To what are we dedicated?

“I put myself back in the narrative.” These words are said by Eliza Schuyler in the final song of Hamilton entitled “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story?” Eliza dedicated the 50 years of her life following her husband Alexander Hamilton’s death to telling his story and furthering his legacy, as well as her own. As we are now in the midst of Hanukkah, the holiday of dedication, I wonder to what are we dedicated? When we are remembered what attributes, activities and causes will be front and center?

In the middle of Parshat Miketz we find ourselves in the midst of a famine in the land of Canaan. Jacob’s sons appear to be dumbfounded, unsure of how to get out of it. It requires Jacob’s prodding למה תתראו, “why are you looking at one another?” followed by his command הנה שמעתי כי יש שבר במצרים רדו-שמה ושברו לנו משם ונחיה ולא נמות “for I have heard that there are rations in Egypt; go down and procure rations for us there that we may live and not die.”[1] Why are Jacob’s sons unwilling or unable to act until Jacob prods them?

Rashi asserts that Jacob’s sons acted as if they had more food than they did, for they wanted to appear satiated before the children of Ishmael and Esau. They were becoming lean through conserving their rations rather than to try to procure food from others. Jacob is telling them not to be prideful and wait until the very last minute before getting rations but rather to go right away.[2] Nahmanides echoes this line of thought, asserting that to wait might make it too late as they could die of hunger.[3] One can imagine psychologically that Jacob’s sons are reluctant to go down to Egypt as they remember that they sold their brother Joseph into slavery there, only planning to go as a last resort. Rabbi Ovadiah Seforno has an equally psychological reading. He comments that Jacob’s sons were delaying in going to Egypt because each one thought his brother would go down. After all, there are 10 boys along with much younger Benjamin, so why can’t one of the others go instead?[4]

Our commentators’ views are well-aligned with human nature. When there is something we don’t want to do but necessary for us to do, we often procrastinate, putting it off until the last moment. This is especially true when there’s someone else (a spouse, a family member, a friend) who can do the task just as easily as us. After all, why should we have to exert the effort to do it? Our ancestor Jacob illustrates that this is the completely wrong attitude: when it comes time to take action, we must step forward.

It is fitting to read Parshat Miketz almost every year on Shabbat Hanukkah, as both are about our responsibility to step forward. This is why our Hanukkah Torah readings enumerate the gift brought to the dedication of the Tabernacle by every tribe, even though they each bring the same gift. Every tribe needed to step forward, and they did so on their own. Similarly, without Matityahu’s family stepping forth to resist the Syrian Greeks, who would have stood up to Antiochus IV? It’s like the famous story of a village where every villager needed to bring wine to put in a barrel for the royal banquet. Each one said ‘The others will bring wine; let me bring water,’ and put water in the barrel. When it came time to empty out the barrel, all that came out was water. If we don’t step forward, if we don’t dedicate ourselves to the tasks and the responsibilities we are uniquely meant to do in life, how are we certain that they will get done?

Today we are celebrating Jake, who was called to the Torah last month as a Bar Mitzvah. I spoke with Jake about how Bar Mitzvah, or son of the commandments, means taking more responsibilities in life (in addition to saying, as you love to, “today I am a man.” Like your biblical namesake, you recognize that stepping up to the plate and taking responsibility means a lot of hard work on your part. However, it did not stop you from putting in the time and dedicating yourself to learning two Torah portions. Your example epitomizes what Hanukkah is all about; that in order to celebrate greatness you first need to put in the time practicing.

This Hanukkah let each of us follow in Jake’s example, at times stepping out of our comfort zone and bringing our full selves to the present to engage in the hard, important work that is ours to do. When we find ourselves staring at others thinking perhaps it’s their responsibility, let us first look in the mirror at what we can do before we jump to conclusions. May we learn from Joseph’s brothers not to hang back and wait for others or to attempt to push problems under the rug when they exist but rather to act thoughtfully, constructively and with our full beings to dedicate ourselves to making a difference in our vocations, our families and our communities. Ken Yhi Ratzon, may it be our will to do so.

[1] Genesis 42:1-2

[2] Rashi ד”ה למה תתראו

[3] Ramban ד”ה למה תתראו-והנכון בעיני

[4] Seforno ד”ה למה תתראו

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