This morning we read from the Torah a dramatic installment of the saga of Joseph and his brothers. We find Joseph in the court of Pharaoh, managing the distribution of precious food supplies for Egypt and the region. When 10 of 11 his brothers come before him to procure food and do not recognize him, Joseph puts them to the test, accusing them of being spies. He holds brother Shimon captive to force his brothers to return once again with Joseph’s beloved younger brother, Benjamin. But having lost Joseph, their father Jacob would not permit this exchange.

This is where an interesting set of bargains is set up. First, Reuven offers  “You may kill my two sons if I do not bring him back to you. Put him in my care, and I will return him to you.” (Genesis 42:37)  Yet, Jacob would not budge, and so they must remain in Canaan, leaving Shimon captive in Egypt.  Then later, when their food rations have been consumed, they are once again faced with hunger. They beg their father to allow them to take Benjamin and return to Egypt for food. Judah offers, “Send the boy in my care, and let us be on our way, that we may live and not die — you and we and our children.  I myself will be surety for him; you may hold me responsible: if I do not bring him back to you and set him before you, I shall stand guilty before you forever.” (Genesis 43:8-9)

How interesting that the second offer of responsibility, that of Judah, does not mention Shimon’s captivity. Driven by desperation, Judah offers to be responsible for Benjamin. In comparison to Reuven’s earlier offer, Judah’s is quite weak.  Reuven has offered an exchange – his own sons in exchange for his father’s now favored son, Benjamin. And Reuven makes this plea in the name of rescuing Shimon – while they still had plenty of food.

Both Reuven and Judah demonstrated courage in putting themselves on the line with their father. Each offered to take responsibility. But the quality of their courage was not equivalent.  Judah, afraid of starving to death, is courageous in a self-serving way.  Reuven, however, had demonstrated a different type of courage – the courage to do what is right for another human being, risking, unimaginably so, the safety of his own sons.

Reuven demonstrates a type of courage that is committed to a greater good. His actions, and the risks he offered to take, are a model of righteous courage.

This Shabbat, as we read Parashat Miketz (this Torah portion) and also celebrated the festival of Chanukah, I thought a lot about courage.  So much of what we celebrate in our history is the result of courageous acts. The bravery of the Maccabees is another example of righteous courage.

What does it mean to have courage?  It may mean risking injury to our emotional well-being, our physical well-being, our standing or reputation, or our assets. These risks can carry consequences both small and large.

Courage comes in all different forms and circumstances. You may say someone has courage, though their actions and the risks they take are for their own enrichment or personal gain.  Perhaps Reuven and Judah are not both examples of courage; we might ask, “Isn’t Reuven the courageous one and Judah simply desperate?”

Sometimes we are called upon to take risks for a greater good, perhaps even for our people.

We are here today as Jews and we are able to rejoice in the celebration of Chanukah because of the courage of a ragtag band of fighters known by the nickname “Maccabees.”  Their courage had very significant results – the saving of the Jewish people. They risked everything for a cause that others would have let go. Many other civilizations and religions disappeared in the noise of history because they succumbed to pressures to just give up being different.

Would we have had their courage?  How can they be models for us? How will we contribute to the future of Judaism and the Jewish people?  What will we do to ensure that Judaism continues to thrive as a distinctive Jewish religious civilization? What risks do we have to take?

May we have the courage to follow the lead of our ancestors who fought for future of Judaism and the Jewish people. May we be inspired by their dedication as we joyously celebrate this festival of Chanukah.

Hag Urim Sameah,

May your Chanukah be filled with light and joy.

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