Sometimes we study the individual trees very carefully but we forget to pull back and consider that the forest is big and that various patches of the woods look very similar.
In parshat VaYigash, the middle parshiya of Perek 46 details the seventy members of Yaakov’s family and their migration from Canaan to Mitzrayim. Forgotten perhaps is the listing of the seventy families of Perek 10 in Sefer Bereisheet that expand from Noach and his sons and who migrate from parts elsewhere to gather in the Valley of Shinar where they build a tower. These Children of Yisrael will also build larger structures, but that construction will have to wait for Sefer Shemot to open in a few weeks.
The central figure of the Perek 10 Seventy is Nimrod, a man about whom a single pasuk twice uses the expression Gibbor-Tzayid, a hunter. The central figure of the Perek 46 Seventy is Yosef, a leader about whom the text emphasizes the word ‘Yalad’ twice, speaking to the importance of family, even in the instance that his children were born of an Egyptian noblewoman. The anti-hero of the worldly seventy is a conqueror of cities and men. The hero of the Israelite Seventy is a man who teaches his children the values of his forefather’s household even though he could have easily been conquered by the culture that surrounded him.
Is Sefer Bereisheet a collection of Children’s Stories and indecipherable names lists? Or, is the sefer a sophisticated work designed to suggest to its readers messages about the national life they are expected to lead?
Chanukah could easily be mistaken for a holiday that celebrates the conquest of Yerushalayim and the military victory alone. But we are not Nimrods. We are people who like Yosef struggle each and every generation of living in Galut with our relationship to the dominant culture. Chazal frame the victory of The Maccabim in spiritual terms because while the national destiny does not ignore the need for military strength, the bedrock lies in what Yosef inculcated in his children.
These past weeks, we had contests between New Year and Siyyum HaShas, and between dreidel and fantasy league playoffs. I do not suggest that there is nothing to be gained from exposure to the norms of the world and its ways. But it is worth asking the question, how many of us are taking the steps to be more like the hero of the Chapter 46 Seventy than the hero of the Chapter 10 Seventy?
Rabbi Avi Levitt
Head of School