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Miketz Chanukah Pan Am 5783 ~ Dec. 23, 2022

Chanukah and our Torah reading for this Shabbat, Miketz, traditionally intersect with one another. The rationale behind this coincidence of the natural order of reading and Chanukah, can be attributed to several different suggestions. 

Our Etz Hayim commentary suggests: “Just as Hanukkah celebrates the victory of the week over the powerful, the parashah begins with Pharaoh’s dream of the lean cows conquering the well-fed ones. As the parasha begins with Joseph in prison and ends with Joseph as the ruler, the story of Hanukkah begins with Israel oppressed and ends with Israel triumphant and independent.”

Prior to the establishment of the State of Israel, the reading may have been a hope for the future, almost in a messianic vision.  Just as Jacob and his sons were leaving the Promised Land, as was foretold to Abraham, eventually there would be a visionary who would be a part of Hashem’s plan that would bring them full circle back to the land where they might reestablish a Jewish state and the rebuilding of the Beit Hamikdash, the Holy Temple, in Jerusalem.  In that stream of thought,  for those who yearned for the dream of a renewal of the Jewish state, the celebration of Chanukah renewed a hope and faith, that one day, that dream would become a reality. In witnessing Joseph’s ability to interpret the truths in the dreams, might it be possible to envision the dreams of those waiting in the Diaspora, for a day when their dreams might be fulfilled? Perhaps, those dreams take on an even more meaningful hope of light today, with our continuing prayer for peace in the land of Israel --  when Jew, Arab and Christian can celebrate each of our own winter festivals where each can dwell in harmony and peace with the other.

In that regard, this week our world reflects upon the tragic event that took place thirty-four years ago, the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie. One of my colleagues who took me under his wing as I served as a student rabbi in Auburn, NY, Rabbi Charles Sherman wrote an article this week entitled “34 years after Pan Am Flight 103, we remain prisoners of hope.” (Syracuse.com 12/21/2022) He writes: “The bombing, of course, was a tragedy for everyone on board and their loved ones. But when so many young students, at the prime of their lives were taken, it was especially jarring and unbelievable; all of their dreams and potential gone in seconds.”

Among the dead were thirty-five Syracuse University students. We are quite aware that the tragedy of Pan Am 103, is one that was one of several Palestinian terrorist plots to bring down the dream of Eretz and Medinat Yisrael, the land and state of Israel. 

At an interfaith service on December 21, 1988, Rabbi Sherman shared a most meaningful thought related to the tragedy that day.

“There are certain matters of the soul that will always defy mathematical or scientific explanation. We can’t know if there is a heaven or if God exists. We can’t know why bad things happen to good people. Humble acceptance of the limitations of our knowledge is where faith begins. Faith is learning to live in that zone of discomfort. Faith is learning to feel at home there. But faith is also action. It is an act of faith to take what we can know and use it to fulfill God’s purpose on Earth.”

“It’s tempting and understandable to say, “Why me? What did I do to deserve this? It’s not fair. It shouldn’t be this way.” Yet, such sentiments reveal more about us than they do about God. When we say something is not fair or we do not deserve it, we haven’t sat down with a scale and put our merits on one side and demerits on the other side to see our merits outweigh our demerits. No, what we really mean is: I do not want life this way. I want it to be the way I want it. The thing is, life comes as it comes. It is what it is. And faith is our trust in our ability to handle that which we cannot control. It is what God has given us to live fully, bravely and meaningfully in this less than perfect world.””

This week the man who is considered to be the villain of the Pan Am bombing was arrested, some thirty-four years later. It is never too late bring such a heinous individual to justice.

Rabbi Sherman provides light to the questions asked by those who suffered with the loss of family members over the skies of Lockerbie, perhaps by our Biblical dreamer Joseph, and for the Jewish people of the Diaspora, who continually yearned and today yearn for shalom in the Middle East. Each one styands uniquely on its own, yet each can find meaning through Rabbi Sherman's words:

For in the end we are "Assirei Tikvah, Prisoners of Hope." We suffer with all who suffer; we remember that we, too, were strangers once, and more than once; we remember the winding through the desert; and we know there is not only a promised land, but also a promised time. We know that they who plant in sorrow will surely one day reap in joy!

And it is that candle of hope that gives meaning to Chanukah, our story of Joseph in our Torah reading for this Shabbat and our vision for Israel and the Middle East today.

Shabbaty shalom and Happy Chanukah.

Rabbi K

Fri, March 1 2024 21 Adar I 5784