The sages believe that there are no coincidences and there must be a reason why the story of Joseph and his brothers is in the weekly Torah portion read on Chanukah.
By: Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel
The commentators note that the weekly Torah portion dealing with the story of Joseph is coincidentally read on Chanukah. Indeed, there are many connections between Joseph and Chanukah. As this is certainly no coincidence, let’s try and see what we can learn from the Joseph-Chanukah connection.
Among the many themes in the story of Joseph is baseless hatred. In fact, it is the first documented instance of baseless hatred between Jews. Joseph’s brothers hated him – to the point of planning to murder him, for no good reason. Unless, of course, you consider a dream, or the jealousy of not receiving a fancy coat, solid grounds for murder.
In the end, Joseph wasn’t murdered, but he did go through a very rough time – he was sold into slavery, accused of trying to seduce Potiphar’s wife, and forced to spend several years in an Egyptian prison.
Chanukah is also about baseless hatred: the baseless hatred and intolerance that Antiochus and his Hellenist occupiers had for the Jewish people. Antiochus, the leader of the Syrian-Greeks at the time, enacted all kinds of anti-Jewish decrees, essentially forbidding the Jews from practicing their religion. He forbade the observance of Shabbat and holidays, cancelled the daily service in the Holy Temple, and made sure that kosher food was not available. He also forced the Jews to denounce God and Torah by writing that they rejected God…on the horns of their oxen.
Interestingly, Joseph is compared to an ox throughout scripture (see, for example, Deut. 33:17). It is also noted that the numerical value (“Gematria”) of the word “Joseph” is the same as “Antiochus.” This is just a sampling of the many Chanukah-Joseph connections.
Why is the Joseph story so connected to Chanukah?
A Divine Wake-Up Call
It is explained that the hatred that the brothers showed Joseph was repeated among the Jews during the Chanukah era. Antiochus’s [temporary] success in conquering the Jewish people and making their lives miserable was an intentional Divine wake-up call to the Jews as a result of the disunity and strife that prevailed among them. It was only when the Jewish people united under the Maccabees that their fate started to change. They realized that the only way to survive Antiochus’s persecution was to put aside their differences and unify for the common good.
Some even explain that it was their desire for peace and unity among themselves, and not necessarily their desire for religious freedom, that influenced them to stand up against Antiochus. According to this approach, when there is peace and unity, spiritual life will automatically be more enjoyable and accessible.
As the joke goes, one of the miracles of Chanukah was that the Maccabees found a single flask of oil…and everyone accepted it as kosher (whereas today, there are many different kosher-certifying agencies due to the many opinions and interpretations on what is considered to be kosher)
This is just one of the many reasons that the Torah portions that deal with Joseph are “coincidentally” read during the week of Chanukah. It is a reminder that we should always work towards unity and put aside arguments and dissension. We must learn from the mistake of Joseph’s brothers and not repeat it.
So be sure to light up not only your life during Chanukah, but also the lives of others as well!
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