By Rabbi Avraham
Fischer. A publication of the Orthodox Union in cooperation with the Seymour
J. Abrams Orthodox Union Jerusalem World Center
Shabbat Parshat Miketz
28 Kislev 5765 - December 10, 2004
Pharaoh’s two dreams spark a national
And it was in the morning that his spirit was troubled (Bereishit 41:8).
The dreams undoubtedly portend monumental tidings for Egypt, and so they must be
And he sent, and he called for all the
magicians of Egypt, and all its wise men; and Pharaoh told them his dream, but
there was none that could interpret them to Pharaoh (Ibid.).
The chief steward then recalls the Hebrew slave boy, who two years before
accurately interpreted his and the chief baker’s dream.
Then Pharaoh sent and called Yosef, and they
hurried him out of the pit (41:14).
Yosef was cast into a pit by his brothers 13
years ago, and now he emerges from an Egyptian pit to begin his rise to viceroy.
But before he responds to the summons,
And he shaved / took a haircut (VA’YEGALACH), and he changed his garments, and
he came to Pharaoh (Ibid.).
The rapid succession of verbs conveys a sense
of urgency. Sforno (R. Ovadia ben Yaakov Sforno, c. 1470-c.1550) comments on our
“The Divine salvation always comes hastily (unexpectedly), as it is written, For
my salvation is near to come (Yeshayahu 56:1), and also, O that My people would
hearken to Me…I would soon subdue their enemies (Tehillim 81:14-15). And so it
came to pass in the Egyptian bondage, as it says, because they were expelled out
of Egypt (Shemot 12:39), as our Sages have told us, ‘Their dough had no time to
rise, for the King of kings, the Almighty, revealed Himself to them and redeemed
them” (Haggadah). And so it shall be in the future, as it is written, And the
Lord Whom you seek will come suddenly to His Temple (Malachi 3:1).
This is true both of Yosef’s meteoric
salvation and of the salvation from Egypt, which is now being prepared.
The change of clothes after two years’ imprisonment is needed
because one may not come to the king’s gate dressed in sackcloth (Esther 4:2).
But, what is the significance of Yosef’s hair grooming?
The root G-L-CH can mean to shave (cf. Shmuel II 10:4) or to cut the hair (cf.
ibid. 14:26). Onkelos translates VA’YEGALACH here as “took a haircut.” Also,
VA’YEGALACH appears here in the transitive form, but without a subject. So, who
cut Yosef’s hair?
Ibn Ezra’s solution is to translate with an unstated subject:
and (someone) gave him a haircut.
In comparison, Rashi’s cryptic comment on VA’YEGALACH:
“because of (MIPNEI) respect for the kingship”
raises a number of questions among his super-commentaries:
• Why does Rashi feel the need to give a reason for the haircutting (in other
words, what was Rashi’s question)?
• What does Rashi contribute to our understanding of VA’YEGALACH?
• Why does Rashi change the wording of his source (Bereishit Rabbah 89:9) from
“to apportion (LA’CHALOK) respect for the kingship”?
R. Eliyahu Mizrachi (c. 1450-1526) explains: Yosef’s reason for improving his
appearance is not the same as that of any prisoner who is released [after two
years!], because Yosef did not yet know whether he was going free or being
released temporarily. [Clearly Mizrachi assumes, unlike Ibn Ezra, that Yosef
wanted the haircut.] The only reason for Yosef to get a haircut therefore is
purely out of respect for the crown. [One senses that Yosef wants to make a good
impression on the king because he sees before him an opportunity to realize his
own dreams of leadership.]
Afar Yaakov (R. Yaakov Nunes Vais, d. 1814) says that the wording of the
original midrash suggests that Yosef cut his own hair. Rashi, however, prefers
the simple meaning of the text, and changed LA’CHALOK to MIPNEI to imply, as in
Ibn Ezra’s rendering, that someone else cut Yosef’s hair. Afar Yaakov and
Nachalat Yaakov (R. Yaakov ben Binyamin Aharon Selnik, 17th century) further
observe that while clothes can be changed quickly, a haircut (after two years!)
can take some time. Interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams should not be subject to
delay, but someone cut his hair because of the honor of the king.
Another approach is implicit in the Mechilta (Bo 13). It cites a number of
verses (Bereishit 48:2; 41:16) to teach that one is required “to apportion
respect” for any king, meaning a demonstration of additional respect, not merely
an avoidance of disrespect. Applying the same terminology to our verse seems
inappropriate to Rashi, for Pharaoh would enjoy no special honor from the
appearance of a lowly slave just removed from prison. The reason for making
Yosef more presentable is not added honor, but to prevent disrespect to Pharaoh,
so Rashi changed the words of his source (Ariel).
Some commentaries feel that Rashi was concerned about Yosef’s violation of Torah
law, which the Patriarchs observed before the Revelation (see Bereishit Rabbah
95:2). R. Ovadia of Bertinoro (c. 1450-c. 1515) says VA’YEGALACH might have
implied that Yosef shaved his beard with a razor, which is forbidden (Vayikra
19:27). However, “out of respect for the crown” this can be permitted (see Sotah
49b). Tosafot HaShalem raises another problem, based on Rosh Hashanah 11a, which
says that Yosef was set free on Rosh Hashanah: How could Yosef shave, or take
haircut, on a festival? Tosafot answers: If Yosef would appear before Pharaoh in
a slovenly manner, he would be in danger of being executed due to insufficient
honor for the throne, so he did what was necessary. A simpler answer however is
to apply the principle of Ramban (Bereishit 26:5 and elsewhere), that the
Patriarchs obeyed the Torah only while they were in the Land of Israel.
From this moment Yosef, motivated by respect for the position of the king, is
himself propelled to a royal position. Acknowledging the honor due the throne is
a recognition of the Hand of Hashem in history. And during this holiday of
Chanukah we are thankful to Hashem for the return of Jewish sovereignty to our
own Land of Israel, “in those days” as well as “in our times.”
Our parsha opens two years after Yosef interpreted the wine steward’s
dream and said, “remember me” and “mention me.” But, nevertheless, Yosef
was forgotten. Some commentators see this as a punishment for his lack of
faith in Hashem’s salvation. Others say that one is required to try to
save oneself through natural means rather than rely on miracles.
The Netivot Shalom points out a contradiction in Midrash Rabba which
quotes Tehillim 40:5, “Praiseworthy is the man who has made Hashem his
trust, and turned not to the arrogant...” The Midrash understands the
first part of the verse as referring to Yosef, the paradigm of bitachon in
Hashem. Yet, the second part also refers to Yosef who requested human aid
and was therefore imprisoned for two additional years. The Slonimer Rebbe
explains that the contradiction is itself the answer. Only a Yosef, who
had exemplary trust in Hashem, could be faulted for seeking human help. He
quotes another Midrash connecting the word “miketz” in our parsha to what
is stated in Iyov (28:3): “Ketz sam lachoshech…” “He has set a limit to
the darkness…” The darkness of Yosef’s imprisonment had a “ketz,” a
predestined end. There is a set time schedule for all of world history.
But had Yosef placed his total trust in Hashem, he could have changed his
The Slonimer connects this to the Chashmonaim whose trust in Hashem
resulted in the Chanuka victory. On the other hand, Israel began to fall
into the hands of Edom (Rome) when the Chashmonaim began to put their
faith in them. The miracles of Chanuka were encased in natural wrappings,
but were, in essence, miraculous. Bitachon brings those miracles into
history and allows us to recognize the miraculous wrapped in the natural.
Modern Israeli history is replete with miracles, some “natural,” others
miraculous. We have seen military victories, the amazing transformation
from desolation into a bustling, modern and prosperous country, and
Israel’s establishment as the world’s Torah center. We have seen the
miracle of Jewish aliya from behind the Iron Curtain and anticipate the
aliya from behind the “Golden Curtain.”
Yet we are still tempted to put our trust in human beings both in and
outside Eretz Yisrael and to question the miraculous nature of our
history. We must remember that everything comes from Hashem, the focus of
*D’var Torah from Aloh Na'aleh:
an initiative of former North
American Rabbis and laymen who successfully made Aliyah, aimed at
highlighting the centrality of Israel and promoting Aliyah. They send
emissaries – Rabbis, academicians, and others – on speaking-tours
throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Rabbi Yerachmiel Roness ,
Exec. Dir., Aloh Naaleh,
At the OU Center, 22 Keren HaYesod
Tel.(02) 566-7787 ex. 254