Parashat MIketz-Joseph, Lighting the Hanukkah Candles for The Eighth Night, and Candles as a Symbol of Shalom Bayit/Family Peace
In our Torah reading cycle, we are in the middle of the Joseph stories in the Book of Bereshit/Genesis. Joseph, the son of the Jacob, the third Jewish patriarch, has been violently thrown into a pit by his brothers and imprisoned. He was freed because of his lifelong ability to interpret dreams, and now has risen in Egypt to second in command to Pharaoh. In prison, he successfully interpreted the dreams of other prisoners. Thanks to the intervention of Pharaoh’s chief cup bearer, also a prisoner, the young Joseph was brought before Pharaoh to decipher his dreams. According to Joseph, Pharaoh’s dreams revealed the future. Egypt will live through seven years of bountiful food and rain, followed by seven more years of famine, drought, and misery. Pharaoh listened carefully, and was so impressed that he appointed Joseph as his viceroy to guide Egypt through the coming years of famine.
Meanwhile, Jacob, Joseph’s father, and his family suffered through the same famine in Canaan. Jacob sent his ten sons to Egypt to purchase food for his family, but he kept Benjamin, his youngest child and the only surviving son of his beloved wife, Rachel, with him.
Joseph’s brothers came to Egypt, and they addressed their brother, second in importance only to Pharaoh, with their food needs. Fourteen years had passed since they threw him in anger and jealousy into a pit to be devoured by wild beasts. Although Joseph recognized his brothers immediately, they did not realize that this Egyptian ruler and nobleman was their brother whom they had ruthlessly abandoned years before.
Joseph was a man of dreams! In the pit, he must have dreamed of a future life without pain and suffering. In prison, he dreamed of his own freedom and his future as husband, father, and leader of his adopted people.
Undoubtedly, 1600 years later in the year 164 Before the Common Era, the Jewish priest Mattathias and his five sons also had dreams of a resurgent Jewish people. He and his brothers waged war on the Syrian-Greeks, purified the Temple, cleansing the building and its holy vessels and equipment from the detritus of Greek pagan sacrifices. All this was accomplished to make it suitable again for use as the ritual center of Jewish religious life according to the laws given by the one universal G-d. Mattathias and his five sons, led by Judah Maccabee, waged a successful war on the Syrian-Greeks, threw them out of the Temple, and restored the traditional practices. That is why we celebrate the eight-day Festival of Hanukkah, the Holiday of Re-dedication!
Immediately after you receive this week’s eKI, you should be ready to light the Hanukkah candles for the eighth night of Hanukkah, the last night! This evening, the candles burn the brightest, since all eight and the Shamash are lit and burn brightly together to the very end!
We place the Hanukkiah in our windows to let our neighbors know that we are celebrating the Hanukkah miracle for all to see and know! According to the Talmud, this is the one major function of the candles: Pirsomei Niesa, to publicize the miracle!
The miracle of Hanukkah is not just that the sole remaining cruse of sacred oil fueled the restored Temple Menorah for eight days. The miracle of Hanukkah is that all of us are here this evening to celebrate our survival 2164 years after the Maccabees fought the Greeks for the preservation and rededication of our religious and cultural lives!
We are living in such troubling times. The Israel-Hamas War has brought us all such tension and conflict. We are all afraid that the terrifying growth of anti-Semitic acts will reach us directly and affect our lives. Most painfully, the issues of this terrible war have driven family members apart. Parents and grandparents have strong concerns about the future survival of the State of Israel at peace, and yet many of our children and grandchildren have expressed sympathies with the Palestinian people and the evil and vicious Hamas fighters who perpetrated the most horrible bloodshed in the 75-year history of modern Israel. Family members have been driven apart by these horrible events.
The lighting of the Hanukkah candles gave your families the chance to celebrate Hanukkah together in peace and in harmony! The lighting of the Shabbat candles each and every Friday night throughout the year and the recitation of Kiddush over wine and the Motzi Blessing over challah all present weekly opportunities for your families to gather together, either at home, or virtually on Zoom, for moments of calmness, Jewish celebration, identity, and peace.
I urge you to make an effort to reach out to your loved ones to welcome Shabbat together weekly! The Shabbat candles function just like the Hanukkah candles, bringing family members together for moments of spiritual quiet, family unity, musical joy, love and expression.
We wish you a joyous and bright last night of Hanukkah, and a serene Shabbat Shalom!