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Shabbat Chanukah- Haker Na

Are you willing to see this? 

by Rabba Kaya Stern-Kaufman 



The story of Joseph really begins with his great grandfather Abraham and grandfather Isaac. Midrash teaches us that when bound on the altar, the ministering angels witnessing this scene, wept as Abraham lifted the knife to his son. Their tears fell into Isaac's eyes and caused his blindness in his old age. They are describing a post traumatic effect of the akeidah upon Isaac, who witnessed the horror of seeing his father about to murder him.


What unfolds in this patriarchal family becomes a story of blindness on many levels; a story of multiple deceptions. Deception is only possible however, if the one deceived is not awake; if his eyes are closed and he is unaware.


First, Jacob deceives his blind father by dressing up in the skins, to smell and feel like Esav his brother. The commentators debate whether in fact Isaac actually knew it was really Jacob. They debate whether his inner eye was open to know the truth. Nevertheless, Esav's cry of pain- his tza'akah gedolah- resounds from the parchment as his eyes are forced open to the deception of his brother and loss of his father's blessing.


Jacob flees from his bother's homicidal rage and is immediately deceived by his uncle Lavan. Jacob's eyes are closed. He does not recognize Leah, in his tent on his wedding night. As a woman this has always disturbed me. How could it be that Jacob didn't recognize he was with the wrong woman until morning; that he had spent the night with Leah and not with his Beloved whom he had pined for, for 7 years?! This is the power of self- deception!

This kind of blindness, the ability to deceive ourselves, is a very human trait.


Jacob's inability to see himself and the effects of his actions become painfully obvious when he displays his preference for Joseph over and above his other sons. Not only does the Torah tells us directly that he loved Joseph more than his other sons, but he makes a public statement of it by giving him a special garment. He does not see how his actions are building enmity in the family.


It is this garment that he will be forced to confront, when his sons return to him with the torn and bloody garment in hand and ask:

Haker Na- do you recognize this?
The words leap from the page. Do you see this situation? Do you recognize this? But No! He still does not see. Jacob's lack of vision allows him to once again be deceived, only this time it is by his sons. He believes that Joseph has been killed, when in truth he has not and Jacob will suffer over his blindness for nearly the rest of his life. For Jacob cannot face the truth that his sons bear hatred toward Joseph and that he has personally played a role in fanning the flames of enmity.


This theme of deception will play out over and again in the Joseph narrative as Joseph will hide his identity from is brothers when they return to Egypt. However, Joseph will eventually reveal his identity to his brothers. The great concealment will be revealed. However, it will come about only because Yehudah, Joseph's brother, will speak the truth. Yehudah's eyes are open. He does not deceive himself nor Joseph. He will tell Joseph about the grief of their father over having lost Joseph and he will take responsibility for Benjamin. His love for his father and his brother will break down the walls of deception. His love will break down Josephs defenses and cause Joseph to reveal his true identity.


It is Yehudah who becomes the progenitor of mashiach-the messiah. He provides the seed for redemption because he is willing to see, own and speak the truth even if it means his own humiliation or degradation.


Our tradition teaches us that Redemption begins with recognizing and owning the truth, even and especially if it causes oneself pain.


On Chanukah- we light these lights in the midst of the longest darkness.

We create a light to enlighten our eyes, to clarify our vision.

Can we recognize what WE need to see about ourselves?


I have been thinking these last weeks about Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and so many others. How do we begin to make the necessary changes to build a society based on justice and respect?

We can only do so if we first confront the truth.


Haker Na- Do you recognize this? These words call out to me.

Can we recognize our own internalized racism? Do we still carry the intergenerational seeds of racism in our own consciousness?


Haker Na- Do you recognize this? Can we remove the blinders from our eyes, and see with clarity our own prejudices, as individuals, and as a people?    

Haker Na
- Do you recognize this bloody coat?  

It is your brother's.


Chanukah means to rededicate the Temple; the Temple that is our world. Can we rededicate ourselves this Chanukah to opening our eyes- to shine a light on the dark aspects of ourselves- to speak the truth, and then God -willing, and with our own hands, build a world based on love?


Olam hesed Yibaneh- May we build a world based on Love 




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