However we tell the story of Chanukah, one of the central aspects of the Maccabean victory for religious freedom was the nature of their cause. Part of their struggle was focused on the tyranny of the Syrian-Greek rulers who sought to eliminate the Judaism from their realm in order to unite the entire population of the Seleucid Empire under a banner of Greek thought, faith and culture. The other component of this conflict was that Jews who had totally adopt Greek customs had sided with the Seleucid rulers against the Maccabees and the many Jews of Judea who believed that they should have the right to be different, to retain their identity and heritage. The original tale, as recounted in the books of the Maccabees, and the “miracle story” we know so well from the Talmud (one day’s supply of oil burned for eight days), asserts that it was dedication to a higher purpose – acknowledging and celebrating God’s presence in their lives - that led the Jews of Judea to triumph in their struggle for freedom.
The Torah readings for last week and this week feature the touching narrative of the reunion of Joseph and his brothers and their subsequent reconciliation. In his conversations with his brothers as they again became a family, Joseph reiterated time and again that everything had happened for a reason: that it was God who had put him where he needed (as second to Pharaoh in Egypt) to be able to save his family from the throes of the famine in their land. However, he did not see himself as the hero of the situation. He was merely a conduit, enabling the divine plan for his family’s survival to unfold. Where it seemed, at the beginning of his story, that Joseph was full of himself and his ego, he was, as he reconciled with his brothers, filled with a sense of the higher purpose to which his dreams had led him and his family.
There are always higher purposes and causes to which we can dedicate ourselves: freedom, hospitality, friendship, strength of community, and local and global peace. In his book, I’M GOD, YOU’RE NOT, which I just began reading, Rabbi Lawrence Kushner makes the point time and again that we are at our best when we realize that life isn’t always about us individually, but, rather, about seeing ourselves as one member of a team, whether that team is a family, a congregation, a city, a nation or all humanity. This relates to what we might call the “altruistic impulse,” and it is also connected to the times when we say the Shema. When we declare that God is one, whether we are alone or at Temple, we become a part of Oneness of the universe, in which our uniqueness takes its rightful place in the greater whole. As we move forward in the coming months to find new ways to sustain our community and congregation, let us remember the higher purposes that can guide us on a sacred path.