Haftarah Parshat Miketz
December 4, 2010
27 Kislev 5771
The events and significance of Hanukkah are much more complicated than is generally known. In modern times, Hanukkah is \”marketed\” as a \”Festival of Religious Freedom\” by some and a \”Festival of National Freedom\” by others. There may be some truth to these two titles but its historical significance lies elsewhere. The events of Hanukkah may have started out as a civil war between Jews over an issue of consequence to this day: what should Judaism look like? Should it be universalistic, reflecting the manner and ideals of the general world around it or should it be true to its time honored outlook? In other words, how will Judaism accommodate itself to the world?
There are inklings of this profound debate already in this special haftarah for Hanukkah. In the messianic spirit, Zechariah prophesies: \”Shout for joy, Fair Zion! For lo, I come; and I will dwell in your midst – declares the Lord. In that day many nations will attach themselves to the Lord and become His people, and He will dwell in your midst.\” What will Israel look like when this confluence of people enters into its fellowship? Will they influence it or will Judaism influence them. This question came sooner than Zechariah may have expected. At the time of the story of Hanukkah, this sort of admixture of people joined the Jewish people in the land of Israel; if not joining the Jewish people, at least, living along side them. For some segments of the people, this \”universal\” Greek influence proved quite tantalizing. For others, it was quite troublesome.
This debate became quite serious because the Hellenistic or Greek forces tried to impose their ways upon the Temple ritual and Jewish life in general. The consequences of this dispute became larger than just a feud among Jews. The Greeks eventually became involved. The rest of the story is better known.
The radical form this debate took in Temple times was painful, divisive and destructive. But, in truth, this struggle is a constant struggle for a people like the Jews. We must always contend with the balancing act of how we will maintain authentic Jewish identities and how we will fit into the world. This is the challenge that we are reminded of every Hanukkah.
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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