A Kavanah [Intention] for the Seventh Night of Hanukah

Tonight we light the seventh Hanukah light.חנוכיה

The Hanukah lights are about the boundary—between inside and outside, between public and private, between the market and the home. Also between the past and the present, and between ourselves and others.

The Torah portion that we read today in synagogue recounts the Joseph story. It is called miketz, at the end. The portion begins at the end of Joseph’s seven years of imprisonment on the false charge of attempting to rape his master’s wife. Joseph is called to Pharaoh from his cell to interpret Pharaoh’s dream, which he does successfully. He is rewarded with the highest position in the kingdom—second only to Pharaoh himself. Joseph is given authority over all the lands and resources of the kingdom, authority to collect food and prepare Egypt for the famine to come.

When the famine comes, Joseph’s brothers come from Canaan to get food to bring back to their starving families. To them Joseph is the Pharaoh, the powerful, intimidating, overwhelming person who has the power of life and death over them. Joseph knows this, but is also haunted by the memory of his treatment at the hand of his brothers, who had sold him into slavery. Joseph is equally haunted by the more recent memory of his jail cell, his imprisonment. Joseph, the viceroy of Egypt stands in the house of the Pharaoh, strong and secure, the power of Egypt at his call, holding memories of his own vulnerability and persecution. It is hard in this situation to do what is right, to act justly.

The American Jewish community is like Joseph. We are a community with affluence, education, and political access. We are also a community which carries the memories of the worst types of weakness and vulnerability, persecution and oppression. We are in a position to recognize our brothers, to deploy our skills and resources to create a more just city and country. We are called to walk through the artificial boundaries between people, to stand side by side with those now far more vulnerable than we are and press for justice. Like Joseph, we must cast off the fears and recognize the face of our brothers and sisters.

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