Major vs Minor
December 3, 2021
This week’s Torah portion, Miketz, introduces us to the final phase of Joseph’s story. We read at the onset that Pharoah has a recurring dream that no one can interpret, and it isn’t until the butler from last week’s parshah shares his story of Joseph’s ability to interpret dreams that leads Joseph toward his final destiny.
What is truly fascinating about Joseph’s attitude to this point, is that no matter what happens in his life he simply makes the most of the situation. How many of us could seriously keep looking forward after all of the devastating events Joseph experiences on his life’s journey so far? First, he dreams a dream that raises him above his family members…would we have told our parents that someday “you will bow down to me”? After he is sold into slavery, by his siblings no less, we never read of his complaining about the “unfairness” of his life… would we have not at the very least questioned why must I suffer if I’m going to be a prince among paupers? When Joseph is falsely imprisoned for the accusation of advancing on his Egyptian master’s wife…would we have not shared any doubt that maybe we misinterpreted our original dream? At every stage, Joseph accepts his position and simply does the best he can.
What an amazing life lesson and skill to develop. Learn from our past but don’t hold the negativity, the pain, and the doubt that comes along with the struggle and effort. Simply accept the situation and move forward. Do the best you can at the moment and your unique skills and talents will raise you to your true destiny.
As I looked closer into Joseph’s experiences, I couldn’t help but notice an unlikely correlation between his life and the division of Jewish holidays into “major” and “minor.” It is generally accepted that the “major” Jewish holidays are those identified in the Torah. They are the holidays described in detail that have clear biblical ties to our ancestors. The “minor” Jewish holidays are those which have rabbinic traditions, or even modern-day associations with Israel post-1948.
Because Hanukkah, at least according to this previous definition, is a “minor” holiday, although one which is often celebrated with major pomp and circumstance, and which is the holiday we have been celebrating all week, I began to think about the messages of each of the Jewish holidays and in which direction the holiday directed our attention.
Hanukkah clearly looks back. It looks at the miracle of oil and the historical victory of the Maccabees against the Assyrian Greeks. Other minor holidays like Purim, Tisha B’Av, and the Israeli-associated ones also all look back at a moment in time that each of these holidays commemorates.
However, our major holidays like Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Passover, and Shavuot, all possess a component of learning from the experience while keeping our eyes looking forward. These holidays remind us to behave in certain ways, to hope for certain outcomes, and to pray for a Messianic future that will bring peace and harmony to a troubled world.
Joseph lived his life in a “major” way. He always looked forward and did not dwell on minor details. This week may we all try to follow Joseph’s lead and remember our past, learn from our experiences, and reflect on how we can grow when passing our milestones along the way. May we all keep our heads up, our eyes forward, and our vision clear, and if we come across a neighbor, friend, or loved one in need of our support, may we be there for them to help them find their path forward. This is our obligation, this is our duty, this is our major responsibility even when celebrating a minor holiday like Hanukkah! Because we are…