Hellenization and Joseph

On Sunday I asked: Why do we read the story of Joseph around the same time as Hanukkah?

One may give a variety of answers, but a common answer is how Joseph dealt with Egyptian culture. In order to understand this better, we need to look at both the Hanukkah story and the Joseph in Egypt story.

What was the battle of Hanukkah about? There was a lot of pressure in Israel in the days of the Maccabees to conform and become like the Hellenists, to adopt Greek culture and shed Jewish traditions. Those that resisted, like Hannah and her martyred seven sons, became the precursors to today’s Jews.

antiochus_i_soterJoseph, too, needed to live in a foreign culture. His was the world of ancient Egypt. He resisted the morals of that society; for example, he managed to get away from Potiphar’s wife. He never forgot his roots and was eager to reconnect with his family. At the same time, he worked on behalf of Egypt and was able to provide food at a time of famine.

Joseph can be viewed as a model of how one can integrate into a society, even in a leadership role, but not lose one’s heritage and traditions. In contrast, the Hellenized Jews of the days of the Maccabbees discarded far too much of their culture and are lost to history.

Berel Wein connects Miketz with Chanukah.

Mrs. S. gave the following: One answer is based on Ovadiah 1:18 (which is part of the haftarah for Parshat Vayishlach):
“And the house of Yaakov will be fire and the house of Yosef a flame, and the house of Esav for straw, and they shall ignite them and consume them; and there will be no remnant to the house of Esav, for Hashem has spoken.” She then clarified that comparing Yosef to a flame reminds us of Chanukah. And “giborim b’yad chalashim v’rabim b’yad me’atim” (“the strong in the hands of the weak, and the many in the hands of the few”) — Rashi is suggesting in the first pasuk of Vayeshev – based on the pasuk in Ovadiah – that one Yosef is more than sufficient to overcome all of Esav’s “chiefs”.

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I had two more questions on Sunday:
1) Who sold Joseph? Was it the brothers or was it…? Here’s the pasuk in Vayeshev (Genesis 37:28)-
וַיַּעַבְרוּ אֲנָשִׁים מִדְיָנִים סֹחֲרִים, וַיִּמְשְׁכוּ וַיַּעֲלוּ אֶת-יוֹסֵף מִן-הַבּוֹר, וַיִּמְכְּרוּ אֶת-יוֹסֵף לַיִּשְׁמְעֵאלִים, בְּעֶשְׂרִים כָּסֶף; וַיָּבִיאוּ אֶת-יוֹסֵף, מִצְרָיְמָה.
And there passed by Midianites, merchantmen; and they drew and lifted up Joseph out of the pit, and sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver. And they brought Joseph into Egypt.

The text is not clear. To whom does “they” refer?

2) Why does it say the “brothers of Joseph” instead of “sons of Jacob”?
Genesis 42:3 – וַיֵּרְדוּ אֲחֵי-יוֹסֵף

Any ideas? I’ll answer in a separate post. Stay tuned.

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11 thoughts on “Hellenization and Joseph

  • Nice post. It’s an interesting idea that we now confront the same challenges faced by Yosef in Egypt as well as by the Maccabees.

    RE: your second question – My daughter is IY”H making a dvar Torah about this on Shabbat. Her answer is based on Rashi, who says that this shows that the brothers regretted their actions and now wanted to treat Yosef with achvah – brotherhood.

  • Daniel, yes, I have Nehama Leibowitz’s book sitting downstairs, waiting for me to digest it so I can write a post! Maybe you can write the post, and I can just link to it? Thanks for reading.

    Mrs. S., I like that, the “achvah” part. I’ll put that in the post.

    So nice to learn the parsha together!

    Regarding today, I thought about writing about the dangers of moral relativism, but then I decided to leave it off.

  • “…how Joseph dealt with Egyptian culture”
    This is a perspective on the parsha that I’ve never considered before. Definitely relevant today too, as we Jews are surrounded by all things Christmasy.

  • Joseph can be viewed as a model of how one can integrate into a society, even in a leadership role, but not lose one’s heritage and traditions.
    I find this an interesting perspective too. Thanks for this insightful comment.

  • That was a great connection between Yosef and Channukah. I like the idea of Yosef being able to master both. Kind of reminds me of R’ Samason Refael Hershe’s theory of Torah Im Derech Eretz.

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