Every morning when I wake up to check the news I am greeted by a link to an article which has been on the site since the start of the war on Oct. 7th. It is entitled “Heroes.”
Everyday since the start of the war, more and more stories have been added to the link. The stories raise such mixed emotions — the stories, while incredible, courageous, extraordinary, are at the same time incomprehensible, devastating, and painful. They speak about inconceivable acts that survivors of the Nova festival did to save their lives and lives of the ones around them. They speak about the soldiers that are fighting and continue to fight in the most incredulous way. They speak about the families in the various Kibbutzim surrounding Gaza that courageously fought the mass amounts of terrorists that entered Israel. These pictures are on my mind as I try to celebrate Chanuka in a very different way this year. I have been thinking about these heroes, which has led me to think of the heroes of Chanuka, the protagonists in our stories of the holiday which we celebrate and reflect on during these days.
It is quite interesting that Chanuka really has no set text in which we read about the story of the holiday. There is no specific megillah that was assigned to it such as we have on the Purim with Esther or Tisha Beav with Eicha. In fact, we do have The Books of the Macabees but because the book was not written with Divine intervention it does not carry the same honor as other books such as the Five Megillot. The Books of the Macabees does formulate a better picture and deeper understanding of the fight of the Macabbees, and the revolt that they began against Helenism. It is interesting, then, to think about three major figures who become the highlights of the story of Chanuka. There is Judah the Maccabee and his brothers who were able to defeat Antiochus. Yehudit is known as the woman who was able to take down the Greek general. In Gitin 57B there is also a reference to a woman (we refer to her as Chana) and her seven sons who committed suicide as opposed to bowing down to idols. Who are these heroes and what is a theme that transpires through all three of these stories?
One of the major ideas regarding the miracle of Chanuka is the theme of the few overcoming the many, the weak overtaking the strong.
But to leave Chanuka’s message here misses the point. Chanuka is the story of a nation of average citizens who step up to change the fate of the Jewish nation. The point is exemplified by the fact that Israel’s Macabees, their priests, become leaders of the army and the nation’s physical heroes.
The Macabees, however are only one example.
Another example is Yehudit. There are a few versions of her story. It seems that Yehudit was the daughter of Yochanan the Kohan, father of the Hasmonaim family. The Greek general took a liking to her. She lured him into her tent, fed him dairy foods which made him thirsty, and poured him many drinks. After drinking, he fell asleep and she took a sword and killed him. This is a very similar story to the one of Yael and Sisera in Sefer Shoftim. It is amazing that a simple woman, placed in an extraordinary situation, used her ability to change the fate of the Jewish nation. She was an ordinary individual who thought quickly and swiftly and acted in a way that was extraordinary. In the story of Yael and Sisera, Yael uses a simple tent peg to kill the general. It was not even a weapon of war that allowed her to kill a great general. Similarly, this story makes me think of today the extraordinary efforts and creativity that those that survived the horrific attacks on Oct. 7th did in order to save themselves and the people around them.
Again, this is but one example of the hereos of the Chanuka story.
I think this is a similar theme to Yosef in this week’s parsha. Last week in Parshat Vayeshev, Yosef was described as a young boy. He was a dreamer, a young boy thrown into a pit and then sold into slavery and brought down to Egypt. He could have easily led his life as a slave boy for his entire life. Life was happening to him and he was floating through it. He was placed in an extremely difficult situation, with little hope for improvement in his life. Rabbi Sacks in “To Wait without Despair,” points out that in last week’s parsha, Yosef was an object and events happened to him. He was at the whim of all the other characters in the stories — Yaakov, the brothers, and even the wife of Potifar. Yosef had no voice; he was the main character, but the character of everyone else.
In the case of the wife of Potifar, Yosef refused numerous times to be with her. He used his voice to refuse and to explain why he could not be with her. In real time, however, Yosef had no ability to scream out. He quickly got away and ran outside. The pasuk says:
בראשית פרק לט: יב
וַתִּתְפְּשֵׂ֧הוּ בְּבִגְד֛וֹ לֵאמֹ֖ר שִׁכְבָ֣ה עִמִּ֑י וַיַּעֲזֹ֤ב בִּגְדוֹ֙ בְּיָדָ֔הּ וַיָּ֖נָס וַיֵּצֵ֥א הַחֽוּצָה:
She caught hold of him by his garment and said, “Lie with me!” But he left his garment in her hand and got away and fled outside
This is a turning point in Yosef’s life where he was forced to react quickly. Unfortunately in this situation, the wife of Potifar was able to scream out and to call the people of the household to come and arrest Yosef. At this point, once again, life circumstances take control of Yosef and he is arrested and thrown in jail.
It is only in prison, and with G-d’s help, that Yosef finds his voice.
בראשית פרק לט
(כא) וַיְהִ֤י יְקֹוָק֙ אֶת־יוֹסֵ֔ף וַיֵּ֥ט אֵלָ֖יו חָ֑סֶד וַיִּתֵּ֣ן חִנּ֔וֹ בְּעֵינֵ֖י שַׂ֥ר בֵּית־הַסֹּֽהַר: (כב) וַיִּתֵּ֞ן שַׂ֤ר בֵּית־הַסֹּ֙הַר֙ בְּיַד־יוֹסֵ֔ף אֵ֚ת כָּל־הָ֣אֲסִירִ֔ם אֲשֶׁ֖ר בְּבֵ֣ית הַסֹּ֑הַר וְאֵ֨ת כָּל־אֲשֶׁ֤ר עֹשִׂים֙ שָׁ֔ם ה֖וּא הָיָ֥ה עֹשֶֽׂה: (כג) אֵ֣ין׀ שַׂ֣ר בֵּית־הַסֹּ֗הַר רֹאֶ֤ה אֶֽת־כָּל־מְא֙וּמָה֙ בְּיָד֔וֹ בַּאֲשֶׁ֥ר יְקֹוָ֖ק אִתּ֑וֹ וַֽאֲשֶׁר־ה֥וּא עֹשֶׂ֖ה יְקֹוָ֥ק מַצְלִֽיחַ:
G-d was with Joseph—extending kindness to him and disposing the chief jailer favorably toward him. The chief jailer put in Joseph’s charge all the prisoners who were in that prison, and he was the one to carry out everything that was done there. The chief jailer did not supervise anything that was in Joseph’s charge, because G-d was with him, and whatever he did G-dmade successful.
Firstly, it is clear that G-d sets the stage at this point to open up the possibility for Yosef. Yet, without Yosef’s own work, he would have still been in jail. At the end of last week’s parsha, Vayeshev, Yosef begins to find his voice as the interpreter of the dreams.
בראשית פרק מ:ח-ט
(ז) וַיָּבֹ֧א אֲלֵיהֶ֛ם יוֹסֵ֖ף בַּבֹּ֑קֶר וַיַּ֣רְא אֹתָ֔ם וְהִנָּ֖ם זֹעֲפִֽים׃ (ח) וַיִּשְׁאַ֞ל אֶת־סְרִיסֵ֣י פַרְעֹ֗ה אֲשֶׁ֨ר אִתּ֧וֹ בְמִשְׁמַ֛ר בֵּ֥ית אֲדֹנָ֖יו לֵאמֹ֑ר מַדּ֛וּעַ פְּנֵיכֶ֥ם רָעִ֖ים הַיּֽוֹם׃ (ט) וַיֹּאמְר֣וּ אֵלָ֔יו חֲל֣וֹם חָלַ֔מְנוּ וּפֹתֵ֖ר אֵ֣ין אֹת֑וֹ וַיֹּ֨אמֶר אֲלֵהֶ֜ם יוֹסֵ֗ף הֲל֤וֹא לֵֽאלֹהִים֙ פִּתְרֹנִ֔ים סַפְּרוּ־נָ֖א לִֽי׃
When Joseph came to them in the morning, he saw that they were distraught. He asked Pharaoh’s courtiers, who were with him in custody in his master’s house, saying, “Why do you appear downcast today?” And they said to him, “We had dreams, and there is no one to interpret them.” So Joseph said to them, “Surely God can interpret! Tell me [your dreams].”
Yosef understood the situation that the Baker and the Butler were in. He then steps in and offers his interpretation with the help of G-d. Yosef sees this as his one chance out of jail and advocates for himself.
בראשית פרק מ: יד-טו
(יד) כִּ֧י אִם־זְכַרְתַּ֣נִי אִתְּךָ֗ כַּאֲשֶׁר֙ יִ֣יטַב לָ֔ךְ וְעָשִֽׂיתָ־נָּ֥א עִמָּדִ֖י חָ֑סֶד וְהִזְכַּרְתַּ֙נִי֙ אֶל־פַּרְעֹ֔ה וְהוֹצֵאתַ֖נִי מִן־הַבַּ֥יִת הַזֶּֽה׃ (טו) כִּֽי־גֻנֹּ֣ב גֻּנַּ֔בְתִּי מֵאֶ֖רֶץ הָעִבְרִ֑ים וְגַם־פֹּה֙ לֹא־עָשִׂ֣יתִֽי מְא֔וּמָה כִּֽי־שָׂמ֥וּ אֹתִ֖י בַּבּֽוֹר׃
But think of me when all is well with you again, and do me the kindness of mentioning me to Pharaoh, so as to free me from this place. For in truth, I was kidnapped from the land of the Hebrews; nor have I done anything here that they should have put me in the dungeon.”
Yosef advocates for himself in the hopes of changing his fate. In a dramatic ending to the Parsha, the butler forgets and Yosef remains in prison.
This week’s parsha, Miketz, however, begins with the butler remembering Yosef and his ability to interpret dreams. Yosef is taken from jail, cleaned up, shaven, and his clothes changed. Once again, Yosef is an object taken by the whim of Paroah’s army and moved to another place. Yet, here is where the story begins to change. Yosef uses his ability to interpret dreams to change his status. Yosef has a natural talent, clearly given to him by G-d, to interpret dreams. He uses this talent confidently without hesitation to predict the future. In fact, he is so confident and sure of the interpretation, Paroah accepts it and makes his entire financial planning based on this young, slave boy’s interpretation. One can see in this week’s parsha how Yosef morphs into the older wise man confident in his decisions. He becomes a doer, an organizer, and an active successful member of society that changes the fate of all of Egypt.
It is key that G-d plays a major role in Yosef’s life, placing him in the right place at the right time. G-d gives him a talent that can be used in many different ways. In the end of the day, it was up to Yosef to use that talent and G-d given trait to affect the entire Jewish nation. The young dreamer takes his G-d given ability to dream and uses it for the greater good of the entire Jewish nation.
It is fascinating to watch the growth of a young, immature, and passive character placed in an opportune situation, and his use of his G-d given talents to flourish. This is the story of the heroes that we see throughout our characters in Chanuka – Judah the Maccabi, Yehudit and Chana. It is the story of all of our soldiers in this horrific war we have been fighting since October 7th. I have read the countless stories of the men and women G-d placed in the specific time and place on October 7th and yet it was up to them to step up and to act. Men and women with ordinary lives with G-d given talents who changed to the extraordinary because they understood the need and had the foresight and ability to be active in those situations.
G-d puts people in specific situations and it is up to them to step up and act as extraordinary people. This is the job of each and every one of us throughout the current war. Each person is physically placed in a certain time and place with specific talents. It is up to the person to understand their specific role and to act accordingly – those of you who are attending universities at this time of tremendous antisemitism and anti-Zionism and your role in combating it; those in England, Europe, South Africa, America and countless other countries battling antisemitism in the streets, in the news and in social media; those who are in the army and are physically battling Hamas and Hezbollah; and those in Israel who are supporting those that are fighting by picking olives, working in sticker factories and providing food and packages to those who are left at home without the help of their spouses. (At least that is what the Fogels did over Chanuka). Each person is placed in a specific situation for a reason. It is up to each and every individual to step up and act in extraordinary ways. Yehudit did, Yosef did, and so must we. This war can only be won with G-d’s help and with our active calling out against Hamas in words and in actions.
We have a lot of work to do but all of us can be everyday heroes.