Parshat Miketz: Joseph and the last night of Chanukah

Parshat Miketz
Genesis 41:1 – 44:27
Rabbi Denise L. Eger

This week’s portion is Parshat Miketz and it is read this year on the last night and day of Chanukah. In this week’s parasha, Joseph is appointed by Pharaoh as minister over the land. A fast rise from slave in Potiphar’s house to prisoner, to dream interpreter and then in charge of Pharaoh’s court!
Joseph interpreted the dreams of Pharaoh and predicted seven years of plenty and seven years of famine. But he didn’t just come to Pharaoh with the interpretation alone. Joseph outlined a plan for reserving food supplies in the years of plenty so that in the years of famine the country and the people would survive. The presentation of this plan of action impressed Pharaoh and he saw in this young man, wisdom, discernment and “the spirit of God.” He gave Joseph his signet ring and he was dressed in fine clothes and given an Egyptian name – Zaphentath –paneah. Pharaoh gave him a wife, Asenath and “he emerged in charge of the land of Egypt” (Gen. 41:45). All of this happened to him by the age of thirty. He even took a tour throughout Egypt and he got right to the work of collecting the surplus for the lean years.
In Joseph we recognize the good traits of leadership. Joseph even as a young man of thirty had humility. His abandonment by his brothers and being sold into slavery changed him. But he always authentically attributed his success to God. He didn’t have the power to interpret dreams—God gave him this gift. This is what was in part responsible for Pharaoh’s willingness to see in this foreigner, to see in this prisoner, someone who was called to duty by a higher power.
Joseph was also a young man of action and a good tactician. He didn’t just interpret the dreams but came prepared to this important meeting. He had a plan of action that he presented to the court. One that was doable: one that could make a difference; and one that was logical. This too impressed the Pharaoh. Joseph had no real track record other than interpreting the dreams of the Cup-Bearer and Chief Baker in prison and the fact that both interpretations came true.
Joseph became the light of Egypt guiding it through good times and bad.

On the eighth night of Chanukah, the last night the Chanukiah glows in its full glory. The light of God and holiness shine forth a miracle of spirit and love to the whole world. Joseph represented this light, even as he became assimilated into the Egyptian culture. Our challenge today as Jews in the 21st century is to reflect the holy light of the Chanukiah in the ways in which we live out our Jewish ideals and teachings. We can be the light—an Ohr Lagoyim, a light to the nations not just at Chanukah but year-round. In our hearts this week by Joseph’s example and inspired by the lights of Chanukah, may we too reflect God’s love and teachings in all we do.

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