Relationship of Chanukah to Story of Yosef and His Brothers

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December 19 2008

Parshas Mikeitz always coincides with Chanukah, and Parshas Vayeishev frequently coincides with Chanukah. Various explanations have been offered to provide a connection between Chanukah and these parshiyos, which deal with Yosef and his brothers. I’d like to offer a new explanation.

Yosef was severed from his family at the young age of 17. Faced with a strange land and language, as well as a culture of idolatry and hedonism, Yosef pulled through and succeeded, with Hashem's help, to become the leader of the Jewish nation and its spiritual protector. Confronted by hatred, enslavement, physical temptation, imprisonment and scorn, Yosef steadfastly kept faith and commitment under the most challenging of circumstances to emerge strong and eventually affirm his stature as the bearer of Yaakov’s mesorah (Torah tradition).

The Chashmona'im and their supporters were in a very similar position. Spiritually stifled, they had to observe mitzvos clandestinely, while the Greek values of hedone and idolatry were thrust in their faces, backed by military threat. Fellow Hellenistic Jews served to further squelch mitzvah observance and to undermine any sense of kedushah (holiness). The challenges and adversity to Torah ideology and commitment were immense, and adherence to Hashem's Word was banned and disparaged. Despite this all, the Chashmona'im and their followers persevered and emerged victoriously. Just like Yosef’s salvation came about through natural means, but it was clear that Hashem was behind it all, the wars of Chanukah lacked revealed miracles; only the continual flame, representing the Shechinah (the Divine Presence), attested that Hashem was working it all from behind the scenes and was the source of everything that transpired. These shared motifs form the connection between the story of Yosef and Chanukah. 

Interestingly, the Rambam presents the laws of Hallel in Hilchos Chanukah (the section of his Yad Ha-Chazakah that contains the regulations of Chanukah). Why? Perhaps the Rambam’s understanding was that the greatest attestation of Hashem's glory, for which we praise Him through reciting Hallel, is in the so-called natural scheme of things. Events that seem natural but are clearly directed from Above, so to say, which compel a thinking person to realize that what we term “natural” is itself a manifestation of Hashem’s providence, are the greatest forum for Hallel. When we ponder the breathtaking complexity of nature, such that every structure is purposefully planned and assembled with inscrutable wisdom and spectacular elaboration; when we see that creation is intelligently designed to consist of countless incredibly intricate systems that all work in tandem, which the greatest of scientists cannot replicate; when we experience natural events that are too coincidental to be “natural” – we realize that the most extraordinary of miracles which warrant Hashem's praise are at hand. This is why Chanukah, whose victory occurred as a hidden/natural miracle, a nes nistar, is the primary forum for Hallel according to the Rambam.   

Our perseverance in Torah and mitzvos in the face of the adversity of secular society should be inspired and internalized through the incredible stories of Yosef and the Chashmona'im, as our awareness that Hashem precipitates miracles through the natural order compels our recitation of Hallel on Chanukah.


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