By Reb David
This week brings the once-in-a-lifetime Jewish-American spectacle of Thanksgivukkah (or maybe Chanksgiving?). This rare overlap of Chanukkah’s festival of lights and Thanksgiving’s day of gratitude comes during the week of Parshat Miketz, Torah’s pivotal telling of the Joseph story. These three cogs of the calendar – Chanukkah, Thanksgiving and Miketz – together turn an amazing spiritual confluence of consciousness.
Chanukkah unfolds against a backdrop of a Hasmonean guerrilla revolt against Greek occupiers that culminated in 160 BCE. The Greek way, unlike the ways of the later Roman and Islamic Empires, was to homogenize the disparate peoples under their rule, so the Greeks tried to homogenize the Jews by banning Jewish practice and defiling the Temple. The Jews revolted, re-took and re-dedicated the Temple, finding there only a day’s worth of remnant oil to re-kindle the ceremonial fire. Hence what we know as Chanukkah (from the Hebrew for “dedication”) – today about re-dedicating our inner holy place, kindling our inner lights and dedicating them to freedom for all.
How does Thanksgiving relate to Chanukkah? One link is gratitude: Thanksgiving and Chanukkah both invite open-hearted gratitude for our blessings of bounty and ancestry. But these holidays share another feature: expectations turned upside down. In the Thanksgiving story, Native Americans whom the Pilgrims feared turned out to be their salvation, as Squanto and Samoset showed them how to survive and even thrive in an unknown world. The Thanksgiving miracle was that feared enemies became a source of life; the Chanukkah miracle was that remnant oil became a source of long-lasting light. Both miracles turned reality upside down.
So too for Joseph in Miketz. Sold into slavery, then jailed and forgotten for a crime he didn’t commit, Joseph couldn’t sink lower. But Pharaoh, hailed as a god among men, was felled by strange dreams that only Joseph could interpret. Joseph thus catapulted from jailed convict to civil ruler, saving Egypt from famine. Joseph’s brothers back in Canaan were starving and came to Egypt desperate for food. Miketz ends with the brothers begging food before a ruler they did not know was their brother Joseph, the very same brother whom they had sold into slavery. In Miketz, the mighty are humbled, the lowly are raised high, the powerful are sapped and the fearful become feared.
The miracle of Miketz is also the miracle of Chanukkah and Thanksgiving. All three are inversions, miracles that turn the world upside down. The wrongly accused and forgotten can rise high (Miketz); the defiled can be places of light and sanctity (Chanukkah); the feared can bring life and sustenance (Thanksgiving). All three are reminders of the enduring power of hope.
Ironically, Miketz means “from the end” but isn’t quite the end of the Joseph story (tune in next week). Miketz and Thanksgivukkah thus harken to the challenging wisdom of Brazilian writer Fernando Sabino and popularized in the movie, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel: “Everything will be okay in the end, and if it’s not okay, it’s not yet the end.”
May this week of Miketz, Chanukkah and Thanksgiving inspire gratitude for our blessings, and dispatch enduring light and hope to wherever they are lacking. Chag sameach.