Joseph and the Technicolor Magna-Tile Tower
Few events are as catastrophic as your younger brother knocking down the tower you’ve built. After such an event the cries of despair can be heard across the house. ‘Things’, older sisters claim, ‘will just never be the same.’
Building something new is exciting. Everyone is enthused by the notion of seeing a great castle come to life. Siblings and friends rally around the construction site as one. On the other hand, however, the prospect of having to rebuild a felled fort is terrifying and tantrum inducing.
This, explains Rabbi Norman Lamm in a winter 1960 sermon, is the essence of Chanukah. Rabbi Lamm opened his sermon “On Being Too Practical”, with an amazing question:
Why do we have a festive holiday (Chanukah) to commemorate the rededication and re-sanctification of the First Temple in 155 BCE, but there is no holiday that celebrates the initial building of the First Temple by Solomon hundreds of years earlier?
Rabbi Lamm goes on to explain that “the decision to build something new is not a spiritually difficult achievement…but the decision to rebuild…to patch together what time and and circumstance have ravaged — for this the masses have little enthusiasm, less spirit, and no patience.”
Anyone who has committed themselves to an institution knows this feeling well. It is easy to be excited about starting a new project, hiring a new leader, or launching a new product. It is considerably harder to garner excitement for refocusing the project, rescoping the leader, or reconfiguring the product.
Put otherwise, it is easy to get people together for the groundbreaking of a new building…try to find those people when there is a leak or the HVAC unit stops working. This, Rabbi Lamm is positing, is the miracle of Chanukah. People rose to the occasion of doing the hard work of restarting. They were able to commit to bringing back sanctity to the most holy of places.
People often look for a connection between the stories of Joseph in the Torah and Chanukah, since the Jospeh portions are always read around the time of the holiday.
Perhaps Joseph’s resilience, and his willingness to restart over and over, is another one of those connections. First Joseph is betrayed by his brothers and he starts over, then by Potiphar’s wife and starts over, then he ends up in prison and stars over, then deals with famine as a vizier and starts over, then finally his brothers come to Egypt and he finds a way to start their relationship over.
Joseph, and the story of Chanukah, teach us that major set backs aren’t a reason to give up. In fact, for Joseph, it is the setbacks that make him.
This year, as we light and relight the candles, let us approach all the redos with the same enthusiasm as something new.