Yosef, Chanukah, Specialness and Vulnerability
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Yosef, Chanukah, Specialness and Vulnerability

Perhaps a reason we put our Chanukah candles in the window is to not only to show off our miracle, but to say to the world—please let us share our lights and be okay with it.

courtesy of the author
courtesy of the author

The Ketonet Passim:

Yosef, Chanukah, Specialness and Vulnerability

וְיִשְׂרָאֵ֗ל אָהַ֤ב אֶת־יוֹסֵף֙ מִכָּל־בָּנָ֔יו כִּֽי־בֶן־זְקֻנִ֥ים ה֖וּא ל֑וֹ וְעָ֥שָׂה ל֖וֹ כְּתֹ֥נֶת פַּסִּֽים

“And Israel loved Joseph more than all his sons… and he made him a special coat…”

My father once pointed out to me a strange reference in a prayer said during the priestly blessing: we ask to be blessed like Yosef, in the moment his father cloaked him in the Ketonet Passim, the special coat: imagine how wonderful it felt for Yaakov to show his love to his most special son; and how wonderful it felt for Yosef, to feel so loved and special.

But we know full well that that coat incited jealously and hatred; that it would be torn from Yosef and returned to his father stained with blood, in a wishful lie that he had been killed. We know that while the coat was a symbol of blessing, of a special love between Yaakov and his favorite son, it was also a great danger. Why would we ask to be blessed in this way?

Avraham struggled to figure out how he could be special to God but still love his own son more than anything. In the moment of the Akeida, he stands over his most special, most loved son, Yitschak, with a knife.  God tells him this is not what He wants: Al ta’aseh lo me’umah. But Avraham had thought—maybe this—having to sacrifice one’s beloved son— is what it means to be special.

So much of our story, beginning with our forefathers and rippling through Jewish history, is our struggle with what it means to be special—what it means to wear a beloved Ketonet Passim, and make ourselves vulnerable to danger because of it.

Avraham struggled to figure out how he could be special to God but still love his own son more than anything. In the moment of the Akeida, he stands over his most special, most loved son, Yitschak, with a knife.  God tells him this is not what He wants: Al ta’aseh lo me’umah. But Avraham had thought—maybe this—having to sacrifice one’s beloved son— is what it means to be special.

The Akeida was Yitschak’s experience of being the special son: he was loved so much, that his father came seconds away from sacrificing him!  When he walked away from the Akeida, he carried it with him. As he prepared to bless his own sons, his eyes were too dim to see: ותכהין עיניו מראות   The Midrash explains the source of Yitzchak’s blindness: 

ותכהין עיניו מראות … 

 … מכח אותה ראיה

“… from the power of that seeing, when our father Abraham bound his son Isaac upon the altar, and the ministering angels saw and wept, and tears dropped from their eyes into Isaac’s, and were imprinted upon his eyes so that, when he aged, his eyes dimmed…”

The tears of the Akeida moment blinded Yitschak from loving his own son. Yitschak thought that to be loved deeply by one’s father, to be the special one, meant a potential for danger or pain.  So he made himself blind to his love for Yaakov. It was safe to love Esav, who brought him good food; he could love Esav from his stomach; but to bond deeply with Yaakov was too scary.

The tears of the Akeida moment blinded Yitschak from loving his own son. Yitschak thought that to be loved deeply by one’s father, to be the special one, meant a potential for danger or pain.  So he made himself blind to his love for Yaakov.

When Yaakov became a father, he refused to be scared to love his most special son.  He would not blind himself to Yosef the way his own father was blind to him. He wouldn’t hide his love for Yosef—from himself or anyone else.  He made him a Ketonet Passim.  

Yosef indeed felt special. He dreamed he was the center of the universe, that his world bowed down to him. But it also made him into an outsider, and worse— the subject of jealousy, and hatred.  Soon he was thrown into a pit and sold into slavery.

Yosef went through so much: he was blamed unfairly, thrown in prison… but over time, he learned to use his specialness to connect, to help, to uplift: he used his special abilities to save the people from famine, and then to save his own family. He saw his father again. He forgave his brothers. After all that happened to him, I don’t think he regretted the Ketonet Passim. I don’t think he wished Yaakov had never given it to him. 

The children of Israel thrived. But soon after, a new Pharaoh came to power. He oppressed and tried to end them because they had become too great and too strong.

When we celebrate Chanukah, we light our menorahs for all to see—in the windows facing the street—in order to publicize our miracle. We proclaim our specialness, our special relationship with God, with our people and with our past, knowing the joy and pride in this special bond but also the suffering, tears, jealousies and sacrifices which came with it.

And generations later, the struggle echoed in the story of Chanukah. The Jewish people insisted on being “special,” and were persecuted because of it.  They had to fight a battle for their identity.

When we celebrate Chanukah, we light our menorahs for all to see—in the windows facing the street—in order to publicize our miracle. We proclaim our specialness, our special relationship with God, with our people and with our past, knowing the joy and pride in this special bond but also the suffering, tears, jealousies and sacrifices which came with it.

Like Yosef, we have to deal with all of the challenges and conflicts that specialness carries with it.  We have to figure out how to dream, and how to interpret our dreams, in ways which are honest to ourselves, but without inciting hatred.

We feel Yosef’s pride, and the love of his father, in the moment he cloaked him in Ketonet Passim.  But maybe we also feel the self-consciousness; worrying about making others jealous; wondering whether it is okay to be different; wondering if maybe we should try harder to blend in. 

Like Yosef, we have to deal with all of the challenges and conflicts that specialness carries with it.  We have to figure out how to dream, and how to interpret our dreams, in ways which are honest to ourselves, but without inciting hatred. We have to develop our skills and talents and strengths, without causing others to feel threatened or smaller.  We have to use our wisdom to teach and help others, without acting like ours is the only wisdom. We have to figure out how our specialness will connect us to others rather than push us away.

We dream of being Or La-goyim—a light for the nations. We have inherited a special light that we can give to the world.  The light that has been passed down to us from our forefathers and foremothers, from our own parents; the light we strive to pass down to our own children.

We dream of being Or La-goyim—a light for the nations. We have inherited a special light that we can give to the world.  The light that has been passed down to us from our forefathers and foremothers, from our own parents; the light we strive to pass down to our own children. But along with our special light, we pass down the tensions and dangers that come with it.  Perhaps this is another reason we put our Chanukah candles in the window: not only to show off our miracle, but to say to the world—please let us share our lights and be okay with it. Please let us wear our colors and share our dreams. Let it be okay to wear our Ketonet Passim.

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