The Challenge of Fitting In
The weekly Torah reading of Miketz (Genesis 41:1-44:17), which always coincides with Chanukah, tells the story of the rise of Joseph the son of Jacob from slave to viceroy. And while Miketz contains no Jewish oppression, no battles, and no outright miracles, Joseph’s story could well be viewed as a stark contrast to the story of Chanukah.
The story of Joseph is an affirmation of how to remain true to one’s faith while still succeeding in non-Jewish society. He spoke Egyptian without an accent and pretended not to understand Hebrew. He dressed in royal robes. The people called him Tzaphenath Pa’nayach. Joseph was so well disguised by his Egyptian identity that even his own brothers could not recognize him.
Throughout his stunning career, however, Joseph never forgot who he was. When Joseph finally revealed himself, he declared: “. . .for it was to preserve life that God sent me before you” (Genesis 45:5).
Joseph recognized that his ability to maintain his faith, while living as an Egyptian, was beyond most people. That is why, when his entire family came to settle in Egypt, he asked Pharaoh to allow them to settle in Goshen as shepherds, separated from the Egyptian people by land and profession.
Chanukah celebrates Jewish identity and the determination of the people to fight assimilation. When the Syrian-Greeks conquered the land of Israel, they presented their Hellenistic lifestyle as one that was exalted and universal. But as Jews took on the external affectations of the Greeks–their dress, their language, their names–they did not have Joseph’s strength to eschew the heathen practices that were integral to the Hellenistic lifestyle.
Assimilation into surrounding cultures with a corresponding loss of Jewish identity has always been a challenge for the Jewish people. Joseph met the challenge successfully, can we?This Treat was last posted on December 23, 2011.
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