April 18, 2024
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Parshat Mikeitz-Chanukah

There is much that connects this week’s haftarah to the chag of Chanukah. The basis of the rabbinic decision to read a selection tied to the holiday itself and not to the parsha finds its support in the Mishna and in the opinion expressed by the Tosafot that the haftarah should connect to the final part of the reading, the maftir aliyah. Since the special Chanukah maftir speaks of the chanukat hamizbei’ach, the inauguration ceremony for the altar and for the sacrificial rites that is followed by the lighting of the menorah by the kohanim, Chazal saw this reading as a perfect connection to Chanukah, when the kohanim rededicated a defiled Temple and relit the Menorah, as well as a perfect segue leading to the Menorah vision of Zecharya in the haftarah.

Additionally, the events of Chanukah took place when the Judean Empire was controlled by the powerful Syrian/Greek Hellenists who dominated the entire Middle East. In fact, the Judean state could hardly be described as an “empire” as it occupied a far smaller area of land than had the Israelites during the First Temple era, living primarily in the small towns and villages around Jerusalem. In similar fashion, the Jewish community to whom the navi Zecharya preached was a weak and poverty-stricken remnant of the great community that once lived in Yerushalayim. They too represented only a small minority of world Jewry, the bulk of whom had remained in the Diaspora. Like the Jews of Chanukah, they too lived under the domination of a great power, the Persian Empire, and they were also threatened by surrounding enemies.

For this reason, the vision of the Menorah that is described at the end of this haftarah doesn’t simply remind us of the symbol of the holiday, but of the powerful message that the navi Zecharya hoped to impart to the nation: “Lo v’chayil v’lo v’choach, ki im b’ruchi,” Israel will find her ultimate victory through neither physical strength nor military might but through Hashem’s spirit. To a weakened community struggling against her enemies and trying to re-establish herself, these words of encouragement was essential. How tempting it must have been to simply give in to the powerful forces that opposed them. How simple to follow the majority and abandon their dream of rebuilding a Judean state. It was for this reason that the prophet cried out that their strength lay in that which cannot be seen or measured.

If the spirit of God wills it, no power would stand in their way. It was a message that proved itself in the days of Zecharya. It was a message that proved itself once again in the days of the Maccabees.

And it was a message we saw in our time, 100 years ago, 70 years ago, 50 years ago and in our own time.

By Rabbi Neil N. Winkler


Rabbi Neil Winkler is the rabbi emeritus of the Young Israel of Fort Lee and now lives in Israel.

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