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Friday, September 19, 2014
Persevering in the face of adversity
Rabbi Yehuda Septimus
Rabbi Yehuda Septimus of Young Israel of North Woodmere.

On Shabbat of Hanukkah synagogues around the world read from the section of Genesis that details the impressive success of Joseph under the most difficult of circumstances. Joseph struggles through the formative of years of his life with the hatred of his siblings, who nearly murder him.

Instead, he is sold as a slave. He perseveres and, against all odds, rises to power under these difficult circumstances — only then to be imprisoned on a fabricated charge. Yet he refuses to submit, somehow rising to prominence even from the depth of a prison pit. Again his hopes are dashed, as his sentence is elongated because of the betrayal of his prison mate.

One would have expected Joseph to show some despair and frustration. He responds with the complete opposite. Joseph never gives up and never allows himself to become passive. Energetically, he takes advantage of every opportunity that presents itself until he ultimately finds success.

Rabbi Mayer Twersky has suggested that this quality of Joseph reflects an important theme of Hanukkah — resilience in the face of adversity. The Second Temple Period was ushered in with a ray of hope, as the Edict of Cyrus the Great encouraged the Jews exiled by Nebuchadnezzar to return to the land of Israel and to rebuild their destroyed Temple. After a couple hundred years of living under the rule of others, under harsh economic circumstances, under the constant attack of their enemies, and with an as of yet underwhelming Second Temple, the Jewish People might have become worn down and might have lost the will to fight religious oppression.

The Maccabees do precisely the opposite; they never lose hope in an ideal Temple. And their persistence is rewarded. The Hasmonean Revolt is more successful than even its greatest proponents dreamed — yielding not only a Jewish People who could worship freely but, for the first time in centuries — a free and politically autonomous Jewish State.

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