Rabbi Mario Gurevich
Beth Israel Synagogue
Besides always coinciding in time, Parashat Miketz and Chanukah have other similarities.
The text speaks about the tension between Joseph and his brothers before they acknowledged him, while the Chanukah festival deals with the tension, or fight, between Greeks and Jews, or better yet, between Hellenism and Judaism.
The first years of the Greek occupation of
Israel did not spark big disturbances in Jewish life: the Ptolemaic dynasty, ruling from , was rooted in a country of long history and deep beliefs. The small Egypt Judea, owner of history and tradition in turn, offered the Greek mind new sources to nourish their yearning for knowledge. Not in vain did the Greeks call Jews “the philosophers of Judea”, and under their patronage, the Torah was translated for the first time into Greek, the “Septuagint”, destined to occupy a place of honor at the library of Alexandria, first world bibliographic center at the time.
The situation changed when the ruling power passed to the Seleucid dynasty (Syrian), which governed a cluster of small nations with different cultures and religions and felt that, in order to create an empire, culture, thought and beliefs should be unified under common denominators. Greek, of course.
This was what generated the clash between these two nations; the collision between Jewish ethics and Greek aesthetics. According to the Greeks, truth resided on beauty; while to Jews, beauty resided on truth.
We all know the story of the Maccabean uprising, the victory over the Syrian-Greeks and the rededication of the
we commemorate on Chanukah. Temple
However, we should not believe that the entire people supported the revolt, or that everyone shared their ideology. Many Jews had already been seduced by the Hellenic culture and approved the outer changes, which they viewed as elements of progress.
In such a way that the Hasmonean dynasty, installed during the revolt and after the victory, became more and more Hellenizing, giving rise to a cultural syncretism that proved to be tricky but deeply enriched Jewish writings and thoughts.
As a marginal digression: there are paradoxes in the story, such as that the Jewish Olympic games born in the 20th century were called Maccabiah, when the Maccabean fight was directly channeled against this Greek practice, which clashed with Jewish Puritanism.
But returning to our subject of similarities between the story of Joseph and Chanukah: Joseph is, perhaps, the first Hebrew to undergo a process of trans-culturization. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had already travelled beyond the
land of Canaan – Egypt, – but they returned with no obvious changes in their behavior or way of life. Haran
Joseph, on the other hand, moved from the rustic and elemental shepherding life of his family to the splendor and elegance of the Egyptian court, and the management of an agricultural society more evolved than his own.
Even from his first dreams, which caused his brother’s ill will, Joseph saw sheaves of wheat in the fields totally foreign to his culture, where agriculture had not yet appeared, and in the dream about stars revolving around him, an advance of the Greek concept of man as center of the universe.
Somehow, Joseph’s experience caused the nation born to his sons and brothers to take advantage of his sophistication, acquiring new tools to carve their own history.
Likewise, the Greek experience polished Jewish thought, preparing it for new and brilliant challenges.
In my opinion, the moral of this story is that, although we should vigorously stand against every cultural attempt designed to make us lose our identity, there is nothing wrong with any culture in and of itself, and that from learning and knowledge of the other or others, we may just gain elements that will enrich our life and our own culture.