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Joseph’s Sons and Chanukah

Joseph’s Sons and Chanukah

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In the portion of Mikeitz, we read of the birth of Joseph’s two children, Manasseh and Ephraim. These names have meaning. Manasseh means “G‑d made me forget all my hardships and all my father’s home.” Ephraim means “G‑d made me fruitful in the land of my suffering.”

Being in Egypt, Joseph was aware that he was put there to affect Egypt in a positive and G‑dly way. But at the same time, he needed to insure that he would not lose his Jewish identity, which is a possible effect of mingling in a foreign culture.

The names of his sons addressed these sentiments. Ephraim, to be fruitful in the land of my suffering, is involving himself and affecting Egypt. Manasseh is too connected to his past. Although he talks about forgetting, he is referring to the anguish he suffered, and not the G‑dly way of life and the Torah he learned.

What lesson can we take from Joseph? Why did Manasseh come first? How does this connect to Chanukah?

Joseph sets the standard for all Jews at all times. We are Joseph! We are meant to uplift the world around us, by influencing our surroundings with Torah values. We know this is true, because G‑d put us here in a physical world.

The problem is that the lures of the outside cultures are enticing, especially when we find success. This is why Manasseh comes first. In order to be effective and not be swept away, we must constantly develop and strengthen our essential bond and foundation in Judaism. This needs to come first, if we want to be successful in our mission to change the world in a positive way.

During the story of Chanukah, many of the Jewish people succumbed to the licentious lifestyle of the Greeks. They lost their way, their sense of moral superiority, their connection to Torah and holiness. The Maccabees, outnumbered and weak, saved the day and saved Judaism. Not because they were great warriors, but because they were true to G‑d and His Torah, and when you’re on G‑d’s side, you never lose.

Today, we find ourselves, again in a world of confusion and lies. As we witness the collapse of decency, morality and truth, we must strengthen our essential Jewish foundation. We must, like the Maccabees, stand strong for what we know to be the truth and the highest standard of living: the Torah way.

May the light of Chanukah light up the world and may we soon dedicate our Holy Temple again, with the coming of Moshiach. May he come soon!

Rabbi Yitzi Hurwitz—father of seven, husband of Dina, and spiritual leader at Chabad Jewish Center in Temecula, Calif.—has been rendered immobile by ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease). Unable to speak or type, he uses his eyes to write heartfelt thoughts on the weekly Torah portion.

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