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Miketz – A thought for the week by Michael Lewis

How do we maintain our Jewish identity in a strange land? That has been a question that resonates throughout our history. There are times when we consider our own land is estranged from us!

On Shabbat Chanukah we always read Sedra Miketz. We meet Joseph in prison at the start of a journey which will lead him to be Visier of Egypt: married to a daughter of an Egyptian priest and seemingly assimilated into Egyptian society. The life of Joseph should have placed him in the upper echelons of Egyptian society. However, when he meets with his brothers for the second time, he is still treated as a stranger.

And they set for him separately and for them separately -- because the Egyptians could not eat food with the Hebrews

When Jacob, with considerable misgivings, sends Benjamin to Egypt he sends

some of the choice products of the land in your vessels, and take down to the man as a gift, a little balm and a little honey, wax and lotus, pistachios and almonds

Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav interpreted the words “choice products of the land” (“zimrat ha’aretz”) as “the song of the land of Israel”. He visualised this as sending a reminder of who we were.

Of all the sons of Jacob, Joseph is the only one who demands from his children that they will take his bones out of Egypt and bury them in the Holy Land.

In our times we face the allure of a universal culture to which more and more Jews voluntarily assimilate without remembering who we are. It is reminiscent of the times of the Maccabees when many Jews assimilated to Hellenism. The miracle of Hanukah was not the military victory but the cruse of oil which lasts and lights a flame that grows larger and larger.

Lighting the flame and the Judaism that it illuminates is the “song” that we pass on to those who come after us.

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