Chanukah – The Underdog
This week’s Torah portion continues the dramatic saga between Joseph and his brothers. We are treated to the first meeting between brother Joe and his siblings whom have not seen each other in 22 years. The Torah tells us that Joseph recognized them but they, in turn, didn’t recognize him. How could they? The last they saw of him was as a 17 year old millennial more concerned with his hair and clothes, declaring, “Like, I am going to be a big deal one day” and who was being carted away as a slave. It could never have entered their minds that the high ranking Egyptian officer and leader who stood before them could be their very own little brother. Joseph quickly gets to work putting his plan into place with the eventual revelation of his true identity that we read of in next week’s parsha.
It’s at this point in their lives where we witness an enormous role reversal between Joseph and his brothers. Joseph was completely ignored by most of his siblings. The Torah tells us last week that they didn’t even wish to engage in any communication with him “…and they could not speak peaceably with him.” He was disdained, hated and eventual expelled from the family. But now, many years later, he is being anything but ignored by his brothers. He is prominent, adored by the entire powerful nation of Egypt and one of the most powerful men in the civilized world at the time. Whereas Joseph was last seen by them in a pit begging for his life, now it was them begging to purchase food from him and pleading for the life of their father and brother. 22 years ago they held all the cards and now everything turned around and it was Joseph who was dealing the deck.
This is not to suggest that this was Joseph’s goal and in fact we see it wasn’t from his noble and graceful words when he reveals himself. “Now do not be aggrieved or angry at yourselves for having sold me here for it was so I could provide for you that God sent me here ahead of you.” No, this was not about revenge. But the fact still remains that their roles were completely reversed. The loser became the winner. The lowly was now riding high.
How appropriate that we read this part of the Torah every year during Chanukah because the lesson of Chanukah and the lesson of Joseph are one and the same. A small family within the tiny nation of Israel went to war against the Greek empire and was victorious. It was able to secure religious freedom and independence from the mighty Greek nation. And so we declare in the Al HaNissim paragraph of our prayers when we thank God that “You delivered the strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few, the evil into the hands of the righteous.” Here too the losers soon became the winners.
We see this pattern not only in Torah and history but in life as well. How often have we seen someone who is overlooked end up becoming successful? Ever go to your high school reunion and notice that the cool guy way back then is now bald, has bad teeth and ended up as the greeter at Walmart? Meanwhile the nebbishy, chubby loser lost tons of weight, created an app, became a lawyer or is selling on Amazon and is earning millions, has a beautiful wife, kids, and home and is happy as can be.
Pirkei Avot (Ethics of our Fathers) states, “Do not look down upon anyone for everybody has their hour.” Everyone has their time, it’s just that for some it arrives later. And don’t you ever notice that the later it arrives, the better it is?
King Saul, the first king of Israel, was described in Tanach as handsome and tall and looks like a total winner. But he ended up a dud and was impeached by God himself who, via His prophet, tells him to step aside and step down. On the other hand his successor, David was overlooked by everyone and not thought of as anything, yet ended up becoming the definitive King of Israel who we still sing about today at every happy occasion.
And so it goes, the underdog, the overlooked, the dark horse – in Judaism and in life so often they become the heroes and winners and take center stage. And doesn’t this define us as a nation? The most despised of all nations happens to be the most successful. Everyone hates Israel in its neighbourhood, yet it is more successful and prosperous than everyone else. Every nation that tried to wipe us out through the ages is now a mere footnote in history.
Joseph, the Maccabees, King David , the Jewish nation – everyone of them an underdog and every one of them a leader, a king and a winner. Never forget and never lose sight of the simple truth that everyone has their hour, everyone has their time … and our time is now.
I’ve paid my dues
Time after time
I’ve done my sentence
But committed no crime
And bad mistakes
I’ve made a few
I’ve had my share of sand kicked in my face
But I’ve come through
We are the champions, my friends
And we’ll keep on fighting ’til the end
We are the champions
We are the champions