Joseph, Natan Sharansky, and a Hanukkah Miracle for Our Time

Dec. 14 2015

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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More about: Genesis, Hanukkah, Joseph, Natan Sharansky, Religion & Holidays, Soviet Jewry

The Dangers of Diplomacy with Iran

Aug. 21 2018

Although President Trump’s offer to meet with President Rouhani of the Islamic Republic was rejected, the possibility of direct negotiations remains. Ray Takeyh and Mark Dubowitz warn that Tehran could use talks to stall and gain leverage over Washington:

The mullahs understand that just by staying at the table, Americans usually offer up concessions. [They] are betting that the Trump administration may become weaker over time, preoccupied with domestic politics. Best to entangle America in protracted diplomacy while awaiting what the regime expects will be midterm Republican losses in Congress and the return of a more flexible Democratic president to power in 2021. This is what [Supreme Leader Ali] Khamenei probably meant when he stressed that negotiations have to wait until America is softened up.

Diplomacy would surely blunt the impact of U.S. pressure. The mullahs believe they can undermine the escalation of [U.S.] sanctions by being diplomatically flirtatious and know well that America seldom disrupts negotiations with military action. Indeed, as a prelude to the talks, Iran may even resume its nuclear activities to frighten the Europeans and gain leverage by putting even more pressure on Washington to adjust its red lines.

Should negotiations begin, the Trump team should take sensible precautions to avoid the predicament of the Obama negotiators. The administration will need to maintain its maximum-pressure campaign and its negotiating demands. . . . Any negotiations with the Islamic Republic should be time-limited, and Washington must be prepared to leave the table when it confronts the usual pattern of regime bombast and mendacity.

Donald Trump should insist on direct talks with the supreme leader, as he did with North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un: Rouhani is a lame duck without any real influence. The administration also should demand that Europeans join its sanctions policy targeting Iran’s ballistic-missile program, support for terrorism, and human-rights abuses as a price for their participation in the talks.

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More about: Ali Khamenei, Donald Trump, Hassan Rouhani, Iran, U.S. Foreign policy