Miketz/ Hanukkah: Small Things Grow

Copyright 2010 Neal Joseph Loevinger

Torah Portion: Miketz/ Shabbat Hanukkah

Happy Holiday of Lights!

Our Torah portion this week continues the story of Yosef and his brothers in Egypt, and we read a special haftarah for the Shabbat of Hanukkah. This haftarah comes from the book of Zechariah, who exhorted the Jews returning from the first exile to rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple. He tells the High Priest, Yehoshua, to claim his role and promises that if he does so faithfully and ethically, the greater redemption will come:

“Hearken well, 0 High Priest Joshua, you and your fellow priests sitting before you! For those men are a sign that I am going to bring My servant the Branch” (Zech. 4:8, JPS translation)

“My servant,” in the context above, probably means the proper king of Israel, whose restored sovereignty would show that the redemption from exile was complete. Yet commentators have puzzled over the final phrase: “My servant, the branch,” or “I will bring My servant like a growing plant.” The final word, tzemach, means sprouting or growing plant, and could simply mean, in context, that redemption doesn’t happen all at once, but unfolds over time.

Hirsch sees an additional meaning in the image of “branch” or “growing plant.” For Hirsch, the metaphor of plant or sprout has the resonance of great things growing out of small things. He compares it to how an acorn grows into an oak: when you see an acorn, you can hardly imagine a huge oak tree, and when you see the tree, you can hardly imagine that it began as something you hold in your hand.

Similarly, the ultimate redemption of humankind begins with small and imperceptible progress, and will unfold over time into something great and amazing.

That, to me, is another connection to Hanukkah, for every great historical accomplishment begins with small things: a conversation, an idea, a single courageous act. Setting aside for today any controversies about the historicity of the traditional Hanukkah story, we might simply imagine that the eventual victory of the Maccabees began with one action, one word, one decision. . . .and grew into something that changed history, just like the acorn grows into the towering oak.

Seen this way, Zechariah’s promise to the High Priest is also a call to every generation: do not despair that your deeds are too little and the darkness is too much, for great things grown out of small acts of faith and courage.

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Hanukkah,

RNJL

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