1 & then work our way up to 8. One rationale for their opinions: The purpose of the light is to conquer darkness; Shammai says in order to do that, you need an initial burst of light, a solid "opening punch" to stagger the enemy; after that, it will be an easier fight, so you can reduce the energy level more & more.

Hillel counters that the struggle against darkness is a continuous process; start small but keep going, build on your momentum. The key to victory is determination & persistence; the race is won by slow yet steady progress.

Yosef is the perfect model for gradual growth, particularly as it relates to his relationship with his family & his people. When he first lands in Egypt, he is – quite understandably – disenchanted with both his brothers & his father. After all, they threw him in the pit, cruelly ignoring his pleas for help, then they sold him into slavery & nonchalantly sat themselves down for a hearty meal.

Is it any wonder that Yosef does not try to find his folks, even after he becomes Viceroy of Egypt & has virtually unlimited power? Maybe Yosef just doesn’t want to find them!

He gets a new, Egyptian name – Tzafnat Paneach, which means "hidden face" - & an Egyptian wife. He even names his first son "Menashe," because "he has forgotten his father’s house." He "walks like an Egyptian" & looks like one, too – it’s likely that is why his brothers don’t recognize him even when they stand directly in front of him. But little by little, Yosef starts to change. He notes how the Egyptians refuse to break bread with Hebrews, whom they consider "abominable." He names his second son "Efraim," saying, Hashem has made me fruitful "in the land of my oppression."

He sees how Yehuda stands up for Binyamin, even at the risk of his life. He longs for his one true father – Yakov - & somehow senses that Paro – who has been a kind of foster father to him – will not always be so benevolent. He comes to understand that his true loyalty is to Am Yisrael, & so he cautions his family to live separate from the Egyptians. He sternly reminds them that ultimately they will – they must! – leave this, & every other Exile in history - no matter how cushy it may seem - to come back to Israel, our only true home.

Yosef, then, was clearly a pre-existing Hillel supporter. His life exemplifies that growth doesn’t usually occur in huge spurts; it comes slowly, step-by-step. In that dark pit, Yosef lit the lights in ascending order - & so do we.
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