Mikketz, Hanukkah and the Inevitability of Change

Mikketz, Hanukkah and the Inevitability of Change

The plethora of non-conforming (and even irreverant) Hanukkah songs reminds me of Jose Feliciano’s controversial rendition of our National Anthem. In 1968, the (then) relatively unknown Feliciano sang the National Anthem at the World Series. His rendition was more soul than stodgy; creative and non-conforming. However, the public responded with anger and indignation. Fifty years later, almost every rendition of the National Anthem reflects the personal style of an individual artist. Such personal and creative interpretations are far more non-conformist than Feliciano’s version in 1968.

When it comes to the National Anthem-and to music in general-many of us cling to the comforting, traditional melodies of the past. As with life in general however; music has drastically changed. Interpretations of word and melody reflect newer generations; eager to shape music in their own character. If you listen to Hanukkah music on the radio (Sirius even presents a Hanukkah station), you discover that the more traditional versions of Sivivon and Hanukkah O Hanukkah are fading away. Contemporary Hanukkah songs (mostly in English) reflect a different audience and a different era. They reflect inevitable changes in society; changes welcomed by many and rejected by some.

Change is difficult for us; especially as we grow older and cherish the status quo in our lives.

I just watched the episode of The Crown (Netflix series about Queen Elizabeth), in which a prominent journalist severely criticizes the monarchy for being out-of-touch with the public. At least in the TV version, the young Queen reacted to the journalist with some hostility. Eventually however, most of his suggestions were incorporated into the new monarchy. Change can be a slow process; but so is the acknowledgment that change is the inevitable reality of a new era and culture.

In the portion of Mikketz we continue the saga of Joseph.
At this stage, Joseph not only interprets the dreams of Pharaoh but ascends to the second most powerful office in Egypt. In anointing Joseph to such a prestigious position, Pharaoh embraces the reality of a new era. He suffers from disturbing dreams, which no Egyptian soothsayer can interpret. He then calls upon a Hebrew slave-mired in prison-to offer his interpretation of the dreams. When Joseph predicts an eventual famine, Pharaoh has the audacity to appoint a Hebrew slave to be his second in command. Pharaoh’s move is bold, inventive, and considering Egypt’s xenophobia-it is quite risky. Although deified as an all-powerful sovereign; Pharaoh’s decision must have caused serious mutterings and even outright resentment. Nevertheless, Pharaoh acknowledged how reality of contemporary times demanded a departure from conformist thinking. Pharaoh deserves much praise and credit for adjusting to changing circumstances in his own society.

As we celebrate Hanukkah this year, try listening to the unconventional Hanukkah songs which reflect our changing culture. At the same time, think about how even the Maccabees-despite their passionate defense of traditional Jewish culture-acknowledged changing society. After all, the Maccabees took Hellenistic names. They introduced a holiday not mandated by the Torah; and by doing so honored the Hellenistic practice of establishing new festivals. Even as they condemned Jews disloyal to their tradition; the Maccabees still incorporated modern/foreign practices into Jewish culture. It is so impressive how every generation of loyal Jews has acknowledged, honored and preserved the co-existence of ‘traditional’ and ‘contemporary.’ Today, that symbiosis motivates us to celebrate a Hanukkah which reflects the old and the new.

As we celebrate future Hanukkahs; I hope we always have the foresight and wisdom to preserve the old and to treasure the new.

Shabbat Shalom and Hag Sameach!
Rabbi Klayman