After last weeks parashiot focusing on Jacob/Israel and his older sons, Parashat Vayeishev (24.12.) introduces the concluding narrative of the first book of Moses with telling us the story of Joseph who is first sold by his brothers into slavery and than rises to second in command after pharaoh in Egypt.It is interesting that Shabbat Chanukah nearly always coincides with the story about Joseph and his brothers.
The very first Chanukah was quite different than our own. As you know centuries ago the Maccabees fought a three year struggle against the mighty Syrian-Greek army. The ruler of the Syrian-Greeks, Antiochus Epiphanes had decreed that our people could no longer practice their Judaism, such as no Jewish sacrifices could be offered. Instead sacrifices of pigs had to be made to Zeus. Pagan temples had to be built in the land of Israel. Circumcision was prohibited. Shabbat and holiday celebrations were strictly forbidden. The penalty for not following any of these rules was of course, death. And finally it was forbidden to identify oneself as a Jew. No one was even allowed to use Jewish names any more. So you could not be called Noah or Talya or Joshua, but you could
be called Bruce, Kim or Adrian.
Thank God the Maccabees did not want to be called Adrian. The Maccabees would not have any of these laws. They fought a long hard battle and as you know, won. They cleaned up the Temple, dedicated it in an eight day long celebration (Chanukah means dedication), threw out all of those Jewish Adrian’s, and proclaimed the holiday of Chanukah for all generations to come. Today we light our menorahs to commemorate their victory.
The first Chanukah was about fighting not to be like others. But in the Torah we learn about Joseph that he is indeed the first Jew to live in a foreign land. He lives among the Egyptians, making a home for himself there and becomes the second in command of all of Egypt. It is therefore more than a bit ironic that on the Shabbat when we celebrate Chanukkah and its message of being different than others and more importantly our right to be different, we read of Joseph taking on an Egyptian name and acting so much like an Egyptian that his brothers don’t even recognise him when they come begging for food. Throughout the generations, Judaism has gone back and forth between these poles. We want to be different. We want to be the same. Look at the next generation of our Children at Bet David! Children are called Shira and Ariel. Only one generation back, children were called Walter or Susanne. Back and forth with the names we travel, always struggling to live as a Jew while being a part of the world at large. We want to be different. We want to be the same. That is the eternal story of Chanukah.
I imagine that in another generation our names will be different again. We can change a name, but we will forever remain the same. We will always be the Jewish people.That is the meaning of Chanukah. That is the import of the twists and turns in our Torah readings this month.
Shabbat Shalom and Happy Chanukah
Rabbi Adrian M Schell (Source: Steven Moskowitz)