Why Yosef and Chanukah? by Shlomo Tanenbaum


It is well-known that Chanukah always coincides with the Parshiot that describe the Yosef episodes.  Since nothing is coincidental in Torah life, we must ask: Why does Chanukah always fall out on a Parsha concerning Yosef?  What is the underlying theme that connects Yosef to Chanukah?  Moreover, why is Yosef the one who is singled out to go down to Mitzrayim; why could it not have been any other brother?

The threat of Torah being destroyed and removed from Am Yisrael by the Greeks and Hellenists is a major theme of Chanukah. As Al Hanisim states numerous times, the goal of our oppressors was to eradicate Torah and Talmud Torah from Jewish life.  However, their efforts were unsuccessful as the Kohanim overpowered them and restored Jewish heritage, knowledge, and pride.  owever,But why did it have to be the Kohanim and not any other segment of Am Yisrael who defeated the Hellenists?  (This is clearly not an insignificant fact, as Al Hanisim strongly emphasizes the role of the Kohanim in the victory.)  It is because the Kohanim’s primary role is to teach Torah and proper Middot to Am Yisrael.  This is evident in Parshat Vezot Haberachah from Moshe’s blessing to Shevet Levi.  The Pasuk says (Devarim 33:10) that Levi will “teach laws to Yaakov and the Torah to Yisrael.  They will put the Ketoret before You and the offerings on the Mizbeach.”  The Pasuk first mentions teaching Torah to Israel and subsequently states that they will do the Avodah!  This shows that the primary function of Shevet Levi is not to do the Avodah, but rather to teach Torah to Am Yisrael.  Shevet Levi has no portion in Eretz Yisrael because they have to be spread out among all the Shevatim in order to effectively teach Torah to Am Yisrael.  This may also be why by Chanukah the Menorah and not any other aspect of the Beit Hamikdash is singled out.  It is because the Menorah (and light) represents Torah and Talmud Torah, as the Pasuk says in Sefer Mishlei (6:23), “Kir Ner Mitzvah ViTorah Ohr.”

However, the question still remains: what does Yosef Hatzadik have to do with Chanukah?  To answer this question, we first have to understand more about Yosef Hatzadik.  Chazal (see Targum Onkelos to Bereishit 37:3) tell us that Yosef was Yaakov’s brightest and most diligent pupil.  Yosef absorbed more of Yaakov’s Torah than any other brother.  In addition, Yosef was the greatest one among the brothers in terms of Ruchniut (spirituality).  Hence, Yosef was singled out to go down to Mitzrayim because he alone would be able to resist the intense Egyptian influence upon him.  Being the strongest in Talmud Torah, he was the only one among the brothers who would not be overwhelmed by the immense pressure from Egyptian culture.  This explains why Chanukah almost always falls out on Parshat Mikeitz, when Yosef is raised to his illustrious position and Paroh puts great pressure on Yosef to abandon Judiasm and become an Egyptian (see Breishit 41:42-45).  Yosef remained a Jew because he was dedicated to Torah, which is the most potent way to resist foreign influence.

Chazal (see Rashi to Bereishit 46:28) teach that before Yaakov went down to Mitzrayim, he sent Yehudah ahead to establish a Beit Midrash in Mitzrayim.  Yaakov realized that he and his descendants were about to enter Egypt for a long time and that they would be pressured greatly to assimilate and accept Egyptian ideology and beliefs.  Therefore, he sent Yehudah ahead before he moved to assure that his descendants would never stray far away from Talmud Torah and would be able to withstand the pressure and influence to assimilate.

The Greeks tried to destroy our Torah and cause us to assimilate, but the Kohanim’s Zerizut (enthusiasm) and dedication to Torah saved Am Yisrael from slipping and being swallowed by the intense pressure from Greek culture.

This is not a mere coincidence, but a valuable lesson in how to survive against open and subtle attacks on Jewish beliefs and ideology.  The element that saved Yosef as well as the Jews during the second Beit Hamikdash was Talmud Torah.  Chanukah means rededication, a rededication of the Mikdash and a rededication to Talmud Torah.  Moreover, the idea that Talmud Torah saves Am Yisrael from assimilation is not limited just to Yosef or the Kohanim.  This great principle is relevant for all periods in Am Yisrael’s history of exile, and especially nowadays.  Therefore, the next time you light, think of what the candles mean and what Chanukah is all about, and rededicate yourself to Talmud Torah and Shmirat HaMitzvot.

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