After Hanukkah, lights may fade, but hope remains

By Rabbi Amy Feder

Hanukkah is behind us, yet we are still entrenched in the winter holiday season and everything it brings.  For some of us, that means parties, celebrations and happy homecomings.  Yet for just as many of us, and for mirrored reasons, this is one of most difficult and heartbreaking times of the year.  

When we have experienced loss, the holiday season can bring back memories of years past when there was more to celebrate.  Loneliness and empty seats at the table fill us with a sense of despair worsened by the fact that everyone around us seems to be rejoicing.

Yet the story of Joseph that reaches its pinnacle in this week’s parasha offers a powerful vision of hope for those of us burdened by sadness during this time of year.  

In the narrative prior to this week, Joseph still has not revealed himself to his brothers and has just demanded that the youngest son, Benjamin, remain with him in Egypt as a slave.  In Vayigash, however, we immediately read one powerful, redemptive scene after another.  Right off the bat, big brother Judah offers himself as a slave in Benjamin’s stead, proving that he has grown to be a mensch and displaying the brothers’ loyalty to one another.  

Moments later, Joseph reveals his identity in tears, a miracle his brothers can scarcely believe.  Then, rather than shame or guilt them, Joseph comforts his brothers by saying their cruel treatment of him had been divinely ordained.  And, finally, Jacob reunites with his long lost son and they are given the land of Goshen.  

Each of these moments could singularly change the course of a family’s history, and they pull at our heartstrings accordingly. A wicked child turned good! The return of a loved one believed gone forever!  Forgiveness and a complete removal of blame! The reuniting of family after years of sorrow and hatred! 

We read this story and look at our own lives, imagining how wonderful it would be if our own families could experience just one of these redemptive moments.

This is the gift of Vayigash. The parasha allows us, even now that the Hanukkah candles have burned down, to remember that miracles truly can happen.  To imagine that even if, in this holiday season, our hearts are not as full as they might once have been, there is still cause for hope.  Our families reunited, our mistakes forgiven, our loved ones returned to us.  

May this season of miracles carry us through the dark days of winter, and may our hearts and tables be filled, this year and always, with the faces of those we love.

Amy Feder is Senior Rabbi at Congregation Temple Israel and a member of the St. Louis Rabbinical Association.