By Chazan Jaclyn Chernett
What a plethora of exciting things reach out to us this morning in shul! Because Shabbat Chanukah this year doesn’t coincide with Rosh Chodesh Tevet, we only remove two scrolls from the Ark. The first one is for our ongoing reading, which has brought us to Miketz. The second reading is from Naso, and refers to the dedicated gifts brought to the Sanctuary by the princes of each tribe. As today is the fourth day of Chanukah, we read about the fourth gift.
We read a full, joyous Hallel. We add the special Al Hanissim (For the Miracles) paragraph in the Amidah. We also announce the coming month of Tevet. And we read the beautiful haftarah for Shabbat Chanukah from the book of Zechariah.
This haftarah (also read on the Shabbat of Beha’alotcha in the summer) is all about dedication, which is what Chanukah means. The Prophet Zechariah was among the people who returned to Jerusalem from exile in Babylon after the destruction of the first Temple. A visionary, he dedicated himself to raising the morale of the people to rebuild the holy Temple in Jerusalem. His striking words, “Not by might, nor by power, but with My spirit alone, says the Lord of Hosts,” still rouse us. His message is one of great joy; one of great hope.
How apt this is in relation to the spellbinding Joseph story we read in the four final parshiot of Bereshit: Vayeshev, Miketz, Vayigash and Vayechi. This morning, we read in Miketz that Joseph is brought out of prison to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams. There is famine (you might equate that in spiritual terms with the period of Babylonian exile from Jerusalem in our haftarah). Joseph’s long-lost brothers come to find food and, after some intrigue, Joseph reveals himself to them. “And he wept aloud; and the Egyptians heard, and the house of Pharaoh heard. And Joseph said to his brothers: ‘I am Joseph; is my father still alive?’…” Every year, I read this and find myself weeping too.
This is the moment of turning, of reconciliation, of hope. It was accomplished not by war or fighting (and Joseph had every reason to be belligerent with his brothers), but by the spirit of love, reconciliation and yearning for better times. It also begins the first exile of the Hebrews, when Jacob brings all the family to Egypt for survival, and of course, to reunite with his beloved son.
Zechariah’s dream was fulfilled. The Temple in Jerusalem was eventually rebuilt, only to be razed again by the Romans in the Churban (destruction) of 70 CE, leading to the greatest exile. Yet this, too, was the start of a spiritual journey for the Jewish people. With our roots grounded in the Tanakh, we gained strength in our dedication to a moral and just future – from Yochanan ben Zakkai, (30-90CE) who survived the destruction of the second Temple to become a primary contributor to the Mishnah, right through to our present times when we witnessed the miracle of the homecoming and the birth of the State of Israel. Of course, it wasn’t without its wars, its tragic and terrible happenings to our people along the way – and the physical violence still continues. But our commitment to craft our own destiny remains and, God willing, always will, provided we stay dedicated to the spirit of hope and a vision for a just and peaceful future.
Jaclyn Chernett is a founder member of, and Chazan at Kol Nefesh Masorti Synagogue, founder and director of the European Academy for Jewish Liturgy and Vice President of Masorti Judaism