The Strong into the Hands of the Weak

December 9, 2015

3 min read


Mikeitz (Genesis 41:1-44:17 )

Why Chanukah celebrates the miracle of the oil and not the miraculous military victory.

During most years, the Shabbat of Parshat Mikeitz coincides with the festival of Chanukah. Hence, tens and tens of commentaries have established links and hints between Miketz and Chanukah. But there seems to be a more simple connection as well -- Joseph's attitude toward his success.

We read happily of Joseph's release from jail for a crime he did not commit (allegedly seducing Potifar's wife). Joseph was called out of jail to interpret Pharaoh's dream after having a good track record in interpreting dreams for Pharaoh's butler and baker. The narrative continues:

Pharaoh says to Joseph, "I dreamt a dream, but there is no one who can interpret it. Now I heard it said of you that you hear a dream to interpret it." Joseph answered Pharaoh saying, "That is beyond me! God will respond to Pharaoh's welfare." (Genesis 41:15-16)

Truly amazing! Here, Joseph has his shot at real power. He is standing before the King of Egypt, the world's superpower at the time. And this superpower King needs him! Joseph would be able to request virtually anything he would want. Yet, Joseph risks it all by failing to hide the truth of God's support and guidance. Pharaoh could have easily reacted to Joseph by saying, 'Oh, if indeed it is not you, but God, that has the dream interpretation, then you shall return to jail.' True, Pharaoh did not react this way but Joseph could not have known this in advance. Joseph wanted to give God His credit, especially before the world's superpower, in order to publicize God's power and wisdom -- even if this meant the personal risk of being sent back to jail without receiving any recognition or benefits from Pharaoh.

This attitude of Joseph was exactly the attitude of Mattisyahu and the Chashmonaim, otherwise known as the Maccabees, during the time of the Chanukah victory. They could have easily looked at their stunning and unlikely military victory over the Greeks as a reflection of their prowess and brilliant strategy. Didn't a great U.S. army lose a guerilla war in Vietnam?

But the Maccabees understood the true source of their strength and military successes. They didn't react by establishing an annual victory parade, in which they would display their latest technology in weapons. Rather, they reacted by establishing the holiday of Chanukah. They lit the Menorah which publicized God's control over the world (in making the miracle of the oil lasting 8 days) and that only He could allow them to defeat the Greeks in battle.

This is reflected throughout the 'Al Hanissim' prayer that we insert in the thrice daily 'Shemoneh Esrai,' during Chanukah. The prayer describes the miracles of war against the Greeks. It does not discuss our strength and power but describes us as weak against a powerful army -- God delivered 'giborim beyad chalashim' (the strong in the hands of the weak). We end this prayer stating that the entire purpose of Chanukah is that we express thanks and praise to the Almighty -- 'lehodos u'lehalel LiShimcha Hagadol' -- "to express thanks and praise to Your great Name."

We not only defeated the Greeks in the physical battle of Chanukah but we defeated them spiritually as well. The Greek philosophy was to stress the power and wisdom of man. This is why they wanted so much to defeat the Jew. Everywhere else, when the Greek invaded, he was known as kind to his new citizens. He wanted to show his new advances and preach his ideas of the supreme man with science, sports, and statues. Yet, in the Jew, the Greek saw a people who were not interested in attributing their success to themselves, nor worshipping man, but they wished only to worship and thank God.

The Greeks could not tolerate this approach to life. It threatened their whole philosophy of existence. So, they were determined to wipe out the Jew and his belief system.

Chanukah, therefore, celebrates, not the courage of those who resisted tyrants and not the power of the Jewish army. It celebrates God and His dedication to helping the Jewish People against her enemies. It celebrates the defeat of the Greek civilization that wished to wipe the word God out of all dictionaries in the world.

Let us not forget that during our current national crisis, against suicide bombers and terrorists, we must once again pray to and rely on the Almighty. We need a victory over our enemies speedily so that there will be no more cries of orphans and no more blood spilled.

God can help us now as He did at the time of Chanukah. We must continuously cry out and beseech Him to send us His help and protection.

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