Every year during Hanukkah we read the story of Joseph in our weekly parsha cycle. Even beyond its catchy Broadway tunes, it is among the great dramatic myths in our tradition. It is a story of sibling rivalry, colorful clothing, self-expression, favoritism, deceit, bloodshed, betrayal, survival, redemption, and ultimately miracles. Which is for me, where the powerful link to Hanukkah comes in.
Today I want to fast-forward to the end of the story. After burying his father Jacob, Joseph returns to Egypt with his brothers. As they travel together, the brothers fear that now that their father is dead, Joseph will seek revenge (Genesis 50:14-15).
A midrash elaborates (Tanhuman, Vayechi 17), imagining that as they traveled back to Egypt, Joseph and his brothers passed the pit into which the brothers had thrown Joseph. Joseph approaches the pit and his brothers fear he will be reminded of what they did to him there. Instead, Joseph blesses the pit, in the tradition of saying a blessing in a place where a miracle has occurred:
ברוך המקום שעשה לי נס במקום הזה
Blessed is HaMakom/The Holy One who made a miracle for me in this makom/place. Or perhaps, Blessed is the The Space where a miracle happened to me in this place.
The Hebrew is poetic and hard to translate. But a few things are clear. We don't know exactly what Joseph is blessing here -- his survival, his ability to forgive his brothers, or the entire journey he underwent as a result of this initial trauma? Joseph uses the word Makom, both for God and for the location of the pit, the place where it happened. God as the physical site where our lives take place. God as the container, even as deep and threatening as the pit, for everything that happens to us, including the nes/miracle of our own transformation. Reading the story of Joseph in conjunction with the story of Hanukkah flips the script from nes being about military victory or Divine intervention, but rather our own capacity for forgiveness, transformation and healing.
This is what I think it means when we sing in the second blessing when lighting the candles:
שֶׁעָשָׂה נִסִּים לַאֲבוֹתֵינוּ בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם בַּזְּמָן הַזֶּה...
...she'asah nissim la'avoteynu bayamim ha'hem bazman ha'zeh.
Blessed are you...who performed miracles for our ancestors in their day at this time.
Tonight is the sixth night of Hanukkah. Which means it is also Rosh Hodesh, marking the new moon of Tevet. On this auspicious night, as you sing your Hanukkah blessings, may we call on the spirit who performed miracles for our ancestors in their day, and may we call on that same healing force to be with us in our time.
Shabbat Shalom! Hodesh Tov! Happy Hanukkah!
Rabbi Ari Lev
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Rabbi Ari Lev Fornari brings Torat Hayyim, a living tradition, to Kol Tzedek Synagogue through thoughts about prayer, justice, and community.