God as source of light, Miketz, Genesis 41:1-44:17; Numbers 28:9-15
Synagogue attendees know that it is rare that more than one Torah scroll is taken from the Holy Ark. A special event such as a High Holiday or Festival is marked by the presentation of two scrolls of Torah to the congregation. This Shabbat we have the rare moment of three scrolls being taken and read. One is for the sedra of Miketz. The second is for the special Rosh Chodesh reading as we mark a New Moon. The third commemorates Chanuka as we approach the last day of the festival.
As we open today’s Torah portion, Joseph is a forgotten Hebrew lad lost in Egypt’s imperial prison system and, for all we know, never to be heard from again. But the empire is shaken by the dreams of the Pharaoh. So distraught is the king of Egypt that he seeks a satisfactory explanation from all his wise men. None is able to satisfy his curiosity. It is only then that Pharaoh’s cup bearer remembers his own incarceration and the skills of a young Hebrew lad in discerning his dream and that of the chief baker. Now we will see Joseph shine.
The young Hebrew is rushed into Pharaoh’s presence after being appropriately groomed and prepared for the royal audience. He hears the dreams as recounted by the king of Egypt and immediately has an explanation. The dreams of thin cows swallowing heavier cows, and of thin and blasted ears of corn swallowing up full and healthy ears of corn, are one and the same. Joseph’s credo is: “It is not in me: It is God who gives Pharaoh an answer of peace.” Joseph is acknowledging that interpretations of dreams come not from the human but from God Himself; the source of light and enlightenment for the entire world.
Let us see if we can develop this theme for this unique Shabbat of three scrolls. The second scroll is for the Rosh Chodesh reading from Numbers, Chapter 28. The New Moon marks the tiniest sliver of the moon’s visibility, hence the moment of least illumination provided to earth. We can imagine how ominous such a transition would be in the ancient world. The Jewish tradition made New Moon an affirmation of God who renews the cycle of nature and provides us with illumination as the moon grows to its fullest exposure in the next two weeks before returning to the next New Moon observance. This is now our transition to the third Torah and our Chanuka.
This season includes the earliest sunsets and the longest periods of darkness. Our ancestors fashioned the Chanuka celebration exactly parallel to the shortest days of the year. In the face of any inclination to lose faith, they recalled the band of Maccabees and their stalwart loyalty to the God of the Jews. The lighting of candles is the home-based observance of the miracle of Chanuka that brings light and joy into each Jewish home.
Now we have discerned the common leitmotif for this unique Shabbat. In Biblical narrative in the natural world, and in Jewish history we find our people affirming that light and inspiration are God’s gift to the world.
(This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association)