G-d was with us then — and now

G-d was with us then — and now

Rabbi Beth Jacowitz Chottiner
Rabbi Beth Jacowitz Chottiner

Mikeitz 41:1-44:17

We are in the middle of celebrating one of our most joyous holidays — Chanuka.

Chanuka is fun to celebrate, whether we are young or old, for we all enjoy lighting our chanukkiot, eating latkes and opening presents. It’s a great time to gather with family and friends and have a good time.

And yet, in the midst of our celebrating, it’s important that we remember why we are so joyful.  While we often talk about the miracle of the cruse of oil that lasted longer than anticipated, it’s even more important that we remember the greater miracle that happened for our people — the victory of the few over the many — the victory of the Maccabees over Antiochus Epiphanes IV and his powerful army.

Without the principled bravery of our ancestors who fought for religious freedom — bayamim hahem bazman hazeh — in that time, we would not be here today. If it wasn’t for the hand of G-d, intervening on their behalf, Judah and the Maccabees would not have won the war, nor would they have been able to rededicate the Temple in Jerusalem.

 G-d was on our side (as He has been for thousands of years); how else can we explain this miraculous victory?

In a similar fashion, G-d is also with Joseph.  In last week’s Torah portion, we are told more than once, “The Lord was with Joseph” (Genesis 39:2, 21).  In this week’s Torah portion, when Joseph is called upon to interpret Pharaoh’s famous dream (the one that includes seven sturdy and scrawny cows and seven ears of full and shriveled grain), Joseph invokes G-d’s name.  He explains that there will be seven years of plenty and seven years of famine saying, “G-d will see to Pharaoh’s welfare” (Genesis 41:16).

Pharaoh recognizes that Joseph is empowered by G-d and says to his courtiers, “Could we find another like him, a man in whom is the spirit of G-d?” (Genesis 41:38).

The common thread between this week’s parasha and the Maccabees is the presence and power of G-d.  The victory of the Maccabees was part of G-d’s plan, as was Joseph’s rise to power in a foreign land.  

Just as G-d did not hide his face from our ancestors, neither does Adonai hide his face from us, today.  Adonai is an accessible G-d who is there for us as much as He was present for Joseph and the Maccabees.

 During this Festival of Lights, when we recite the blessings over the candles, let us recognize and value the blessings in our lives; and as we celebrate Chanuka, let us not walk sightless among miracles.

(This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.)