Three, count ‘em, THREE Torah readings this Shabbat! Also Psalms 113-118, 104 and some changes/additions to the prayers. Why? Because the 6th day of Chanukah this year is both Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh Tevet (the first of two days marking the start of the month of Tevet). The first scroll is for the regular weekly reading, Gen. 41:1-44:17. The second scroll is for the Shabbat Rosh Chodesh reading, Numbers 28:9-15 (sacrifices – surprise). And each day of Chanukah, we read about the sacrifices each day for the dedication of the Tabernacle, paralleling the rededication of the Temple by the Maccabees; for the 6th day we’ll be reading Numbers 7:42-47 from a third scroll. The special haftarah, Zechariah 2:14-4:7, includes the image of a menorah in a rebuilt and rededicated Temple, and also the famous verse, (4:6), “Not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit—said the Lord of hosts.”
My husband and I just returned from a lovely visit with our daughter in California, and I am not yet totally un-jet-lagged. I can manage to find suitable humor items. However, the comments are cobbled together from 2014, 2016, and 2017. I still like them and hope you will, too.
Part 2 of the Joseph story. I remember, back when we had Bible reading in public schools, hearing my teacher read this story to the class over a period of several days, like an old-fashioned movie serial. In the Torah, the story is similarly divvied up, though in bigger chunks. And this week, we even get a genuine, old-fashioned cliffhanger.
Two years have passed. Joseph is still in prison. One night, Pharaoh has two vivid dreams. In one, seven emaciated cows swallow seven fat ones yet remain emaciated. In the other, seven ears of grain on one stalk, full and healthy, are swallowed up by seven withered ones on a second stalk, which remain withered. No one can interpret the dreams. The chief wine steward finally tells Pharaoh about Joseph, who is summarily shaved, dressed, and brought up from the dungeon. He not only interprets the content of the dreams (7 good years followed by 7 of famine), but their urgency and what to do to minimize the damage (and, though not stated, make a lot of money for Egypt), including appointing a suitable overseer. Pharaoh, impressed, makes Joseph viceroy and gives him an Egyptian name, Zaphenat-Paneah, and an Egyptian wife, by whom he has two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh.
[By the way, I just learned that Egyptian Pharaohs took new names just as a new Pope does. “Most Pharaohs are known to us by their birth names but the kings lists use their throne names. For example, Ramesses the Great’s birth name was Ra-messes Mery-Amun (“born of Re, beloved of Amun”), but the kings lists record his throne name User-Maat-Re Setep-en-Re (“the justice/truth of Re is powerful, Chosen by Re.” (See http://www.ancientegyptonline.co.uk/names.html) By the time of the Middle Kingdom, they had four in addition to the birth name.]
So why doesn’t Joseph send news home after this 13-year, absence, both to let his father know he’s alive and to warn them of the famine? Let’s just say that Joseph now realizes that he is part of a much larger story, one governed by the Lord, and he needs to let it play out. So, he patiently waits.
Meanwhile, back in Canaan, Jacob, now over 100, is still firmly in charge, and it is clear he had made the right choice when he designated Joseph as future head of the family. While Joseph is successfully managing the famine in Egypt, Jacob’s sons, rather pathetically, have to be told by their father to go there and buy grain. All but Benjamin go. Joseph, who has been expecting them, accuses them of being spies and takes Shimon hostage but also secretly returns their money. He hears them speaking in Hebrew about how guilty they feel about Joseph, but to find out if they have really changed, he contrives a test using Benjamin, kind of like a cat “testing” 10 mice.
When the grain is used up, they persuade Jacob to allow them to bring Benjamin with them to Egypt, with Judah guaranteeing his safety. Now they are treated well, fed, and even seated in order of age. Then Joseph secretly has his divining goblet is planted in Benjamin’s sack. When it’s found, he offers to let them all go, except for Benjamin, who will be a slave. What will the brothers do this time? Tune in next week.
Back to Chanukah. Children’s version: 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. The high priest, Menelaus, pushed Antiochus IV to forcibly Hellenize Jewish worship, leading to the rebellion. Hasmonean rule turned corrupt and eventually led to subjugation by Rome. The oil story is really all there is about Chanukah in the Talmud; the rabbis generally disliked celebrating military victories, and they omitted the 4 books of Maccabees when the biblical canon was defined. “The classic rabbinic Hanukkah was an apolitical and demilitarized celebration of hope and trust in divine providence and protection, not priestly violence and national sovereignty” (Hanukkah and State: The Hasmonean Legacy by Richard Hidary).
In modern times, Chanukah has been a minor holiday celebrating light in a time of darkness, with lighting candles, little gifts of gelt, eating fried foods, and gambling with a dreidel. For the last several decades, while we were taught in Hebrew School that the holiday marked the first fight for religious freedom, we ironically used that freedom to inflate Chanukah into a commercial competitor of Christmas. Now we can step back and recognize that Chanukah today symbolizes our modern tension between being part of the surrounding world while remaining genuinely Jewish, however one defines “genuinely.” And that brings us back to Miketz. Joseph, despite his Egyptian name, regalia, and wife, clearly never hides his origins nor becomes totally Egyptian. But it wasn’t easy then, and it’s not easy in 21st century America.
I wish you Happy (secular) New Year as well as Happy rest-of-Chanukah and, of course, Shabbat shalom,
In case you were wondering, here is REALLY how to spell the name of the holiday:
Quotes about Dreams
Why does the eye see a thing more clearly in dreams than the imagination when awake? Leonardo da Vinci
The interpretation of dreams is the royal road to a knowledge of the unconscious activities of the mind. Sigmund Freud
It takes a lot of courage to show your dreams to someone else. Erma Bombeck
The dreamer can know no truth, not even about his dream, except by awaking out of it. George Santayana
We are near waking when we dream we are dreaming. Novalis
I don’t use drugs, my dreams are frightening enough. M. C. Escher
- My cow just wandered into a field of marijuana. The steaks have never been so high…
- Why do cows have hooves instead of feet? – Because they lactose.
- Why does a milking stool only have 3 legs? – Because the cow has the udder.
- Why did the cow cross the road? To get to the udder side.
- Why shouldn’t you tell a secret in a corn field? Because they are full of ears! Now that was a corny joke. And yes, it was rather a-maize-ing
- How much does a pirate pay for corn? A buccaneer!
- I just stepped on a corn flake. I’m officially a cereal killer.
- What happens when you see corn looking at you in your window? A corn stalk!!
(Paul Noth/The New Yorker Collection/The Cartoon Bank)