December 24 2011/28 Kislev 5772
We tell two very different stories about Hanukkah. In one, the courageous Maccabees are the heroes, seizing their destiny by one hand with sword in the other. In another version, God is the Rescuer, providing the spiritual support for the military campaign, which was really secondary anyway to the true miracle of Hanukkah, the tiny cruse of oil that lasted longer than chemically possible.
The crux of the difference between these stories is this: are the Jewish People actors in history, or are we acted upon by God, who manages all the details?
It’s a nice coincidence that we always find ourselves reading the Yosef stories during Hanukkah. Yosef always acknowledges the role of God in the ebb and tide of his fortunes. Next week, when he reconciles with his brothers, he reassures them that it was God, not them, who dispatched him to Egypt, and it was for good anyway. But Yosef isn’t one to sit around and wait for God to act. He manipulates his environment so as to have as much control over events as possible.
A case in point can be found in this week’s parashah, when the Torah describes Yosef’s role in food distribution during the famine. “Now Joseph was the vizier of the land; it was he who dispensed rations to all the people of the land. And Joseph’s brothers came and bowed low to him, with their faces to the ground” (Genesis 42:6).
Imagine that you are in Egypt, and are coming to the state with your food stamps to receive famine rations. What’s the bureaucratic procedure you expect to encounter? Do you expect to come face-to-face with Yosef, vizier of Egypt? What do you make of his direct involvement in the process?
Finally, what’s the relationship between the first half of the verse–Yosef’s job description–and the second, where his brothers arrive and prostrate themselves? We’ll examine this verse and its deep implications together in shul on Shabbat morning.
Rabbi David Wise