Rabbi O’s Weekly Parsha: Mikeitz (Genesis 41:1-44:17) 5780/2019The Jewish Fighter

Joseph was asked to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams but then offered him the advice.So now, let Pharaoh seek out an understanding and wise man and appoint him over the land of Egypt(41:33)This is strange; Joseph was asked to interpret Pharaoh’s dream but no one for his opinion about what to do about the interpretation. Why did he volunteer this advice? Ohr HaChaim (1696-1743) explains that Joseph realized that the Almighty had granted him the wisdom to interpret the dream so that he could advise Pharaoh on how to react to it. It is not good to be quick to diagnose a problem without endeavoring be part of the solution.Over two thousand years ago was the bleak period of the Syrian Greek occupation of Israel. There was widespread assimilation; Jews were not only ignoring their Jewish identity, they were imitating the Greek way of life. Much of what we have today in Western civilization is a hybrid of two cultures emanating from two cities, Athens (and later Rome) vs. Jerusalem. How did this difference play out practically? For Greeks, the gods on Mount Olympus were formed in the image of man, endowed with human and mostly physical characteristics. Zeus was the most powerful, unpitying and terrible. Aphrodite was the goddess of love, beauty and pleasure. Hermes was the god of speed. The gods were created in the image of humans, warring and jealous human-like beings, idealizing their most physical, base, and sometimes even animalistic traits. But the ideology of Judaism stands in stark contrast to this. Human beings are created in the image of G-d and are meant to walk in His ways. When the Torah was given, a mandate was given to model our behavior after G-d’s. That means we are meant to love and be loved, be compassionate, have patience, be kind and truthful. When we talk about free will (i.e. a person’s ability to choose his or her behavior) the choice is how can I be good, kind, or truthful; what can I bring to this encounter?The real distinction between Judaism and Hellenism is found in the question as to who is really the measure of all things, the ultimate decider of human conflict; powerful man or ethical G-d? In last week’s Torah portion, we read about Jacob’s dream, which was ultimately what became the Jewish outlook on life. In his dream, he saw a ladder uniting heaven and earth, spirituality and materialism. G-d was above the ladder, charging Israel’s eternal seed to fill the earth with the blessing of compassionate righteousness and moral justice (Genesis. 28:13-15). This unique charge could only come from a compassionate G-d, not the man made, human based, gods of Athens.When a relatively small group of Jews lead by the Maccabees went to war with the most powerful army of the day, it was because they appreciated the above-mentioned message concerning Joseph. They understood the problem; Jews were forgetting their purpose and looking for what they perceived as the good life from a culture who deified man and glorified war and the warrior as the pinnacle of achievement (Just read a bit of Homer). Greece espoused war as the ideal because war tests the spirit of the man, separates the strong from the weak, and the brave from the cowardly. The view of might makes right was the rallying call for later civilizations that persecuted people; it was the rationale of Hitler, Stalin, and the extreme Islamists of today.The Maccabees and the brave people who fought with them were willing to give up everything-even their lives-to retain their Jewish identity and to be able to live according to the idea that a kind and just G-d has commanded us to do the opposite of what the Greeks did. One who has power, must realize that (s)he has a tremendous responsibility to make sure the weaker elements of society are not abused or treated unjustly; they have the same right to freedom as anyone else. We don’t glorify war, we glorify peace, a word used 240 times in the Bible. That being said, Jews are not pacifists; we can’t expect evil people to just disappear. If war is necessary to maintain freedom, so be it. If we don’t destroy evil, evil will destroy us. The Maccabees were quick to diagnose the problem and then took the necessary steps to be part of the solution.How do we fight today; how do we react to evil? What is the proper response to evil such as the recent murders in Jersey City? Physical war is not always the solution, but being more Jewish is. Here’s one beautiful example. About 35 years ago an elderly couple, Holocaust survivors, went to the Catskill mountains to partake in the post marriage celebration (sheva brachot) of their granddaughter. They were tragically murdered in the middle of the night. After mourning the tragedy, their family and community got together to collect funds in their memory and donate a wing of to a hospital. New York’s Governor, Mario Cuomo, spoke at the dedication and said how unique Jews were. Instead of taking vengeance or rioting, the Jewish people did an act of kindness to correspond to the cruelness done to them.This is how we fight today. The more we act Jewish, the more kind we will be. The Hellenist Jews who assimilated into Greek society have been lost not only to the Jewish people, but have also been forgotten by humanity. They made no contributions; they left no legacy. On the other hand, the loyal Jews of that era, our forebearers, took Joseph’s message to heart. They didn’t just identify a problem; they knew they needed to be part of the solution. For them it was war, for us it’s just continuing to model those who came before and live as Jews.The battle for the minds of humanity has been Athens vs. Jerusalem. Athens no longer exists but Jerusalem does. In addition to being kind, history has shown that Jews have defeated Athens and are showing no signs of letting up. If one is Jewish, wouldn’t (s)he want to be on the winning team? This Chanukah as you light the Menorah, take pride in being part of your people and think about how you can be part of the solution for making sure there will be another generation of Jews who take healthy pride in their Jewish identity and continue to live and act like Jews. Good Shabbos/Happy Chanukah  
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 Good Shabbos
Rabbi Oppenheim
Charlotte Torah Center