This week: the next episode of the Joseph story and Chanukah. [BTW, I’ve seen at least16 transliterations of חֲנֻכָּה: H or Ch, n or nn, k or kk, and final h or no final h. I just like “Chanukah,” so that’s that.]
Two years have passed since Joseph interpreted the dreams of the royal baker and royal wine steward. Pharaoh has two vivid, disturbing dreams: 7 fat, healthy cows are swallowed up by seven emaciated ones, yet remain emaciated; and 7 full ears of grain growing on a single stalk are swallowed by 7 thin, blasted ears on another stalk. The wine steward “suddenly” remembers the young Hebrew slave in prison who had a knack for dream interpretation. Joseph shaves, puts on fresh clothing, and interprets the dreams to mean there will be 7 plentiful years followed by 7 of famine. He advises Pharaoh to stockpile excess bounty to prepare for the famine and to appoint a wise manager (that’s not necessarily an oxymoron) to run the operation. Joseph gets the job, 2nd only to Pharaoh, along with a new Egyptian name and a new Egyptian wife, Asenat daughter of Poti-fera. Rashi and most other commentators identify Poti-fera with Joseph’s boss Potiphar and riff on that, but I agree with Rashbam, Rashi’s grandson, who believes the plain meaning of the text, that these are two distinct men. Shortly thereafter, they have two sons.
When famine strikes, Egypt not only survives, but makes a killing selling grain to people affected in the surrounding lands, including, eventually, Jacob’s family. They come to Egypt, are accused of spying (Come on, would a man normally send his 10 sons down to Egypt just to buy food?) and have to leave Simeon behind as surety. Joseph overhears them expressing their belief that this is (justified) punishment for their treatment of Joseph. They go home to find their money returned in their grain sacks. Jacob later sends them back for more food, accompanied by Benjamin (and some diplomatic gifts and the returned money), as required by that high-and-mighty Egyptian officer (Joseph incognito). They are treated mysteriously well. Then Joseph has his silver divining goblet hidden in Benjamin’s sack of grain. He accuses the brothers of being thieves and then offer to let them off if they just leave Benjamin behind as his slave. Despite what he had overheard previously, he feels he must test their humanity. Will they leave Benjamin and destroy Jacob? That’s the cliffhanger on which the reading ends.
Joseph’s behavior once he gets out of prison raises questions. One would expect him to send word immediately to Jacob that he is alive and more than well, maybe to warn the family about the famine to come, that they should set something aside during the years of plenty. But he does neither, nor does he identify himself at first to his brothers. The rabbinic commentators find this laudable, declaring that he is resisting normal filial impulses in order to let the Divine plan play itself out. Indeed, while we don’t see Joseph praying or receiving communiques from the Lord, once in Egypt he readily invokes God, e.g., in refusing Potiphar’s wife and concerning his dream interpretations. But I think Joseph’s silence is simply consistent with his personality. I don’t get a sense of genuinely deep emotional bonds between him and anyone else. He’s charming, but he doesn’t really connect with people. He weeps, but the tears are momentary. He is outside, as a gifted dreamer in a family of shepherds who remain under their father’s thumb well into what should be adulthood, and as a Hebrew official among Egyptians. He does not assimilate fully but remains at an interface between Hebrew and Egyptian, as apparently do his sons Ephraim and Manasseh.
And that brings us to Chanukah.
There is a second scroll reading for the 4th day of Chanukah, Num. 7:30-35, about the offerings brought by the Reubenites for the dedication of the Tabernacle, analogous to the Maccabees’ rededication of the Temple. There is a special haftarah, Zechariah 2:14-4:7, chosen for its Chanukah-related themes of light (the menorah) and the prophesy of a Temple rebuilt and rededicated, declaring (4:6), “Not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit—said the Lord of hosts.”
Children’s version of the Chanukah story: The Syrian Greeks (Seleucid Empire) tried to force the Jews to renounce the laws and defiled the Temple. The Hasmonean family (Mattathias and his sons, including Judah the Hammer (Maccabee)), kicked the Syrian Greeks out and rededicated the Temple. Only a day’s worth of pure oil existed, but it miraculously burned for 8 days (whence the custom of celebratory fried food) while more was prepared.
But the reality was rather different. The 8-day holiday was like a very late Sukkot, which hadn’t been celebrated because of the Temple defilement. The struggle was largely a civil war. Urban Jews were adopting some Greek customs willingly; Jason the high priest even built a gym in Jerusalem. Jason’s successor, Menelaus, bought the position of high priest, stealing Temple vessels to pay for it. According to II Maccabees, Menelaus pushed Antiochus IV to forcibly Hellenize Jewish worship, leading to the rebellion. The Hasmonean rule, moreover, turned corrupt and disastrous, eventually leading to subjugation by Rome. The oil story is really all there is about Chanukah in the Talmud; the rabbis generally disliked celebrating military victories, especially celebrating the Hasmoneans.
Today, there are clear parallels for us in the United States regarding assimilation versus acculturation. Jews have always adopted some local ideas and customs, reinterpreting them if necessary (e.g., the Gilgamesh epic plus moral causation = Noah’s ark). But there are lines beyond which it becomes too difficult to maintain our Jewish identity. Joseph manages to maintain his Hebrew identity while at the highest levels of Egyptian society and passes that on to his children. One reason he is able to do this is the Egyptian distaste for foreigners in general, so he is allowed to remain separate. Joseph becomes acculturated to Egypt, but is not assimilated. We, in an open society, struggle to maintain that distinction, but do not always succeed. Those lines can get blurry.
Shabbat shalom and Chanukah sameach (happy),
(A selection from) 99 Interesting Facts About . . .Dreams
- You cannot snore and dream at the same time.c
- Egyptian pharaohs were considered children of Ra (Egyptian sun god) and, thus, their dreams were seen as being divine.e
- In the Chinese province of Fu-Kein, people called on their ancestors for dream revelation by sleeping on graves.e
- Elias Howe (1819-1867) said one inspiration for his invention of the sewing machine came from a nightmare he had about being attacked by cannibals bearing spears that looked like the needle he then designed.e
- One West African group, the Ashanti, take dreams so seriously that they would allow a husband to take legal action against another man if that man had an erotic dream about his wife.e
- All cultures and time periods report nightmares. The word “nightmare” derives from the Anglo-Saxon word mare, meaning demon—which is related to the Sanskrit mara, meaning destroyer, and mar, meaning to crush. So the word “nightmare” carries with it connotations of being crushed by demonic forces.b
- Cakes in dreams can signify a time to rejoice at one’s accomplishments, or to celebrate newrelationships or work efforts that have been successful but not necessarily acknowledged.d
- The Beatty Papyrus, written around 1350 B.C. and discovered at Thebes, is the oldest dream dictionary existing today. It describes special dream-interpreting priests called “Masters of the Secret Things” or “Learned Ones of the Magic Library.”e
- The Egyptians had a male god of dreams, Serapis, who had a number of temples devoted to his worship. These temples housed professional interpreters or “learned ones of the library of magic.” Serapis’ likeness was often carved on the headboards and headrests of Egyptian beds.g
- Those who watched black-and-white television as youngsters tend to have more monochrome dreams than children who watched color television.a
- Ancient Hebrews are unique in that they did not believe dreams originated in the realm of the dead, but that they were prophetic messages from God. Therefore, and unlike their neighboring societies, they did not actively seek to induce dreams. An entire section of the Talmud is devoted to systematic analysis of dreams, nightmares, and visions.e
a Alleyne, Richard. “Black and White TV Generation Have Monochrome Dreams.” Telegraph.co.uk. October 17, 2008. Accessed: October 20, 2009.
b Belanger, Jeff and Kristin Dalley. 2006.The Nightmare Encyclopedia: Your Darkest Dreams Interpreted. Franklin Lakes, NJ: The Career Press, Inc.
d The Giant Book of Dreams: Over 10,000 Symbols and Secrets Interpreted. 2005. London, UK: Constable & Robinson.
e Lewis, James R. and Evelyn Dorothy Oliver. 2009. The Dream Encyclopedia. 2nd ed. Canton, MI: Visible Ink Press.
g Shaw, Tucker. 2000. Dreams. New York, NY: 17th Street Productions.
Category: On 1 Foot
by S. Galena Posted: 07-08-2006(Viewed 977 times)
Pharaoh: For interpreting my dream allow me to make you in charge of everything in the world.
Brothers come to Egypt
Yosef: You are spies.
Brothers: No we aren’t
Cup found in Binyomin’s bag
Brothers: OK, I guess we are.
Quotes about Assimilation
Jewish history turns out not to be an either/or story – as in, either pure Judaism detached from its surroundings or else assimilation – but rather, for the vast majority, the adventure of living in between. Simon Schama
The mission of the United States is one of benevolent assimilation. William McKinley
The majesty of the American Jewish experience is in its success marrying its unique Jewish identity with the larger, liberal values of the United States. There is no need anymore to choose between assimilation and separation. We are accepted as equals. Edgar Bronfman, Sr.
Kindling the Chanukah Lights (Jonathan Kremer, 2012)
If Hanukkah and Christmas Merged
Following the modern trend of huge company mergers, it was announced today at a press conference that Christmas and Hanukkah will merge! A holiday industry leader said at an office party that the deal had been in the works for thousands years.
According to their press release, it is believed that the overhead cost of having twelve days of Christmas and eight days of Hanukkah will benefit both sides. We will be able to enjoy consistently high-quality service during the Fifteen Days of Chrismukah, as the projected holiday is being called.
Some layoffs are expected, with lords a-leaping and maids a-milking being let go first. As part of the conditions of the agreement, the letters on the dreidel, currently in Hebrew, will be replaced by Latin, thus becoming unintelligible to a wider customer base
While they were at it, the translating of “A great miracle happened there,” was changed to the more generic “Miraculous stuff happens.”
During the merger, it is believed that Jewish people will be allowed to use Santa Claus and his vast merchandising resources for buying and delivering their gifts.
One of the more pressing points that had been holding up the merger for the past 200 years was if Santa could have the milk and cookies after eating a hamburger.
Another breakthrough happened, when Oreos were finally declared to be Kosher. All sides appeared happy about this.
A spokeswoman for Christmas wouldn’t speak on camera about adding Kwanzaa in the near future. She merely pointed out that, were it not for the independent existence of Kwanzaa, the merger between Christmas and Chanukah might indeed be seen as an unfair cornering of the holiday market. She then closed the press conference by leading all present in a rousing rendition of “Oy Vey, All Ye Faithful.”