Just as the butler chose to allow the memory of Joseph to fade away, the Greeks were confident that they could cause the Torah, its commandments and its lifestyle to fade away from among the Jews.
This week’s Torah portion is Vayeishev (Genesis 37:1-40:23). It must also be noted that the following week we celebrate Chanukah – the Festival of Lights! I believe that there is a connection between this week’s Torah portion and the Chanuka.
At the end of our Torah portion we find Joseph in jail for a crime he didn’t commit. In jail along with Joseph was Pharaoh’s butler. Joseph and the butler became friendly. Joseph would always cheer up the butler and he even prophesized that the butler would one day be released from jail and restored to his position. Of course, Joseph’s prophecy came true, and the butler was soon on his way to freedom. Before leaving the jail, however, Joseph begs the butler to do him a favor: to remember him and to plead on his behalf to Pharaoh that he, too, be released.
But no. “And the butler did not remember Joseph. He forgot him” (Genesis 40:23).
Is it possible that after spending years in prison together, cheering him up, assuring him through Divine intervention he would be released and even assuring him that he would be restored to his former position, that the butler could FORGET Joseph? Of course not. I’m sure that the butler appreciated every second he spent with Joseph in jail and even blessed his name every day after being released and restored to his position. This is especially true since the butler’s colleague, Pharaoh’s baker, was put to death for a nearly identical crime as he had committed!
No. The butler did not forget Joseph. Rather, he CHOSE not to remember him! He allowed the memories of an experience, an adventure and a friend to become insignificant. He chose to “move on”. He didn’t need Joseph any more. He was too busy. Too important. Too distracted. He was, of course, the butler to Pharaoh – virtually the highest position in the land!
This, my friends, is what the ancient Greeks tried to seduce the Jewish people into doing. We recite in the Chanuka prayers “…and they tried to cause the Jews to forget the Torah.” Do you really think that anyone who was observing the Torah for 20, 30, or 50 years would suddenly forget the Torah because some enemy soldier told them to? Of course not. You can’t forget something that has been a way of life for decades! Rather, the Greeks wanted us to CHOOSE not to remember the Torah. To cease observing it. To exchange it for the Hellenistic culture of self-idolization rather than Divine worship. For us to become one of them.
Just like the butler chose to allow the memory of Joseph to fade away, the Greeks were confident that they could cause the Torah, its commandments and its lifestyle to fade away from among the Jews. They wanted the Jews and Greeks to merge into a single nation. The Greek’s weren’t the first to come up with that idea! It was even suggested in last week’s Torah portion. As the Shechemites told Jacob: “….let’s us take your daughters for our wives and you’ll take our daughters for your wives. We will assimilate and become one nation!” The answer of course, then to the Shechemites, later to the Greeks, and even now to the entire world, is NO. We are Jews. We are proud to be Jews, and we will fight to remain Jews.
The message of Chanuka: We are proud to be Jews and will continue to fight to ensure that we remain unique, distinct, and UNITED as one.
Shabbat Shalom and Happy Chanukah from Israel!
By: Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel