Why is the parsha for the week of Chanukah always the story of the sale of Joseph?
The history of the Jewish people is presented in the prayer of Al Hanisim that we recite on Purim and Chanukah. In this short prayer, we describe the specific danger that presented to our people and how Hashem, at the last moment, stepped in to save us. The prayer ends with thanks to the Almighty for preserving us yet again. Jewish history is replete with stories of evil leaders plotting to destroy us, only to be thwarted by G-d’s plan, and so is Jewish history.
When I spoke with a group of kindergarten children about the beauty of the holiday of Sukkot, one of our sharp five year olds raised her hand and asked me, “Rabbi, who was the bad guy of Sukkot that tried to kill us?”
We need to ask and analyze what it is that we are doing or not doing that allows these enemies of Israel to get the upper hand over us so often. What is that about, and what can we do about it?
It started with Pharaoh (and even Laban before him, according to the Passover Haggadah), and this path was followed by Haman, the Greeks, and on and on. What so weakens us and makes us so vulnerable as a people and nation? Why does the Haggadah need to repeat that in every generation, they rise to destroy us (Bechol dor v'dor)?
There is no one answer; but one possible answer is the prevalence of sina'at chinam--undeserved hatred--that dances amongst us.
Hatred begins innocently enough: someone is different. There is a group that has different clothes, different customs; they are more educated or less educated, more religious or less religious.
That difference grows in our imagination until we begin to fear them, causing us to act in ways that alienate them. This can be readily seen in the religious strife that has so overtaken much of the Middle East, or in the behavior of some who are homophobic or anti-Semitic.
Alienation turns to fear and mistrust, and the leap to hatred is but one short step away.
We ended up in Egypt because the brothers learned to hate Joseph. He was different, and they knew it. That episode led to the enslavement of our people in Egypt by Pharaoh for over 200 years.
The destruction of the first Temple was the result of Jewish hatred for their fellow Jews, weakening us and leading to our exile. The story of Purim and Haman's rise to power was a direct outcome of this destructive behavior, and it caused the loss of our sovereignty.
The destruction of the second Temple followed the period of the rule of the Hasmoneans, a period rife with “Jew against Jew." Jewish sovereignty in the Jewish State was short-lived as the Romans conquered us and exiled us, finally leading to the horror of the Shoah.
Today, we live with the miracle of the State of Israel. Yet there, too, we see strife rising to the forefront and weakening us and our state. What can we do, as a community and as individuals?
What can we do, as a community and as individuals? Moses, the midrash teaches, was unable to design the menorah. He turned to G-d for help; G-d asked him to throw the gold into the furnace and, according to the midrash, the menorah was miraculously formed by the hand of
What was it with which Moses so struggled? The menorah was to be a symbol of Jewish unity. Yet each of the branches stood separate and apart. How could such a structure define the unity of a people?
Hashem responded by designing the menorah so that all of the six branches aimed their light toward the center. Unity is not about sameness. Like the menorah, we must each celebrate our uniqueness. We are all special, and we are all different and unique in the image of G-d by design. Unity can only be sustained if and when we value and invite diversity.
Unity and love is possible when we all aim for the central branch or trunk representing our holy Torah its traditions, and obey the call to love, respect, honor, and cherish all of G-d’s creation.
We read the Joseph story on Chanukah to ever-reinforce this message. Together, we are strong and invincible; divided, we are weak and vulnerable. The brothers learned to hate rather than love, and we all know the end of that story. Ahavat chinam, true love, will bring light to all.
So why a community school? Community is about diversity, and true strength is only possible in the long term through diversity that leads to unity. That is what makes our beloved AJA so special.
Chag Urim Samayach,
Rabbi Pinchos Hecht
Head of School, Atlanta Jewish Academy