The Shared  Lesson of Joseph and the Story of Chanukah

By Rabbi Danny Wolfe

Every single year, without exception, the phenomenally inspiring story of Joseph coincides with Chanukah. The question that many ask, is what exactly does the story of Chanukah have to do with Joseph, and why are the two stories so naturally connected? I heard quoted in the name of Rabbi Avigdor Nebenzahl, the Chief Rabbi of the Old City, an amazing idea. In this week’s Parsha, at the very beginning, Joseph, who had been imprisoned, is presented with a wonderful opportunity. After Pharaoh had two disturbing dreams that none of his advisors could help interpret, the Chamberlain of Cupbearers recalls a “Hebrew youth” who had been imprisoned with him who was good at deciphering dreams. Joseph is then called up and given the opportunity to help Pharaoh understand his unsettling dream.  

Not to boast, but I am, to be frank, quite good at flag football. If I were in prison, and the president of the United States of America called me up, and asked me if I could help America win a very important flag football game, I would probably extol my own praises and tell him exactly how good I am and how I can help him–if only I were out of prison. Remarkably, when Joseph is summoned to emerge from prison to help interpret Pharoah’s dream, despite being an expert dream interpreter, Joseph deflects any personal credit or acclaim for his impressive skill. Instead, after being told by Pharaoh that he was called because of his ability to interpret dreams Joseph responds by saying, “That is beyond me; it is G-d who will respond with Pharaoh’s welfare.” Rather than confirming how great he was, Joseph gave all credit to the Almighty. Rather than openly advocating why he should be released from jail, Joseph was content to praise G-d. 

This, explains Rabbi Nebenzahl, is exactly the connection between Joseph and Chanukah. On Chanukah we are meant to light the candles when most people are coming home from work, sitting in traffic on the streets, so they can see the lights and be reminded of the miracles that G-d performed for us. We are meant to light in a way that multitudes of people can see the candles and recognize G-d’s greatness. This is called Pirsumei Nisa, and our rabbis explain that the mitzvah of Chanukah is to publicize G-d’s greatness and His miracles. This is exactly what Joseph was all about. In countless places in the three main parshios where Joseph’s story appears, we see him directly referring to G-d’s involvement in the world. Next week, after revealing himself to his brothers, he tells them not to feel bad about what they had done, since G-d sent him to Egypt to be able to care for his brothers and the Jewish people. Last week, when running away from the opportunity to sin with Potifar’s wife, he explains he couldn’t succumb to sinning against G-d. His constant focus on talking about G-d, and His involvement in the world is exactly what the Chanukah candles are meant to illuminate. G-d is running the world, performing miracles for us every single day.  Thus, the mitzvah of Chanukah of publicizing G-d’s wonders– is exactly how Joseph lived his life. 

In an exceedingly dark world in which many hate us, now specifically is the time to work on shining G-d’s eternal light to the nations of the world. 

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