Shabbat Miketz/Rosh Hodesh/Hanukkah 5783

My go-to resource for all things Hanukkah is the pair of books edited by Noam Zion called A Different Light. These volumes are full of the history and big ideas of what is probably Judaism’s best-known holiday. There is no doubt that this holiday is meant to give a boost to Jewish pride; the placing of the candles in full view of the public passersby is an expression of that pride in God and our Peoplehood.


The heroism of the Maccabees is drilled into us from an early age. But in one essay in the companion volume to A Different Light, Noam Zion raises an excellent question: Is Mattathias “a freedom fighter to be praised or a religious fanatic to be condemned?” (The Big Book of Hanukkah, p. 151). He traces the theme of the activist zealot in Jewish literature, from Moses to Pinhas to Mattathias. One could find modern-era extensions of the positive side the question, as many have responded to Ukraine’s Jewish president, Volodymyr Zelensky’s speech to Congress this week. Or one could see some of Israel’s newest government coalition partners as contemporary examples of fanatics who brook no compromise with their fellow Jews, not to mention with “the other.” As some have pointed out, we modern acculturated American Jews would have been just as much in the Maccabees’ crosshairs as Hellenized Jews were, just as we seem to be targets of some in the Knesset today.
Zion traces the rabbinic attitude toward zealotry and shows how they sought to “defang” the most zealous of instincts. In noting how the sages of the Talmud and codifiers such as Maimonides treated zealotry, Zion concludes: “[The] Rabbis clearly praise a legal mind over a zealous one; due process over taking law into one’s hands; weighing one’s behavior rationally over impassioned anger to defend God’s honor” (p. 161).
As Israel’s latest government is due to be sworn in this week, all Jews and lovers of Israel should be attuned to the latest iteration of this age-old question. What definition of zealotry will prevail? The stakes are high, and we cannot rely on miracles.
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom, Hodesh Tov, and Hag Urim Sameah,
Rabbi David Wise
Candle lighting: 4:13 PM
Torah Reading: Genesis 41:1-44:17
Second Scroll: Numbers 28:9-15
Maftir: Numbers 7:42-47
Haftarah: Zechariah 2:14-4:7