Tonight, just before the Sabbath Queen enters, we light the sixth light of Chanukah. This is a festival about religious freedom and the ongoing pressures of assimilation. I hope God has blessed you with a good and healthy Chanukah.
Let us stand proudly as Jews, both in the blessings of American life and the blessings of our people’s return to Zion and Jerusalem. I hope God will bless our Christian brothers and sisters with a Merry Christmas, as well.
This week, let us consider a crucial verse from the parashah. “For though Joseph recognized his brothers, they did not recognize him.” (Genesis 42:8)
Recognize this ... assimilation is not something new. In Miketz, Joseph had already become part of the majority Egyptian culture. He dressed like an Egyptian, walked like an Egyptian, ate like an Egyptian and married an Egyptian. Actually, I do not know if he walked like an Egyptian, that was a glib reference to the 1986 song by The Bangles. Thus, Joseph’s brothers did not recognize him when they went down to Egypt to buy grain. In the end, Joseph acted like a Hebrew, reconciled with his brothers and moved the whole mishpacha to Egypt.
Recognize this ... each and every day is filled to overflowing. Every day, the TV fills our heads with news reports – and editorial commentaries – broadcast over and over and over again. Too often, the sound crowds out other thoughts, conversations and learning. It crowds out important memories.
Pearl Harbor was attacked 77 years ago today. On Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese bombed the U.S. naval base, which propelled us into World War II.
As President Roosevelt proclaimed, “A day which will live in infamy. No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people, in their righteous might, will win through to absolute victory. ... We will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost, but will make it very certain that this form of treachery shall never again endanger us. Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory and our interests are in grave danger. With confidence in our armed forces, with the unbounding determination of our people, we will gain the inevitable triumph – so help us God.”
Recognize this ... being a Jew has always been a challenge We are a small minority and Chanukah is a relatively minor holiday on the Jewish calendar – although a festive one with mitzvot like – Hallel, food, songs, games, tzedakah and kindling Chanukah lights.
An important teaching of Chanukah is that our ancestors stood up to the pressure to assimilate in the Hellenistic age. Some Jews gave in and totally embraced Greek culture. However, Chanukah is about the Jews who did not give in and consequently, we are here in 2018. Thank you to those who have lived and continue to live, faithful Jewish lives. And thank you for living the most faithful Jewish life you can.
Recognize the many blessings that surround your family and you, our people,and our country. Recognize the miraculous, and ordinary, in our Jewish history. We are part of a miraculous existence, in the ancient past and in the present day. This year, proudly display your Chanukah menorah in a window and “pirsumei nisa” – publicize the miracle.
Chag Urim Sameach -– happy Chanukah.
Rabbi Matthew Eisenberg is rabbi of Temple Israel Ner Tamid in Mayfield Heights.