Thursday, December 18, 2008


A True Hero
Rabbi Gustavo Surazski
While Joseph was in prison, he had already started to pave his path to fame as a "Dream Interpreter". At the end of Parashat Va-Yeshev, the dreams of the chief cupbearer and the chief baker,are brought before him. These dreams were interpreted to free him from prison.

By the time Pharaoh King of Egypt starts dreaming in the beginning of Parashat Miketz there is already a well-known "Dream Interpreter" to assist. The chief cupbearer reminds Pharaoh of the hardships of his imprisonment and also mentions Joseph's name as one who knows how to interpret dreams. When he starts talking about Joseph he says: "And there was with us a young man, a Hebrew, servant to the captain of the guard" (Genesis, 41, 12).

We see that the fact that Joseph was a Hebrew, and originally from the land of Israel, are very strong features in the eyes of the chief cupbearer. The confinement of a young Hebrew boy in an Egyptian prison is obviously very traumatic, but we can understand from the chief cupbearer's description of Joseph that he never hid nor asked to hide his Jewish identity. Quite the opposite, the chief cupbearer knew exactly who the young boy was.

I often hear people say that it is hard for them to maintain the tradition. The excuses are many: "It is hard for me to get to Synagogue for prayer on Shabat as it is the only day of rest I have" (Israelis works on Sundays). "It's hard to find the time to study Torah as I come home late and tired after work". While listening to these excuses, Joseph comes to mind, if he managed to hold on to his identity and tradition while imprisoned in Egypt, why can't we?

Thousands of years after Joseph, during the Holocaust, at the time when their fate was unknown, many Jews turned to their Rabbis with questions. Many of these questions are recorded in the Responsa "Sridei Esh" ("Residue from Fire") by Rabbi Yechiel Jacob Weinberg Z"L. The Jews wanted to know if Jewish homes in the Ghetto needed a Mezuzah. They were not sure if their homes were considered permanent dwellings. Others wanted to know if cooking was allowed on the Sabbath, if by doing so he was exempted from harsh physical labor out on the fields. They had even asked if a survivor of a German "selection" had to say "Birkat Ha-Gomel" (Thanksgiving Blessing)? And, if there is a correct blessing for the sanctification of the name of G-D? And there are many more...

Any man that turns to his Rabbi at a time of such emotional turmoil, and asks questions regarding the Torah's regard to his fate, is definitely a hero. Nowadays when a person says that it is hard to hold onto the tradition in our "Hectic" times full of errands and pressure I say: "For Joseph and the Jews of the Holocaust it was hard! And they did it, with both "Guts and Glory"".

This may also be our Chanukah message. In the times of the Hashmonaim, it took great bravery to hold on to and practice Judaism. Many Jews became Greek and left our fathers religion. More than just the miracle, the Hanukah candlelight reminds us of darker days, harder days full of fear and worry. And the light always prevails; the holy fire still burns in the heart of the nation.

It burned in Joseph's heart,
As it burned in the hearts of all our brothers in the Holocaust,
And in the hearts of the Hashmonaim.
That is true Heroism.