July 20, 2024
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Parshat Miketz-Chanukah

The connection between this week’s haftarah and Chanukah is quite obvious. Certainly, the vision of the seven-branched Menorah that closes the selection connects powerfully to the very symbol of the holiday, the nine-branched chanukiya. And perhaps more significant is the message of the menorah that was meant for that generation, i.e., that overcoming the obstacles and the enemies depends upon the strength of spirit and not the size of the nation or economic success, or even military might. This clearly is a basic theme of Chanukah, a lesson to be learned from the victory of the heavily outnumbered Maccabees.

And yet, if we study the events of the time, that is, the challenges that faced the generation of Zecharia and his older peer Chaggai, we will uncover that they parallel the challenges that faced the Chashmonaim 350 years later. The brave minority who left the galut of Bavel and heeded the cry of their leadership to return to their land, were, by and large, an impoverished group. They arrived in Yerushalayim to find the ruins of Bayit Rishon, the first Temple, and a new local population who were anything but happy with their return. These enemies petitioned the Persian king to halt the attempt to rebuild the Beit HaMikdash, claiming that the Jews were rebelling against his authority. Meanwhile, as the Book of Nechemia teaches us, the destroyed walls that once surrounded the Holy City were breached and offered no protection to the Jews. In an attempt to create peaceful relations with the enemies who surrounded them, many Jews—especially from among the kohanim—intermarried with the non-Jewish nations. Both the temporal and spiritual stature of the nation were seriously compromised.

Into this whirlwind stepped the leaders of the nation. The temporal leaders Zerubavel and later Nechemia, as well as the spiritual leaders, Yehoshua, Chaggai and Zecharia, spoke with confidence to the people, urging them to cast away their doubts and fears and to put their hope in Hashem. Chaggai put it so beautifully when he called out to the nation, “Alu hahar vahaveitem etz uv’nu habayit”—“Go to the mountain, bring down wood and start building the Beit Hamikdash.” And, he promises, God will be honored and glorified through it.

This too, in many ways, is the story of the Maccabim: a brave minority who faced a defiled Temple and were surrounded by powerful enemies. Many Jews were spiritually bankrupt as they actively attempted to Hellenize the people and stood against the attempts of the faithful to restore Jewish domination over her holy sites. There was little reason for the Maccabim to expect success in their endeavors. Nonetheless, they heeded the words of the prophets who preceded them by three centuries. They began the process. They “went up the mountain” by starting the rebellion and eventually, placing their hopes in Hashem’s support, they succeeded in “building” the Beit Hamikdash once again by regaining it, cleansing it and lighting the Menorah therein.

The greatest challenges that face us can be met only with the courage to begin the task and the wisdom to rely on God to help us meet the challenge successfully.

The words of Zecharia teach us that.

The story of Chanukah teaches us that.

And the events of today do as well.

By Rabbi Neil N. Winkler

 

 

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