- Part One: Parshat Miketz 5767
- Part Two: The second Shabbat of Chanuka 5766
I. (Yishayahu 44:25:) משיב חכמים אחור ודעתם ישכל
“He who turns wise men backwards, and turns their knowledge into foolishness”
Upon the brothers’ arrival in Egypt, Yosef accuses them of being spies. Why spies? Why not accuse them of being thieves or murderers?
The young, handsome Hebrew slave who ascended from prison in the morning to become Viceroy of Egypt several hours after, was the talk of the town. Not only in gossip circles who remembered Potifar’s wife‘s passion for him, but in the highest political and economic echelons, who either out of jealousy or respect stood in awe of the young mastermind.
Yosef knew that it would not take long before the brothers would begin questioning the locals regarding the young Viceroy, and then they would be able to piece the puzzle together. He, therefore, accused them of being spies, thus curtailing their ability to ask questions, which is the essence of spying. For in order to convince the authorities that they were not spies, they would have to keep to themselves and not inquire about Egyptian affairs.
But in reality, Yosef had no reason to fear that the brothers would discover the big secret, as we shall soon see.
The major personalities in parashat Miketz walk, talk and function as normal human beings; but they could have served as models for Lewis Carroll’s “Wonderland” for they are, in fact, disconnected from reality.
Pharaoh has two dreams, one of cattle and the other of wheat. He calls upon his advisors to interpret the dreams, as they have done successfully so many times in the past.
Chazal inform us that one interpreted the dreams to mean that seven sons would be born to Pharaoh and die, and the second tells Pharaoh that seven daughters would be born to him and die! These highly intuitive ministers opined that the dreams dealt with life and death in Pharaoh’s family.
If we would not know the story and would be told of the two dreams, I am quite certain that most of us would ascribe to them an economic meaning. Cattle. Wheat. These are the staples of economic life; they do not point to born and dying children.
Pharaoh’s ministers and magicians were brain dead.
Then Yosef appears on the scene. He listens to Pharaoh’s version of the dream and ascribes to them an economic meaning. Seven years of plenty to be followed by seven years of deep famine. Then Yosef volunteers his advice: collect the food during the seven years of plenty to be eaten during the seven fallow years.
At this point Pharaoh is beside himself with admiration for this young genius who figured out that the food of the bountiful years should be used in the poor years.
Pharaoh screams out, “There is no one in the land as wise as this young man”, and gives him the accolade of avraich and Tzafnat Panayach – father of the king, and decipherer of hidden matters.
Does one require the intellectual genes of Yaakov Avinu (our father) and Rachel Emanu (our mother) to think of this ingenious solution? Save the food of the plentiful years to be eaten in the fallow ones – certainly the result of a master-mind!
This is the ultimate “Wonderland”.
Now had these advisors had “yiddishe kup” they would certainly have told Pharaoh exactly what Yosef said.
So lets continue in the parsha.
The ten brothers, super talmidei chachamim, stand before Yosef but do not recognize their own brother.
Chazal tell us that Yosef looked exactly like Ya’akov, and even if he wore Egyptian clothing he did not wear a mask. They too are functioning in a fog.
Yosef invites his brothers to dinner, with the seating arrangements in the order of their ages – Reuven first and Binyamin last. But even at this stage, the brothers don’t have a clue that the man standing in front of them, who looked identically like their father, was their brother Yosef.
The “wonderland” continues into parashat Va’yee’gash. Yehuda walks up to Yosef and standing face to face still does not recognize the man before him.
Because Hashem had clouded their senses, just as He had clouded those of Pharaoh’s advisors.
“He who turns wise men backwards, and turns their knowledge into foolishness”
Unfortunately, we today are experiencing a similar phenomena.
Just before the Yom Kippur War, the government of Israel and our army saw the troop buildups in Egypt and Syria. But the Prime Minister, with input from all her chachamim (wise sages), did not take appropriate steps. They did not even call up the reserves! And we paid the price of 2500 dead, and nearly lost the medina (state). Hashem clouded their minds in order to not see the reality of the moment, but live in their wonderland.
It happens in the course of human events that Hashem blinds leaders: when the shepherd is angry at the herd, he blinds the lead sheep and the herd follows him over the cliff.
The phenomena continues: our political leaders encourage the immigration of hundreds of thousands of Gentiles into the land. They permit the Arab population to grow to numbers which will soon endanger the medina (state), and turn their backs on Jewish identity and values.
Hashem blinds leaders who stray from the Torah to bring about their downfall.
The situation in Chutz La’aretz (outside The Land [of Israel]) is even more perilous.
Hashem blinds the eyes of many Torah leaders there, because like the brothers of old they have turned their backs upon their brothers in Eretz Yisrael, leaving the few Yosefs of Eretz Yisrael to struggle in achieving the eventual geula (redemption).
When was the last time your rabbi or rosh yeshiva voiced a directive to return to the land from which Hashem exiled our grandparents? If you learn in the yeshivot which I attended, the answer is “never.”
I learned in Yeshivat Rabbeinu Yaakov Yosef (RJJ) five years, and then after in the Novardok Yeshiva in Borough Park for another five years. Ten years of shi’urim, musar lectures and private conversations with the roshei yeshiva (heads of school), but never once did we hear the words “Eretz Yisrael” in the context of aliyah (emigration to Israel).
Eretz Yisrael without Torah is a perversion of Judaism, but so too is Torah study and keeping of mitzvot in chutz la’aretz. As the great RaMBaN writes in Vayikra 18:25 based on Yirmiyahu 31:20, that in essence the mitzvot were given to be kept in Eretz Yisrael, and what the Jewish people keep in chutz la’aretz is in order not to forget them when we return to Eretz Yisrael.
May we merit to realize the fulfillment of the blessing we recite daily: “Baruch… Po’kay’ach Ivrim” – Blessed is Hashem who opens the eyes of the blind.
Expounding a concept or explanation of a difficult pasuk are two of the goals set forth by the commentators of the TaNaCh. But even the most gifted, erudite commentator is unable to describe the depths of despair that Yosef must have felt when he was being lowered into the pit swarming with reptiles and scorpions or the feelings of the brothers when they were accused of stealing the Viceroy’s “magic” goblet.
We cannot experience the depth of despair in the hearts of the soldiers of Yehuda HaMaccabee, as they stood on a mountain top viewing tens of thousands of Greek soldiers in phalanx formation – foot soldiers in groups of 16 by 16 holding spears 7 meters long – spreading out over the land.
I once heard a lecture given by an Israeli brigadier general on the heroism displayed by the Maccabees during the 25 year war against the Greeks and their Jewish collaborators. He related that as a young officer attending our war college, he had the privilege to study under one of Israel’s greatest strategists. The course covered the world’s major battles of the last two centuries from the point of view of military strategy and assessment of chances for victory.
Six months into the course, the instructor drew on the board the opposing sides of an ancient battle without naming the combatants, and had the student officers analyze the potential outcome of the battle. The consensus was unanimous: the side which had more soldiers and better equipment would win. The instructor drew yet another set of military factors and again all the officers agreed that the obviously stronger side would win. He did this three times with three different sets of military factors. At the end of this exercise, when all the officers were in total agreement that the larger and stronger side would win in every case, the instructor revealed that these three sets of military circumstances were actual battle conditions between the Maccabees and the mighty Greeks. But each time the Jews were victorious! The instructor, who was not an halachic observant person threw up his hands to heaven and cried out, “If not for ‘Elokim’, the Jews could never have won!”
If not for Godly intervention Yosef could never have been saved from the pit, and, if not for God, Yosef would certainly have rotted in prison instead of becoming viceroy of Egypt. Surely, if not for Godly intervention, I would not be writing this and you would not be reading it; for our ancestors would all have disappeared long ago. And if not for God, there would not be a place today in the Middle East where Jewish tourists can spend their vacations.
Were there a Sanhedrin today, and if I were a member, I would propose the enactment of a gezira limiting the celebration of Chanuka to the Jews living in Eretz Yisrael. Because in the minds of Jews who prefer not to return to Eretz Yisrael after witnessing God’s miracles here, Chanukah is no more real than the existence of Helen of Troy or the long lost Atlantis.
If one does not believe that God can provide him with parnasa (sustenance) and security in Eretz Yisrael, how can he believe that God was able to save Yosef from the pit or deliver the mighty Greek army into the hands of Yehuda HaMaccabi and his small band of warriors?
Don’t be aggravated at the suggestion that there could be mitzvot which are required to be kept in Eretz Yisrael but not in Baltimore, Brooklyn, Cleveland or Monsey. Does it really bother anyone living in these cities that we, in Eretz Yisrael, are required to apportion a part of our produce for terumah and maaser, which is not required in the exile? Does any great Torah scholar in chutz la’aretz lose sleep once every seven years in the knowledge that there is no mitzvah to keep shemitah in LA.? We do not share with our brothers and sisters in chutz l’aretz our pain on Yom Hazikaron (Memorial Day) for the fallen Israeli soldiers, nor can we share with them the nachat when seeing a Hesder Yeshiva bocher piloting an F16.
The halogen lights in the study halls of the great institutions of learning outside the Holy Land would continue to burn just as brightly even without the little, half-hour flickering Chanukah candles.
If the contemporary victories of the War of Independence, the Six Day War, and the Yom Kippur War; along with the huge strides made here in Eretz Yisrael in every field of endeavor, especially in the Torah world where all the yeshivot of Eastern Europe would not equal half the yeshivot in Yerushalayim today, are not real enough to bring one to return to Eretz Yisrael in order to be a part of these ongoing miracles, why should he celebrate something miraculous which occurred 2300 years ago.
For my brothers and sisters abroad, I wish you a happy ‘Festival of Gevura’ (heroism) far away from where the action was and is today. And for my brothers and sisters in Eretz Yisrael, know that all the miracles we have and are meriting to observe and participate in, are just ‘coming attractions’ of what we will soon see in this Holy Land of HaShem.
Shabbat Shalom Ve’Chanuka Sameach
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.