Miracle of the meek against the mighty
The story of Jewish history is unique among all civilisations. No nation has been confronted with adversity as it has and survived. Yet the Jewish people have endured and continue to flourish. One of the extraordinary facets of this phenomenon is the tiny numerical size of the Jewish people who have faced seeming insurmountable odds.
History has produced powerful and mighty empires which have tried to swallow up the Jewish people, yet they themselves have been swallowed while this tiny nation continues.
This is one of the themes of Chanukah – the “few against the many” and the “weak against the mighty”. Ancient Greece with its vast armies was formidable. The Maccabees were a small band of soldiers. Yet the few defeated the many; the weak overcame the mighty.
This week’s Torah portion of Vayeishev coincides with Chanukah. Therefore, a connection must be found as there are no co-incidences.
The commentator Birkas Chaim explains that in both Chanukah and the portion, we see the idea of the numerically small prevailing over the greater in size and number. Yosef has two dreams. In the first, he and his brothers are in the field and are binding grain into sheaves. Yosef’s sheaf arises and stands. The many brothers’ sheaves surround Yosef’s sheaf and bow to it. In the second dream, Yosef envisions the sun, moon, and eleven stars (referring to his brothers and his parents – the many) bowing to him.
Chanukah also generally falls over the portion of Miketz (next week) and again we see the same allusion. Pharaoh dreams of seven lean cows swallowing seven fat cows. In his second dream, the seven thin ears of grain swallow up the seven healthy and full ears of grain.
The message in all of these is the same. The few and weak prevail over the many and mighty.
The Maccabees’ defeat of the Greeks was a miracle enclothed in nature. The second Chanukah miracle of the oil that was sufficient for one day and burnt for eight days was completely beyond nature. This open manifestation of the divine that shone on the Jewish people was the last nationally revealed “beyond-nature” miracle. Thereafter, miracles were enclothed only in nature.
Why is this the parting miracle? The message is as follows: “You are a supernatural people. You are bound to eternity and cannot be vanquished. Although you are small in number, you are different and not subject to the natural laws of history that have resulted in the demise of vast superpowers. Your size isn’t what counts. It’s your inner might and strength. Yours is the task of being a Maccabee, of holding true to your unique mission and destiny. The key to your individual and national strength is the pure oil of the Torah – the source of light that empowers you and connects you to the G-d of all.”
If one pours gallons of liquid onto a tiny drop of oil, the oil will remain distinct and rise to the top. The quality of Torah with the heroism of a Maccabee is mightier than every force in creation.