What is the story of Hanukah? Simply put by the Gemara, the Greeks oppressed the Jews who revolted. The Hasmoneans were successful and reclaimed their Temple. When cleaning the defiled Temple they discovered one cruse of oil with the seal of the High Priest. This was sufficient for one day’s light. A miracle occurred and it lasted for 8 days.
It is interesting to reflect on the simple plot of Miketz, this week’s Torah portion. As the second in command to Pharaoh during the drought, Yosef is living out his dream ( see Vayeshev)of having his brothers bow down to him seeking food. Yosef has Benyamin framed for stealing Yosef’s cup. Benyamin is the only full brother of Yosef, sharing both mother and father. Yosef wants to see if his brothers ever learned a lesson from almost killing him and selling him into slavery. When the hidden cup is revealed Yehudah steps forward to take responsibility for his brother. In the case of Yosef, Yehudah missed the chance to lead his brothers and almost lost his identity during the story of Tamar (with his staff and ring). But, here with Benyamin the “pure” brother, Yehudah overcomes his deep sense of guilt and steps forward, returns to his position of leadership, and unifies his family.
In this light, we see an interesting critique of the simple story of the Hasmoneans. Seeing Hanukah as simply a story of Greeks versus the Jews and the discovery of a pure vessel of oil overlooks the civil war. Hanukah was also the story of the Jews versus the Hellenized Jews. The Hashmoaneans led by another Yehudah tried to unify the Jewish people, but that came with making Jews conform to their standards of Jewish life.The Hasmoneans unlike Yosef’s brothers were actually guilty of fratricide. How might finding a cruse of oil clean their brother’s blood off of their hands?
As we stand there with our families lighting our Hanukah candles take a moment and realize that all families have their issues and their challenges. I can only hope that in the light of Hanukah and Miketz, we do not miss the simple message that we need to emulate the first Yehudah and not the second. Our immediate and larger families need us to be selfless in the name of unity and not conformity. We need to look deep within ourselves and challenge the bad feelings we have for people who live different lives then our own. Simple acts of compassion these “estranged family members” can ignite the flame of redemption and reveal a better world.