Friday Night Sermon (12/27/19): "Season of Miracles"


This week’s Torah portion is “Miketz”. It typically falls not only during the eight days of Hanukkah, but also during Rosh Hodesh, the new month of Tevet. So we have three themes that complement each other.

In the portion of “Miketz”, Joseph is let out of prison to interpret the Pharaoh’s dreams. He assesses that Egypt is on the verge of seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine. He also tells Pharaoh that the dream also has the solution to the famine and that Pharaoh should save a portion of this seven-year bumper crop to provide food during the famine. When Pharaoh complements and congratulates Joseph on his astuteness in interpreting what his magicians and wise men can’t, Joseph credits G-d as providing the answers through him. Pharaoh then sets up Joseph as the second-in-command to Pharaoh to arrange and organize for the coming famine.

We also have the sixth day of Hanukkah during this Shabbat and this Torah portion. Hanukkah remembers how the Seleucids have invaded and taken over Judea. The Maccabees of the Hasmonean family of priests wage a guerilla war that expels the Seleucids. Unfortunately, the Seleucids in their wake have desecrated the Temple and ruined the pure olive oil used for the Menorah. The supply of oil for one day miraculously lasts for the eight days it takes to press new oil.

Finally, this Shabbat also rings in the new month of Tevet. A new month is a new beginning. A new month is a new chance of opportunities.

During the eight days of Hanukkah, we add a special prayer during the prayer of “Modim anachnu lach”, “we gratefully thank you…for the miracles that you wrought daily”. During Hanukkah, we insert a prayer acknowledging the Maccabees: the few defeated the many, the weak defeated the strong, and the righteous overcame the evildoers. This was a miracle unto itself.

Joseph, too, was weak among the strong. He was a stranger in a strange land of people who despised outsiders. Yet here this stranger with completely different customs, a man who worshipped the one G-d, found an exulted place and status among pagans.

As Jews we thrice daily thank Hashem, for it is Hashem that oversees us and sustains our success. This is so evident among us Jews that it is almost superfluous to acknowledge. Yet it’s something we really need to do.

Some will say that one reason that G-d gives us challenges is so that we will turn to him in time of trouble. The trick is also to remember G-d’s beneficence during the good times as well. One of the reasons we study Torah and acknowledge Hanukkah and the Maccabees is to remind us to do that. Both Joseph and the Maccabees overcame through the faith, belief, and more important, their connection to Hashem. Consider that they both acted knowing that G-d was with them and that they would prevail.

We look to these incidents for guidance and inspiration. We may not be trying to get out of prison or fending off pagan invaders, but we face challenges in our lives. It’s important to understand who’s monitoring.

Our inspiration this week comes from our ancestors overcoming those stronger than themselves. In the case of the Maccabees, this small group took on the Seleucids, a more numerous and powerful fighting force. Joseph, on the other hand, was a stranger in a strange land who prevailed as a leader and saved these people from starvation.

Both had trust and confidence in Hashem. The Hasmoneans were fighting for what was just and right, the teachings and heritage of the one, true G-d. Joseph, too, knew that all his prosperity, and his challenges as well, were from and because of the one, true G-d. The Hasmoneans re-dedicated the Temple and Joseph acted—without necessarily publicly acknowledging—with the support of Hashem.

So when Joseph met his brothers once again, he approached the situation in a very evolved and enlightened way. Rather than give in to his resentment and anger, he chose a higher path. He acted like the sage he had become, understanding that his exulted position as the viceroy gave him a power and control that also, he felt, demanded statesmanship and wisdom.

Joseph saw the higher purpose, that G-d had arranged his life so that he could serve Him and the peoples in the highest capacity: providing for their survival. It is in that vein that Joseph interacted with his brothers, seeing their repentance and their desire to save their brother Benjamin and honor their father. Out of adversity, Joseph had matured.

Likewise, the Maccabees saw a higher purpose. They put their lives at stake, fought against tough odds in order to preserve the glory of Hashem. They knew what was right.

Let us use their actions as our inspiration. Let us honor our ancestors and their effort by emulating their actions. As we go through life, and this is not easy, when we face challenges, let us see the big picture. Let us see what we learn from a current, trying situation, let us choose the higher path, and let us prevail in our lives as well, personally, spiritually, emotionally and religiously.

May you all continue to bring our heritage into your lives and prosper.

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