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From Under the Depths, They Met the Challenge
Parashat Miketz marks a real turning point in the Joseph saga. In last week's Torah portion, Joseph was in a "pit," literally and metaphorically. He was betrayed by his older brothers, having been lowered into a pit in the desert, cast into the depths of slavery and then thrown into an Egyptian prison cell.
This week, the portion begins with the dreams of Pharaoh. These dreams mark a change in Joseph's fortunes; he is lifted out of prison to interpret the king's dreams, and eventually becomes second in command to Pharoah in the Egyptian government.
So, Joseph's fortunes are reversed, and his state of mind is transformed from despair to hope. His ties with his family were completely severed. But in Miketz, Joseph becomes part of a family once again; he marries Asnat bat Potifera, and has two children, Menashe and Ephraim.
Joseph's story embodies a series of reversals that are reflected in Psalm 30. The psalmist realizes that God was the One who enabled him to rise from his sorrow. "Adonai, it is You who lifted up my soul from the netherworld. It is You who kept me alive, lest I descend into the pit."
These words seem to allude to Joseph. Yet the words may also refer to the Maccabees. When all seemed lost to Judah Maccabee and his brothers, they emerged from the depths to achieve a miraculous victory over Antiochus and his army of Syrian-Greeks.
Dark to Light
There are many parallels between the reversals in the Joseph saga and in the Chanukah story. Both Joseph and the Maccabees experienced miracles. The miracles of the Chanukah story are enumerated in the Talmud, in the apocryphal books of the Maccabees, and in the "Al Hanissim" prayer that we recite on Chanukah during the Amidah and Birkat Hamazon. The words, "Al Hanissim" ("for the miracles") refer, in part, to the miracle of the victory of the Maccabees against the forces of persecution and assimilation.
Of course, we're all familiar with the miracle of the small cruse of oil, which was meant for only one day but lasted for eight. Joseph's survival and success in Egypt may also be viewed as miracles. According to a midrash in Shemot Rabbah, Joseph named his child "Ephraim" ("product of my fruitfulness") to remind himself of God's miracles.
And just as Joseph succeeded against all odds, so did the Maccabees. Joseph dreamed of his brothers' sheaves of wheat bowing down to his sheaf of wheat. Joseph's dream comes true when his brothers grovel before him in Egypt. The "many" brothers become subservient to the "one" Joseph. So too, do the "few" Maccabees defeat the "many" Syrian-Greeks and Hellenizers in the Chanukah story.
There is yet another parallel between the two tales; both embody the theme of reversal from darkness to light.
According to a midrash in Bereshit Rabbah, Joseph -- who climbs up from the darkness of the pit into a life of increasing light -- knows that darkness can come to an end.
So, too, does Chanukah celebrate the reversal from darkness to light. Quite literally, the darkness in the Temple was illuminated for eight days by one little cruse of oil. Metaphorically, the darkness of the Jewish people was illuminated when the Maccabees defeated Antiochus and his army.
Chanukah reminds us that we must not sit around and wait for darkness to turn to light on its own. We have to bring whatever light we have and whatever faith we have into the dark places that sometimes surround us. We have to strive to be partners with God in order to effect reversals in our lives from darkness to light.
Through this sacred partnership, the light that we bring into the world may last well beyond eight days.
Rabbi Lisa S. Malik is rabbi of the Suburban Jewish Community Center-B'nai Aaron in Havertown.