Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Parshas Mikeitz / Chanuka

ויהי מקץ שנתיים ימים (41:1)

ותאכלנה הפרות רעות המראה ורקות הבשר את שבע הפרות יפות המראה והבריאות (41:4)

Parshas Miketz is traditionally read on Chanuka. The mystics teach that the parsha read during a Yom Tov is connected to the themes and events of that holiday. The Chida, quoting Rabbeinu Ephraim, notes one such connection. He points out that the letters comprising the first four words in the parsha are an acronym for וכאשר יוחנן השמיד יוונים מבית קדשינו צוונו שנדליק נרות תמניא (=שמונה) יומי מחנוכה, יניחנה מצד ימין מהיוצא – when Yochanan destroyed the Greeks from the Holy Temple, we were commanded to light candles for the 8 days of Chanuka, and place the menorah on the right side of the door.

Additionally, Rav Shimon Schwab suggests that Pharaoh’s dreams, in which the weak cows and thin stalks swallowed the strong cows and healthy stalks respectively, hint to one of the main themes of Chanuka, that Hashem delivered גיבורים ביד חלשום ורבים ביד מעטים, the mighty and numerous Greek army into the hands of a few weak and poorly-armed Chashmonaim.

Finally, Rav Moshe Wolfson points out that the most well-known question asked regarding Chanuka is that attributed to Rav Yosef Karo (if there was enough oil to last one day, the miracle was only for seven days, so why do we make commemorate it for eight days). Rav Karo is best known for his commentaries on the Tur and Rambam, which are respectively entitled בית יוסף and כסף משנה. The names of his works appear very rarely in Tanach, but both are mentioned in our parsha (43:18-19, 43:12), alluding to his prominent connection with the holiday of Chanuka.


והנה שבע פרות אחרות עולות אחריהן מן היאור רעות מראה ודקות בשר (41:3)

והנה שבע פרות אחרות עולות אחריהן דלות ורעות תואר מאד ורקות בשר (41:19)

There are numerous discrepancies between the Torah’s description of Pharaoh’s dream and the way in which he subsequently related it to Yosef. For example, although in the dream he saw seven cows of ugly מראה – appearance, he told Yosef that they had ugly תואר – form. What is the difference between these seemingly synonymous words, and why did Pharaoh switch from one to the other?

The Torah praises Rochel (29:17) by noting that she was beautiful in her תואר and her מראה. Rashi explains that these apparently equivalent phrases are not redundant. The term תואר refers to the external beauty of a person’s physical face, while מראה describes the internal, spiritual shine which radiates forth from within, and the Torah emphasizes that both of them were present in Rochel.

Now that we understand the linguistic difference between these two words, we can appreciate why Pharaoh changed from one to the other. Egyptian society was so absorbed in the hedonistic pleasures of this world that they were buried with their possessions. They couldn’t imagine an afterlife consisting of anything but more of the same physical pleasures which they viewed as the pinnacle of happiness.

In light of this, Rabbi Mordechai Biser explains that in his dream, Pharaoh was shown a destruction which would permeate to the inner core of his corrupt society, yet precisely because he was so indulgent, he wasn’t able to grasp the hint. In his eyes, beauty was skin deep, and he was unable to describe the animals as anything but ugly in their external appearance.

As Parshas Mikeitz is traditionally read on Chanuka, when we celebrate the victory of the Maccabees over our Greek oppressors, there must be some deeper connection between them and lesson that we can apply in our own lives. The Ramban writes that the Egyptian exile contained within it the roots of all of the other exiles which followed. Therefore, it isn’t surprising us to find that in the time of the Chanuka miracle, the Greeks were so completely absorbed in the worship of external beauty that they reached the point of outlawing the study of the internal and spiritual Torah.

As 21st-century Americans, we can easily see how history repeats itself as the superficial values of the Egyptian and Greek cultures fill the streets which surround us and permeate the very air that we breathe. As we light our Chanuka menorahs and celebrate the miraculous triumph of our righteous ancestors over these false world-views, we should take a moment to internalize the deeper understanding that this wasn’t a simple military victory. Rather, the miracle of Chanuka symbolically represents the prevailing of the underlying spiritual philosophy for which the Maccabees stood, a philosophy of inner depth and spiritual beauty that we should strive to emulate and incorporate into our daily lives.


ועתה ירא פרעה איש נבון וחכם וישיתהו על ארץ מצרים (41:33)

After Yosef was freed from prison to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams, he explained that they foretold seven years of abundance to be followed by seven years of famine. Therefore, he recommended the appointment of a wise advisor to oversee the project of storing for the famine during the years of plenty. As Pharaoh had only requested Yosef to interpret his dreams, why did he offer advice on how best to deal with the ramifications of his interpretation of the dreams, something which wasn’t at all requested of him?

The Kehillas Moshe notes that the Gemora in Rosh Hashana (16a) teaches that the world is judged four times annually: on Pesach regarding grain, on Shavuos regarding fruits, on Sukkos regarding water, and on Rosh Hashana all people are judged individually. If so, Pharaoh’s dream, which concerned the future of the crops, should have been on Pesach when the world is judged on grain, yet the Gemora in Rosh Hashana (11a) states that this episode occurred on Rosh Hashana.

The timing of this episode indicated to Yosef that it wasn’t only relevant to the harvest, but also to the fate of some individual who was being judged on that day, regarding whom it was decreed that he was to ascend to a position of power. Based on this inference, Yosef felt compelled to propose a plan of action based on his interpretation of the dream which would make its timing appropriate. Specifically, he advised that Pharaoh appoint a wise man to oversee the storage project, as it was due to him that the dream occurred specifically on Rosh Hashana. As an introduction to his suggestion, Yosef hinted to this reasoning by stating ועתה (and now), meaning that because the dream took place today, therefore it is appropriate that I recommend the following!


ויאמר המלך גזרו את הילד החי לשנים (הפטרה – מלכים א 3:25)

The Haftorah for Parshas Mikeitz, which is often pushed aside by the Haftorah for Shabbos Chanuka, contains the famous demonstration of Shlomo HaMelech’s wisdom. Two women had recently given birth, but one of their babies died. Each woman argued that the dead baby belonged to the other woman. Shlomo brilliantly discerned the truth by suggesting that the baby be cut in half.

In his commentary on Yevamos (17b), the Meiri provides a most fascinating insight and legal background into the case that was brought before Shlomo. The Medrash relates that these two women weren’t strangers, but a mother-in-law and her daughter-in-law. Both of their husbands had recently died without leaving any offspring other than these two babies. The Torah forbids a woman whose husband has died without any offspring to remarry until she either marries her deceased husband’s brother in a procedure known as yibum or performs with him a process called chalitzah (Devorim 25:5-10).

In the case brought before Shlomo, the women weren’t arguing just because of a woman’s natural love for her newborn. There was much more at stake. If the live child belonged to the daughter-in-law, she would be permitted to remarry immediately for two reasons. Firstly, her husband didn’t die without children. Secondly, even if he did, there would be nobody with whom she was obligated to perform yibum or chalitzah, as the dead baby was her husband’s only brother.

If the live child belonged to the mother-in-law, the daughter-in-law had a tremendous amount to lose. Because a baby which dies within 30 days isn’t legally considered a viable child, it would be as if her husband died without offspring. At the same time, an acknowledgment that the live child belonged to her mother-in-law would mean that her husband had a brother with whom she must perform yibum or chalitzah. However, that brother was a newborn baby who was presently incapable of doing so. In other words, if Shlomo ruled against the daughter-in-law, she would have to remain single for almost 13 years while she waited for her brother-in-law to become a Jewish adult eligible to perform yibum or chalitzah.

Recognizing her biases and suspecting her motivations, Shlomo came up with a brilliant test. If the daughter-in-law was telling the truth, she would be appalled at the idea of cutting her son in half, and she would gain nothing from it vis-à-vis her legal status. If she was lying to save herself from 13 years of loneliness, she would happily allow the baby to be killed. Although her husband died without children, there would no longer be a brother-in-law in the picture preventing her from remarrying immediately. When she agreed to the compromise, Shlomo revealed her façade and rightfully awarded the child to the mother-in-law, condemning the scheming daughter-in-law to wait 13 years for him to become an adult!


Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1) Rashi writes (41:12) that even when mentioning Yosef’s ability to interpret dreams, the wicked cupbearer attempted to disparage him by mentioning that he didn’t even know the Egyptian language. If Yosef couldn’t speak or understand Egyptian, how was he able to communicate with the cupbearer in jail and with his former master Potiphar? (Ayeles HaShachar)

2) There are numerous discrepancies between the actual dream of Pharaoh (41:1-7) and the way in which he related it to Yosef (41:17-24). How many can you identify? (Tanchuma 3)

3) Yosef told Pharaoh (41:32) that his two dreams were really one, which was repeated to indicate its immediate fulfillment. As Yosef’s dream about his brothers bowing to him was also repeated, why did it take 22 years to be fulfilled? (Rashbam, Mishmeres Ariel, Chavatzeles HaSharon)

4) Just as Yosef had predicted, the seven years of plenty were followed by the onset of a tremendous famine, one which the Torah refers to (41:54) as occurring in all of the lands. Did the famine afflict the entire world, or was it limited to the lands of Egypt and Canaan, and if the latter, why did Yaakov and his sons specifically have to purchase food in Egypt, especially after Yosef gave them such a hard time? (Ramban, Ibn Ezra, Pesachim 119a, Ayeles HaShachar)

5) From the time he learned of the apparent death of his beloved Yosef, Yaakov is consistently referred to in the Torah by the name Yaakov, which connotes his earlier, lower level, until 43:6, where he is again called Yisroel, which denotes his higher level of spiritual accomplishment. What suddenly changed at this point in the narrative? (Rav Shimshon Rafael Hirsch)

6) Rashi writes (43:11) that Yaakov sent with his sons a gift of the foods for which Israel is praised to give to Yosef. Why doesn’t the list of foods that he sent with them include any of the seven species for which the Torah praises (Devorim 8:8) the land of Israel? (Ayeles HaShachar)

7) The Gemora in Chullin (91a) explains that prior to the banquet to which he invited the brothers, Yosef ordered the meat to be ritually slaughtered and the sciatic nerve removed so that they would feel comfortable consuming it (43:16). According to the opinion of the Ramban (26:5) that Yaakov was permitted to marry two sisters because the Avos only kept the mitzvos in the land of Israel, why did Yosef prepare the meal according to Jewish law? (Maharil Diskin Parshas Toldos)

8) Yehuda suggested that all of the brothers, including Binyomin, should become slaves to Yosef as punishment for Binyomin’s “sin” of stealing Yosef’s goblet (44:16). The parsha ends with Yosef replying that only Binyomin should be punished, and the rest of them were free to return home. Next week’s parsha begins with Yehuda’s harsh response, in which he challenged Yosef’s treatment of them and begged for mercy. Why was he originally agreeable that all of them, including Binyomin, should become slaves, but when Yosef attempted to lighten the sentence, he was no longer amenable? (Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh, Tiferes Yonason, Even Yisroel)

9) In the song “Maoz Tzur,” we sing ומנותר קנקנים נעשה נס לשושנים – with the remaining oil, a miracle was performed for the roses. Why are the Chashmonaim compared to flowers, and why specifically to roses? (Rashi Tehillim 45:1)

10) In the song “Maoz Tzur,” we sing רוב בניו וקניניו על העץ תלית – the majority of Haman’s sons and possessions, You hung on the tree. As the Pirkei D’Rebbi Eliezer (49) states that Haman had 40 sons and only 10 of them were hung with him, in what way were the majority of his sons hanged? Also, in what way were his possessions hung on the tree? (Torah L’Daas Vol. 9)


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