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Yosef, Yehudah, and Chanukah

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

At the time of Chanukah the Greek empire attempted to assimilate the Jewish people into their naturalistic, Godless belief system. They made decrees against Torah study, circumcision and other such decrees, in an attempt to rid the Jewish people of their belief in the transcendent (holy) and spiritual. We celebrate that a number of young zealous priests (the Maccabees) fought for their religious freedom and thereby reversed the trend towards total assimilation.

Here in America we are fortunate to live in a land with religious freedom for all. We are, thank God, not subject to religious oppression of any kind. Despite tremendous religious freedoms, assimilation has unfortunately taken a toll on the Jewish people. While legally religious freedom has been granted to all, there are clearly other forces in modern society undermining religious belief and observance. Clearly religious freedom will not secure the future of Judaism. So what does secure the Jewish future?

“He had sent Yehudah ahead of him to Yosef, to point the way before him to Goshen. So when they came to the region of Goshen” (Genesis 46:28) Before Jacob returns to Egypt he sends Yehudah to Goshen to pave the way for their arrival. Our sages explain that Ya’akov instructed Yosef to set up a Yeshiva so that upon their arrival there would be a place for the Torah to be studied and taught. Ya’akov understood that the secret to our national spiritual survival was Torah study and education.

One of our commentators, Bnei Yisaschar, suggests that the letters on the Chanukah dreidel Nun, Gimel, Heh and Shin which stand for Nes Gadol Hayah Sham have their origin in the Hebrew word used in the above verse Goshnah meaning (to the city of Goshen.) The secret of the dreidel which represents survival of our nation from spiritual assimilation is the Yeshiva which is to be founded in Goshen.

When we bless our children on Friday night we say “May Hashem make you like Efraim and Menashe.” Efraim and Menashe were Yosef’s two sons. Why do we bless our children specifically to be like Yosef’s two sons? Our commentators point out that Efraim and Menashe unlike the other sons and grandsons of Ya’akov grew up in an Egyptian hedonist and paganist culture. Nonetheless Yosef was successful in bringing up these two sons to be true to the religious traditions of Ya’akov’s family. We bless our children to have the strength and fortitude to hold on to our religious beliefs and practices. May Hashem bless us all with the strength and fortitude to proudly kindle the lights of our awesome tradition!