Shabbat Shalom and Chag Chanukah Sameach!
In this week's Torah portion, Parashat Miketz, Joseph and his brothers are reunited again, although his brothers do not know it yet. He appears to them as the grand viceroy (who knows what a viceroy actually is? I looked it up - A viceroy is a regal official who runs a country, colony, city, province, or sub-national state, in the name of and as the representative of the monarch of the territory) of Egypt.
He recognizes his brothers as they come to him in search of food, but they do not recognize him. So, he decides to mess with them a little, after all they did at one point try to kill him and then decided he was of more use to them alive and sold into slavery. He calls them spies and asks them some interrogative questions, in which they reveal they are 10 of 12 brothers. "One is no more," they say, "And the youngest remains with our father." So Joseph gives them some food, but demands on meeting the 12th brother, and keeps Simeon in the meantime as collateral.
Reuben, the same brother who didn't want to kill Joseph in the first place all those years ago, now reprimands his brothers for the predicament they have gotten into. Jacob will surely not let the second son of his favored wife out of his sight, not after what happened to the first one (Joseph, whom he thinks is dead), and now they've also lost Simeon. He tells his brothers in Hebrew that this is punishment for them for their treatment of Joseph, and they think the Egyptian viceroy cannot understand them, but Joseph takes note of Reuben's admonishment.
Once they do manage to convince Jacob to allow Benjamin to go back to Egypt with them, Joseph decides to trick them again, but framing Benjamin for stealing his cup. That is where this parasha ends, but the next one starts back up with Judah singing a nice Calypso song about how Benjamin is honest as coconuts*. After Judah's heartwarming profession of loyalty to Benjamin, Joseph tearfully reveals himself.
I was talking with a student this week about how Joseph reads the behavior of Reuben and Judah as evidence that all 11 brothers have learned to be better people since throwing him into that pit, and that they are all ready to be forgiven. The student said there was no evidence that the other siblings cared, and they were probably just going along with it to get the food.
In the end, though, it doesn't really matter. The kindness and maturity of Reuben and Judah are enough to earn this fractured family some peace again. Just as the shamash provides enough light for us to see by and has a flame strong enough to light the other candles, the willingness of just these three brothers to reconcile is enough to brightened up aging Jacob's life again and ignite forgiveness and love between the whole family.
This Chanukah, be the Shamash, be Reuben the peacemaker, be Judah the loyal. Bring light into dark spaces, ignite love among friends and family, and hold onto your strength to help carry others through complicated times. Pass your light on, and allow the warmth of others radiate back at you. And together, may we all drive out hardship and darkness, to live in unity and peace. Amen and Shabbat Shalom.