November 30, 2014 at Beth Jacob Synagogue
Parashat Miketz / Shabbat Hanukkah
I don’t remember most of my dreams. Most of the time, I wake up and have no recollection of what I dreamt about that night. On the rare occasion, though, I do remember. And on the even rarer occasion, I experience a dream that I feel signifies something.
This is what seems to happen to Pharaoh at the start of our parasha. He is troubled by one of his dreams and wants to find someone who can explain it to him. The first people he approaches are unable unlock its meaning. But he hears about a young man, a Hebrew named Joseph, who is particularly skilled at interpreting dreams. And we know how that turns out.
I would like to share two dreams of mine with you.
My First Dream: Loss
The first one is a dream that I had on multiple occasions between the ages of 5 and 8, when I lived in Zaire (the Democratic Republic of the Congo). My family was driving out to the countryside of Zaire, along a dirt road. My parents sat in the front. My sister and I were in the back. I remember looking out the rear window at the typically Zairean (or Congolese) reddish clay-like earth. We finally arrived at our destination: some small house in the middle of nowhere.
Typical of a little kid’s perspective, I had no idea why we were there. My parents were there and my sister and I were there with them. That’s how it goes when you’re little.
After being there for a while, it was time to leave. We got into the car and started driving away. Again, I sat in the back seat, looking out the rear window. I realized, to my horror, that we had left my little sister behind! I could see her but she never looked up at us as we drove away. She had a black dress on and hanging from her neck as she bent down to pick some flowers was a cross. I shouted and shouted but she couldn’t hear me. And we drove away.
This was an awful dream but it was significant. Among other things, it certainly underlined the importance of my sense of identity and the fear of losing it. I knew I was Jewish and that this was an important and defining part of me. In driving away, I remained who I was but as my sister’s brother and keeper, it tore me apart to see her physically and spiritually disappear.
As we celebrate Hanukkah, I am reminded of what the Maccabean struggle was all about. Hellenic Syrians conquered Jerusalem, the heart of our nation. They persecuted the Jewish people, preventing them from practicing their religion. They defiled the Temple and converted it into a pagan temple.
Imagine what the Maccabees must have felt. Outrage. Contempt. Confusion. Fear. They understood that, without a place to pray, without the ability to practice Jewish ritual, without the ability to maintain the religion, the people of Israel would disappear.
So what could they do? They could surrender to their conquerors and adopt the Hellenic culture. They could run away and try to maintain whatever Judaism they could on their own. But they knew that their brothers and sisters would be left behind. They knew that the people they loved would be torn from them and that they themselves would never be the same again.
So they chose to fight. And against superior forces, the Maccabees emerged triumphant. They expelled the Syrian Greeks from Jerusalem and from the Temple, then rededicated the Temple to God – and this is what Hanukkah commemorates. It is a celebration of the rededication of the Temple – Hanukkat haBayit.
Now let me share with you another dream of mine. Some of you may have heard this before.
My Second Dream: Sweet!
About 15 years ago, I dreamt I was flying in a plane or helicopter over the Judean hills, just outside Jerusalem. I had a bird’s eye-view of the land below. Jerusalem, as many of you know, is quite green. But just beyond, just east of it, it becomes brown and sandy. As I flew over, I saw the sands and the small hills dotting the desert region. I focused on the hills and became enamored. I remember realizing how striking the hills were and thinking, “They’re so beautiful.”
I was entranced by the sheer beauty of the topography and kept staring. And then I realized that these hills weren’t actual hills; they were giant Krispy Kremes! And they were beautiful. They were delicious!
So why share this dream with you today? Why on Hanukkah? It seems to me that the connection is obvious, isn’t it? After all, on Hanukkah, we eat sufganiyot, donuts.
Why Holiday Donuts?
How did we turn this holiday which commemorates a military victory over people who were trying to eradicate Judaism into a light holiday of sufganiyot, latkes, and candle-lighting?
Because despite the hardships we have experienced, despite the dangers we have faced, despite the existential perils we have encountered, ultimately we are not a people who celebrate war. We are a people who do not revel in militaristic achievements, no matter how necessary they may be at times or how proud we may be of them.
The military victory by the Maccabees was no small feat. It was crucial to the survival of the Jewish people. And it was miraculous. But while we remember that great achievement and we recall their illustrious names to this very day, we do not celebrate by beating the victory drum. We do not rejoice by holding a march of triumph. No, we celebrate by lighting the candles on the Hanukkiah. We celebrate by spinning the dreidel, by eating latkes and by eating sufganiyot.
In this morning’s haftarah, the prophet Zechariah dreams of a beautiful and unique menorah flanked by two olive trees. An angel explains that this is about how the greatest obstacles will be surmounted so that the new Temple, the Second Temple, will be built. “This is the word of the Lord…: not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit… For he shall produce that excellent stone; it shall be greeted with shouts of ‘Beautiful! Beautiful!”
Let us remember that the ultimate victory is not through power and not through war but through the spirit of the Divine. And because on Hanukkah, it is not war that we celebrate but God’s role in our lives, our holiday spirit is manifested through joy and festive expressions such as songs, games, dreidels, latkes, and sufganiyot.
And while the prophet Zechariah dreams that the Temple will be greeted with shouts of “Beautiful! Beautiful!”, I dream that your Hanukkah will be a Krispy Kreme dream and that your sufganiyot will be greeted with shouts of “Delicious! Delicious”.
Shabbat shalom and happy Hanukkah.