The yearly cycle of readings from the Torah is arranged so that the story in Genesis of Joseph interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams almost always coincides with Hanukkah. Dore Feith elicits from this reading a hidden message about the holiday and relates it to the story of how the Israeli public figure Natan Sharansky, as an imprisoned Soviet dissident in the 1980s, succeeded in lighting a menorah in the Gulag:
Joseph interprets Pharaoh’s dreams by explaining that the seven fat cows and seven healthy sheaves represented years of plenty, or satiety, while the seven lean cows and seven ill-looking sheaves represented years of famine. The roots of the Hebrew words for “seven” and “satiety” are nearly identical, and they are written identically in the Torah’s un-vocalized text. The two words appear next to each other several times, suggesting a relationship between the notion of satisfaction and the number seven.
The number seven signifies wholeness in nature. . . . Though we usually associate Hanukkah with the number eight, the miracle’s essence relates to the number seven, not eight. The Maccabees expected the oil to burn for just 24 hours, so [arguably] the first day was unremarkable.
But there’s a further lesson. By recalling the miracle of Hanukkah, we can recall, and appreciate, the satisfaction experienced both by the Jews of biblical times and by modern Jews who have witnessed the formation and rise of the state of Israel: [then and now], there was, in fact, a profound happiness—or, satisfaction—that came with winning national freedom against terrible odds. . . .
This point is driven home by a story of another Jew who, like the biblical Joseph, advanced on the path from prison to a high seat in government. Like Joseph, Natan Sharansky, who was charged with spying for the United States, was imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. . . . In his memoir . . . Sharansky describes one Hanukkah in which he managed to light a makeshift hanukkiah in his cell until the guards confiscated it on the sixth night. In protest, Sharansky declared a hunger strike. . . .
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