It’s a treat to be able to read the special portion of the Prophets that fits with the Sabbath in the week of Chanukah. Together with the Bible portion, these verses give us deep insights into the meaning and purpose of this special time of the year.
In the book of Zechariah, the people are beginning to experience the Second Temple, and they feel that God’s presence seems somewhat diminished from that of the First Temple, before the exile. The prophet assures them that, as before, God will “dwell in your midst.”
Some sages say the Heavenly Presence was manifested here in the menorah, which burned miraculously and would bring joy to the people.
Others look to the text itself where there is mention of a menorah with “seven lamps upon it, with “seven ducts for each of the lamps” and “two olive trees over it.” They see a miraculous burning here of the lamps in the Temple, corresponding to the last seven days of Chanukah.
Here’s what I find most meaningful. An angel asks the prophet what’s significant in the sight of the menorah, perhaps in the miracle of the lights. The prophet doesn’t know. The angel teaches that it is “not through army and not through strength, but through My spirit” that we have the blessing of God’s presence and the grace we feel and express in its midst.
As we comb this week’s verses in Genesis, we see evidence of God’s spirit manifested in such a way. To start, Joseph’s remarkable interpretation of Pharaoh’s dreams leads to much saving in the world.
But I think it comes even more so in the poignant moments in which Judah assures and comforts his pained father when he seeks the elder’s approval of their bringing Benjamin back with them to Egypt. Joseph has demanded this as a test of whether they are capable of compassion and righteousness after the injustice they inflicted upon him and their father so many years earlier.
Judah now shows love for their father and takes personal responsibility for the boy’s welfare. “Send the lad with me,” he says, “and we will get up and go, and we will live and not die, both we and you and also our young children.” Judah continues: “I will guarantee him; from my hand you can demand him.”
This is a vastly different person than the one who let a brother slip into slavery and then deceive a father. This is a son who shows compassion and love to a father. This is a brother who remembers and begins to atone for a wrong to a brother. This is a human being who understands and practices righteousness in his world.
In essence, it is in the hurly burly of life where God’s spirit is most made manifest. It’s not principally through armies, nor physical strength. Rather, it’s in a changed heart that leads to lovingkindness and righteousness where we can best see the powerful miracle of God’s enduring light.