Parashat Miketz: From the darkest night

The days of Hanukkah are the darkest of the year

Hanukkah images are displayed on the walls of the Old City in Jerusalem (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Hanukkah images are displayed on the walls of the Old City in Jerusalem
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Within the ongoing story of Joseph and his brothers, related over 14 chapters in the Book of Genesis, the Torah portion of Miketz tells of the most significant change in Joseph’s status.
He starts off in an Egyptian jail, having been imprisoned following a libel, and then he is rushed – after a haircut and change of clothes – to stand before Pharaoh, the king of the Egyptian empire. After he successfully interprets Pharaoh’s dreams, Pharaoh declares, “There is no one as understanding and wise as you,” as he gives Joseph his royal ring. Thus, Joseph became the second-most important person in Egypt, after the king.
This kind of turnabout teaches something about our own lives. Even in the thickest darkness, there is a chance that light will break through; even the darkest night ends with dawn; even during our most difficult hardships, we can put our hope and trust in the Creator of the universe.
Joseph is an example of someone who suffered major hardships. As a spoiled child, he was sold into slavery. Even when he was relatively successful as a slave, hope was crushed when his master’s wife lied about him trying to seduce her, though the truth was the other way around – she had tried every possible way of seducing him and was unsuccessful – and then he was thrown into prison. After 12 years in prison, he was suddenly released, and within a short period of time he became one of the most influential people in the Egyptian empire.
Throughout all this time, during all the ups and downs of his life, Joseph hung on to his faith that God is managing his life, and that there is a direction and a purpose for everything that happens to him. Years later, he understood that all the obstacles he had overcome set the scene for his extended family to go down to Egypt and survive there during the years of famine in Canaan. But even before this realization dawned on him, he believed and trusted in God with all his heart.
With perfect timing, every year, we read Miketz during Hanukkah. We celebrate Hanukkah by lighting candles and reciting the Hallel prayer, praising God for the victory of a handful of Jews over a foreign ruler, the Seleucid-Greek kingdom, which wished to coerce Jews into idolatry while forbidding them from keeping the commandments of the Torah. This victory that occurred about 2,200 years ago expressed the spiritual departure from darkness into light. The Jewish nation in the Land of Israel gained sovereignty and was able to live a Jewish lifestyle. It also expressed the practical departure from darkness into light. The darkened and defiled Temple was illuminated again with the light of the holy menorah.
A small group of Hasmonean priests who went to war against the Seleucid-Greek army believed that the dark reality should be brighter. They believed that God would redeem them from their desperate situation. This faith empowered them and led them to victory.
Symbolically, the days of Hanukkah are the darkest of the year – the least amount of daylight hours and the longest nights. And even during the hours of darkness, the moon is barely visible, because it’s the end of one Hebrew month and the beginning of the next, and because of typically cloudy skies.
It is in this darkness that we light our candles. We declare – to ourselves, to our families, and to anyone willing to hear – our Jewish faith in the victory of light over darkness.
By lighting Hanukkah candles, we illuminate the street, our homes and our hearts with the light of faith.
The writer is rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites.