Rabbis’ Hanukkah Message: Hanukkah and Human Rights

Dear RTPV Community,

Every year as we prepare to light our Hanukkah menorahs, the story of Joseph is read in synagogues around the world.   Joseph is imagined by our sages to be a great, righteous person, but in the beginning of the story he appears as a spoiled child who dreams of his family bowing down to him.  How did he develop into a figure of righteousness?

On Hanukah we light the candles in our menorah not from a match but from another candle. This shamash candle stands higher than the rest of the candles, not because it is better, but rather so it may be of service to the others.  Indeed, the word shamash comes from the Hebrew verb “to serve”.  

Joseph eventually rises to a position of power in Pharaoh’s court in Egypt, and comes to realize that he is in a unique position to both serve and save his brothers, a position he attributes not to his own doing, but to God’s greater plan. Throughout the rest of the saga, Joseph continues to act with humility and integrity, knowing God is with him and above him. 

Like the shamash that shines above the other candles but exists only to serve them, we learn that the more powerful one gets, the more one needs to practice humility.  Like Joseph, we too become righteous when we understand that whatever role we find ourselves in, we are compelled to find ways to be of service to others.

Blessings for a Hanukkah filled with light and latkes,

Rabbis Laurie Levy and Steve Altarescu