Parashat Miketz / Hanukah
Donated in loving memory of Natalie Nava bat Denise Betesh, A’H, by Michael Betesh and family.
Parashat Miketz / Hanukah
Salvation in the Blink of an Eye
The parasha begins, “Vayehi miketz shnatayim yamim u’paraoh holem — It happened at the end of two years to the day; Pharaoh was dreaming.” As this occurred, Yosef was completing his twelve-year jail sentence.
While in jail, Yosef interpreted the dreams of the wine steward and the baker. The wine butler received a positive interpretation of his dream, but the baker was hanged as Yosef had predicted. Yosef made a request from the wine server as he was released from jail, “Remember me, and don’t forget me.” Our Rabbis explain that, at Yosef’s level, the double lashon showed a slight lack of emunah, because he placed his hope in the hands of the wine butler rather than put his faith in Hashem. The midrash tells us that Yosef was punished with ten years in jail for speaking lashon hara about his ten brothers (not including Binyamin, who was not involved). Now his jail term was extended for two more years — one additional year for each part of his request.
According to Or HaChaim, Pharaoh had recurring dreams for two years. Pharaoh was very bothered by them, and when none of his advisors were able to come up with an interpretation that satisfied him, the wine butler let Pharaoh know of Yosef’s unique ability to interpret dreams.
Yosef was quickly taken out of jail, washed, and groomed, and brought before Pharaoh. When Pharaoh said, “I heard that you could comprehend dreams and interpret them,” Yosef responded, “That is beyond me; it is Hashem who will respond with the precise interpretation,” thereby correcting his previous error.
Yosef listened to Pharaoh’s account of his dreams and interpreted them. “There will be seven good and robust years in Egypt, followed by seven disastrous years of famine and harm to Egypt’s economy.” Pharaoh immediately appointed Yosef as his second-in-command and Viceroy of Egypt. He oversaw the grain and ultimately their entire economy.
The question is asked by our Rabbis, how could Pharaoh put Yosef in charge before he was able to prove that his vision of the future was accurate? The answer is that Pharaoh had tested Yosef when he recounted his dreams by changing small details. And when Yosef repeated back the correct version of Pharaoh’s dreams, he realized that Yosef’s interpretation would be reliable.
Another question arises. Years later, in Parashat Bo, Pharaoh failed to believe Moshe even after he had correctly predicted seven plagues in a row. Why is this so? In the case of the plagues, Pharaoh did not want to free the slaves, as he would be losing the free labor that augmented his wealth. In the case of Yosef, Pharaoh would benefit economically from the prediction, so it was easier to believe him.
We also learn from this that Hashem can take any one of us from a very low point in our lives, as Yosef was when he was in prison, to a very high position, such as running a big and profitable company. Hashem can make this happen k’heref ayin – in the blink of an eye!
The Real Cause and Effect
Rabbi Mansour cites the Zohar on this parasha, “ketz sam la’hoshech — [Hashem] brought an end to the darkness.” The Zohar refers to the “darkness” of Yosef’s imprisonment. Yosef suffered many long years in a dark, dreary dungeon, until finally this period of darkness ended and gave way to the light of redemption. What message does the Zohar seek to convey by citing this verse in reference to the story of Yosef? What does this passuk add to our understanding of the story?
The Zohar is teaching the proper perspective on “cause-and-effect.” We generally tend to assume that our success or failure is the result of circumstances that unfold. A businessman may come across a windfall of merchandise, sell it for a handsome profit, and become wealthy. If we analyze this series of events, we might instinctively say that the man prospered because he was fortunate enough to find the merchandise. But from a Torah perspective, the exact opposite is true. Hashem decreed that the man should prosper, and therefore Hashem orchestrated events in a way that led to that outcome. The man did not become wealthy because of luck, but because it was ordained from Hashem that the time had come for him to prosper.
This is the Zohar’s intent in citing the verse “ketz sam la’hoshech.” It appeared that Yosef was freed and rose to power because the butler and the baker who were with him in prison had dreams, which he successfully interpreted, and then Pharaoh had an unusual dream that needed interpretation. The Zohar teaches us that it was just the opposite. Hashem decided it was time to bring an end to Yosef’s darkness, and so Hashem orchestrated this series of events. Yosef’s release from the dungeon was not the result of these events; it was the cause of these events.
This is a fundamental lesson in emunah that we must all learn and internalize. No matter what happens in our lives, there is always only a single cause – Hashem’s Will that it should happen. And the circumstances that allow that to happen are only the effect triggered by the Divine Will.
A Hanukah Miracle
Rav Shalom Mordechai Rubashkin told an amazing story about his first Hanukah in prison. For weeks before Hanukah, he pestered the head guard to help him get a menorah, so he could light it for the holiday. The officer finally allowed him to get one, but it had to be lit in a fireproof room, and Rubashkin would be able to sit with the candles for 30 minutes, as is the halacha, before blowing them out and returning to his cell. When Hanukah came, it was around Thanksgiving time, and many officers were off, so there was a different guard that led him to the room with the menorah. This guard was dressed like a state trooper, with a big hat and a severe face. When they got to the room, Rubashkin was ecstatic! He was thrilled to see the small room with a little table and chair, a menorah and olive oil cups. There was also a small L-shaped partition in the corner, but he didn’t think much of it. When he went to light, he happened to look behind the partition and saw there was a toilet, and his heart sunk.
The guard asked, “What’s the matter? Light your candles already.” Rubashkin said, “I can’t do it. I can’t light.” The guard said, “Why? Didn’t you beg for this?” And he answered, “There’s a toilet here. My menorah is overlooking a toilet. I’m making a blessing now, talking to G-d Himself, saying His name. How can I possibly talk to G-d while I’m standing next to a toilet?” The officer was quiet and thoughtful. Rubashkin wasn’t sure if his logic reached this non-Jewish, harsh-looking prison guard. The guard finally said, “Okay, there’s no one around to ask, so I’m just making a decision. Light it in the room where you eat.” Rubashkin had a separate room where he could eat his meals, because if the other inmates saw that he received separate, kosher food, they would be furious. Rubashkin was thrilled the guard allowed this, it was a miracle from Hashem!!
While they were walking with the menorah to the other room, Rubashkin thought he would push his luck a little more. “Sir,” he said to the guard, “I know I was only allowed to sit with the candles for 30 minutes, but I have a custom that I really let them burn for 50 minutes.” (He was referring to the Lubavitch minhag.) The guard looked at him like he was crazy. “Rabbi, come on. First the toilet’s no good, now 30 minutes is no good? What do you do in your own house? You really let them burn for 50 minutes?” Rubashkin answered, “Actually no. In my own house, I would sit by the menorah and pray and watch my children happily running around, until the wicks burned out by themselves.” The guard asked, “How long is that?” Rubashkin replied, “It’s about two and a half hours.” The guard stopped in his tracks and thought again for a good 30 seconds, took a deep breath, and spoke. “Okay. You can do this like you do it in your home. You can sit here until they burn out.”
For the next eight days, Rubashkin sat in that little room and watched the candles, prayed, thanked Hashem for giving him this, and gathered strength from the candles’ light. When President Trump pardoned him, it was no coincidence that Rubashkin was freed on the eighth year of his sentence, on the eighth day of Hanukah. It was, of course, a true Hanukah miracle.
Go Down to Egypt
Later in the parasha, Yaakov told his sons to go down to Egypt to purchase food so they would not starve during the famine. Rashi explains that the famine had not yet reached Yaakov and his family, and they still had food. But since most people were heading down to Egypt to buy food, Yaakov didn’t want to draw attention to the fact that his family that they had food when others didn’t. When there’s a recession and people are out of work, we’re not supposed to flaunt what we have; rather we should just thank Hashem and act humbly because all that we have is from Hashem!
When Yaakov told his sons to go to Egypt to get food in passuk 2, he used the word “redu—go down.” The numerical value for redu is 210, indicating that this would be the beginning of the 210 years that B’nei Yisrael would be in Egypt until Hashem saved them from the hands of Pharaoh and the Egyptians to bring them to Har Sinai to receive the Torah!
United We Stand
When the ten brothers went down to Egypt, they entered through ten separate gates to search for their long-lost brother Yosef in all the markets, thinking that he may have survived as a peasant. Yosef, now second-in-command to Pharaoh, recognized his brothers, but he didn’t reveal himself to them. According to the Rabbis, he knew that his dreams had to be fulfilled in sequence. Since his dreams had indicated eleven brothers bowing to him, he had to engineer Binyamin’s return with them. Yosef had to accuse them of being spies in order to set them up to bring back Binyamin. Yosef also caused the brothers these troubles to draw them to finally admit their wrongdoing, “This is why this anguish has come upon us.” They realized that this was a punishment from Hashem for their cruelty they did to their brother Yosef.
If they had hated Yosef when he merely dreamed of being a king over them, how much more so would they hate him now that he became King and truly had the power of life and death over them? Therefore, he wanted to show them, that after the long chain of events, he truly loved them and had only their good interests at heart. This, he was sure, would melt their long-standing resentment.
Yosef’s goal was always to bring his brothers back together and create unity between them, because they would become the foundation of Am Yisrael. There was a time in our history when the Jewish people were undefeated. That time was when they were a very close and united nation. More than anything else, Hashem loves us when we are one nation, just as a parent loves his children when they get along!
This is our test while we are living in galut today. We must understand that although we seem different from one another, we are really one large family spread over many communities in many countries all over the world. We must pray to Hashem every day to look after us, but it’s our job to do what we can to look after our Jewish brothers and sisters.
May we all learn to trust in Hashem and know that whatever difficult situation or darkness we find ourselves in, Hashem can rescue us k’heref ayin—in the blink of an eye, as He did with Yosef. He put an end to his darkness, and in a matter of hours Yosef was elevated to become Viceroy of Egypt and second-in-command to Pharaoh! May we always remember, as Yosef did, that Hashem is in charge. Despite being handsome, wealthy and powerful, Yosef Hatzaddik knew that all that he possessed had nothing to do with himself but only due to the blessings that he received from Hashem! May we continue to be blessed by Hashem with health, happiness, and success!
Shabbat Shalom! Happy Hanukah!
Rabbi Amram Sananes as written by Jack Rahmey
If we are praised for our talents, do we accept the praise as it’s really us or do we answer as Yosef did to Pharaoh, saying, “It is Hashem who will respond with the precise interpretation!”
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