Haftarah Parshat Miketz – Shabbat Hanukkah (Zechariah 2:14 – 4:7)
December 31, 2016 / 2 Tevet 5777
This special haftarah for Hanukkah contains among its prophecies an idyllically universal vision of acceptance of God: “In that day many nations shall attach themselves to the Lord and become His people, and He will dwell in their midst.” (2:15) This messianic prophecy seems somewhat ironic as a scriptural reading for a festival commemorating the victory of a particular people over the forces of an international movement which sought for it to conform to the forces of the universal culture sweeping the world at the time.
How can we read of this universalist vision during a festival commemorating Jewish particularism? To my mind, Rabbi Yitzhak Hutner (US, 20th century), Rosh Yeshivat Torah Vada’at, in his collected essays – Pahad Yitzhak on Hanukkah, was the first to recognize this particular dilemma. He asserts that the Jewish people had a love-hate relationship with Greek culture. On the one hand, the Jewish world was at odds with this universal all enveloping culture which advocated assimilation and discouraged difference. On the other hand, they mandated that the only language in which they permitted the Tanakh (the Jewish Bible) to be translated was Greek because they valued Greek culture as an agent of spreading their message.
Hutner teased out of this dichotomy that Greek culture represented the quality of “flexibility” and that this quality could be both a vice and a virtue for Jews. It could be a virtue if it allowed the Jew to survive situations where, if they were unbending they would break and face destruction, but it could be a vice if their flexibility caused them to lose their true identity and ideals. The Jew lives with this constant tension. If this is used properly, it would be to the Jew’s glory but, if not, it will lead to their destruction.
This dialectic is present in the rabbinic permission to translate the Bible into Greek. It would seem that this is an accommodation, a bending of the rules which might cause the loss of the language of the Jews. Hutner, however, asserts that translating the Bible into Greek, despite its risks, provided a vehicle to spread God’s message to the world. This brings us back to the verse from our haftarah. On Hanukkah, we are faced with the precarious fate of being Jewish. We have a worthy message to proclaim to the world. Yet, in order to spread our message, we walk a tightrope, balancing our unique identities as Jews along with what we share with the rest of the world. If we are successful, the world will ultimately come to appreciate God’s message but we must be constantly vigilant not to get lost in the process. (See Pahad Yitzhak Hanukkah 7:8)
This study piece is offered as a service of the United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva. It is prepared by Rabbi Mordechai (Mitchell) Silverstein, senior lecturer in Talmud and Midrash at the Conservative Yeshiva. He is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.
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