Parashat Miketz, Chanukah and Annapolis: A Wonderland

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Sheaves of Wheat

Parshat Miketz, Chanukah and Annapolis 5768

Part One: God’s Signature

Often Jewish history presents strange fellow travelers but no stranger than the trilogy of Yosef’s travails, Chanukah and Annapolis all in the same timeframe.

In parshat vayeishev, Yosef, a young man of seventeen, is sent by his father to inquire about his brothers’ well-being. As Yosef approaches, the brothers grasp the opportunity to rid the family of the split in their solidarity which Yosef had created with his dreams of grandeur.

Yosef is stripped of his special garment, lowered into a pit of squirming snakes and scorpions, and is subsequently extricated from the pit to be sold to a caravan of merchants and then resold in the slave markets of Egypt.

The Torah turns its attention to the caravan and informs us that they were carrying spices and perfumes on their regular route from Mesopotamia to Egypt.

Rashi quotes the midrash which explains that the Torah thought it pertinent to inform us that these merchants regularly transported foul smelling kerosene. However, Hashem did not want Yosef to be irritated by the kerosene’s offensive fumes, so He made it that a problem developed at the point of exit in Mesopotamia; and instead of the usual kerosene, the caravan took on a consignment of perfume.

How bizzare! A young boy of seventeen is being betrayed by his brothers, he is thrown into a pit of reptiles, the chains on his hands and feet cutting deeply into his skin, his mouth and lips are parched from the beating sun and lack of water, and his future as a slave in Egypt leaves little to hope for – and what might annoy Yosef is the pungent smell of kerosene.

The miracle of Chanukah is no less problematic

The miracle of the oil, so central to the holiday, transpired in a chamber in the Bet Hamikdash called the “Kodesh” (a room right before the Kodesh Hakodashim – the Holy of Holies), which was off limits to a Levi or Yisrael. Hence, the only people who witnessed the miracle were the very few Kohanim who entered the Kodesh. Now if Hashem wanted to impress Am Yisrael with a miracle, why did He perform it before such a limited audience?

I suggest that both episodes are closely related.

The next time you travel to Israel, stop off in Paris to visit the Louvre Museum. Among the works of art, you will come to a portrait of a young woman with a beguiling smile on her lips. At first glance, you might assess the picture with its distinctive hazy- soft focus effect to be worth a few thousand dollars with the frame. But if you come a little closer, you will notice on the bottom right side a scribble which reads “Leonardo da Vinci.” You are standing before the incomparable “Mona Lisa”. This scribble, which in itself adds nothing of aesthetic value to the portrait, now escalates the price to 50 million dollars – without the frame.

The difficulties presented by the episode of Yosef and the miracle of Chanukah can be resolved using the same principle

A person is capable of great suffering when assured that the source of his pain is directed from Hashem; the agony is augmented when one feels that he has been abandoned by Hashem.

In the matter of Yosef, the change from the pungent smell of kerosene to the pleasant aroma of perfume did little to alleviate his physical anguish and feelings of betrayal. But Yosef recognized it as Hashem’s “scribbled” signature on the background of the events and that He was the guiding force behind Yosef’s suffering.

The same is true in the matter of Chanukah.

The rebellion against the religious tyranny of the Greeks and our Hellenized Jewish “brothers” began in a town called Modi’in, situated between Yerushalayim and what is now Tel Aviv. A Greek officer erected an altar, and a Jew offered up a pig to one of the many “gods” the Greeks worshipped. At that point Matityahu jumped onto the altar, killing the officer and his Jewish underling, while calling out “me la’shem ay’li” (whoever is on the side of Hashem join with me). With this, he and his five sons and a handful of loyal Jews withdrew to the hills and declared war upon Greece.

This was a bloody, savage war which lasted over 15 years. And unlike what many believe, the bloodshed continued for another five years after the miracle of the oil.

I can imagine Matityahu and his military staff sitting at night and reading the weekly reports: “On Sunday, 1000 Jews were murdered and 10 towns destroyed. On Monday, 5000 Jews were murdered, 50 batai knesset were burned to the ground, and 100 tons of wheat were destroyed.” And this scenario went on for years. The war was not a surgical strike but rather a long drawn-out event which cost the Jewish people tens of thousands of casualties.

At some point, Matityahu and his sons, who were God-fearing Torah Jews, must have asked themselves who gave them the right to drag the nation into such a catastrophic conflict. They were not prophets. God did not appear to Matityahu as he did to Yehoshua, Gidon, Yiftach and others to declare war. This war was the result of a decision made by one family which affected the entire nation. Perhaps at some point Matityahu may have had misgivings. But, in fact, the war was not only justified, it was essential for our survival as a Torah nation. But how did Matityahu and his staff of Kohanim know this?

After 10 years of battle, Hashem decided to inform the Kohanic military leadership that their judgment was correct. But since prophecy had ceased about 200 years previously, it had to be a sign from heaven which would be understood as directed only to the Kohanic leadership. In order to be recognized as such, the sign had to be in the depths of the Bet Hamikdash where only Kohanim were permitted to enter; hence the miracle of the oil in the Kodesh. This was Hashem’s signature to the Kohanic leadership that the events, as tragic as they appeared, were the will of God.

Last week in Annapolis, the screw was tightened another turn on the holy people in Eretz Yisrael. Annapolis produced the freeing of over 400 Arab murderers and intended murderers. It produced the total freeze on all construction in the God-promised lands of Yehuda and Shomron. It forced the weak leaders of Israel to accept an untenable timetable for the “Chamberlain” appeasement of those with murder in their eyes and hearts.

But even here the “signature” of Hashem is present.

The Torah states (Devarim 25,3) with regard to the punishment of “malkot”

ארבעים יכנו

He shall be flogged forty times

The oral tradition reduces the number to 39 stripes.

President Bush invited to Annapolis 40 nations – 39 were there to extract life-threatening concessions from the 40th nation – Israel.

The signature is present again in the destiny of our people.

In our troubled generation, it would not be unreasonable to assume that Hashem is not entirely pleased with our conduct. This assessment has led some religious leaders to conclude that the suffering of our nation is the result of “hester panim” (Hashem concealing Himself from us), and so we must expect the worst.

But how mistaken they are, for we are witness to a fantastic signature of Hashem! It is not a signature of only the four letters of the “shem ha’meforash” (the Tetragrammaton or the hidden name of 42 letters), but of all the 304,805 letters in the Torah.

I will explain.

One of the ten martyred rabbis, whose story we repeat in the Yom Kipper Mussaf service, was Rabbi Chanina ben Tradyon.

Rabbi Chanina was caught teaching Torah in public, and for this the Roman governor sentenced him to be burned alive while wrapped in a Torah scroll.

As he was dying, the rabbi’s students asked, “Rabbi, what do you see?” And Rabbi Chanina replied that he saw the parchments burning and the letters of the Torah ascending on high.

In the face of all our present and perhaps future difficulties, Hashem has sent us a signature to let us know that we are in His hands.

It is the hundreds of thousands of letters of Rabbi Chanina’s Torah, which have descended in our time in the form of our holy Jewish sons in Eretz Yisrael, who study Torah and defend the land and its people in Tzahal, and also our holy daughters who learn Torah and are dedicated to sanctifying our way of life in tzniut and loyalty.

If one looks objectively, there are endless signatures of Hashem in Eretz Yisrael.

How very fortunate we are to have been chosen by Hashem to return to the Holy Land, where we and our children are part of today’s Chashmonaim, as we prepare the land and its people for the future chanukat habayit of the long awaited Bet Hamikdash.

PART TWO: A Wonderland

The major personalities in Miketz and Vayigash walk, talk and function as normal people; but they could have served as models for Lewis Carroll’s “Wonderland,” because they appear to be sedated and unconscious.

In parshat Miketz, Pharaoh has two dreams – one of cattle and the other of wheat. He calls upon his time-tested, proven advisors to interpret the dreams, as they have done successfully so many times in the past.

They hear the two dreams. Chazal inform us that one interpreted the dreams to mean that seven sons would be born to Pharaoh and would die, and the second tells Pharaoh that seven daughters would be born to him and they would die! These highly intuitive ministers opined that the dreams dealt with life and death in Pharaoh’s family.

Now if we did not know the story from the Torah and we, who are not magicians or great intellects, would be told the two dreams, I am quite certain that most of us would ascribe an economic meaning to the dreams. Cattle, wheat – the staples of economic life. They do not point to family matters.

The ministers and magicians were like zombies who function but are brain dead.

Then Yosef appears on the scene. He listens to Pharaoh’s version of the dream and ascribes to them an economic essence. Seven years of plenty to be followed by seven years of abysmal famine. Then Yosef offers his advice to collect the food during the seven years of plenty and save it for the seven fallow years. At this point, Pharaoh is beside himself with admiration for this young genius who figured out that the food from the bountiful years could be used in the poor years.

Pharaoh says, “There is no one in the land as wise as this young man,” and gives him the coveted title of “Tzafnat Paneach” – the decoder of hidden matters.

Does one have to have the genes of Yaakov Avinu and Rachel Imenu to think of this ingenious solution?

This is the ultimate “Wonderland”.

The ten brothers, super talmidei chachamim (learned men), stand before Yosef and do not recognize their own brother.

Chazal tell us that Yosef looked exactly like Yaakov; and even if he wore Egyptian clothing, he did not wear a mask.

Yosef immediately accuses them of being spies. Why spies? He could just as easily have accused them of being thieves or murderers, but why spies?

It was because Yosef did not realize what Hashem was doing at that time.

The young, handsome, Hebrew slave who ascended from prison in the morning, became in the afternoon the viceroy of Egypt. He was the talk of the town, not only in gossip circles who remembered Potiphar’s wife‘s passion for him, but in the highest political and economic echelons where either out of jealousy or respect, they 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 wanted to prevent them from asking questions, so he accused them of being spies; because in order to convince the authorities that they were not spies, they would have to keep to themselves, not mix with the locals and certainly 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.

Yosef threw a party for them. The seating arrangements were in the order of the brother’s ages, with Reuven at the head and Binyamin the last. However, even at this stage, the brothers did not have a clue that the man standing in front of them, who looked identical to their father, was their brother Yosef

The “wonderland” continues into Vayigash. Yehuda walks up to Yosef and, standing face-to-face, does not recognize the man before him. Uncanny! And then when Yosef reveals himself by saying “Ani Yosef,” the brothers go into shock. They realize that what is so obvious now was not obvious at all to them a moment earlier.

What does it all mean?

Yosef was teaching them a grand lesson: Just as what their eyes saw and ears heard at that time was a mere illusion, so too what they saw and heard about him almost 30 years earlier was also an illusion.

There is nothing new here. In fact, we are living through similar situations in our time.

Although the government saw the troop buildups in Egypt and Syria just prior to the Yom Kippur War, the Prime Minister, with input from all her chachamim, did not take the appropriate steps. They did not even call up the reserves, and we paid the price of 2500 dead and nearly lost the medina! Hashem clouded their minds in order that they should not see the reality of the moment but rather live in their wonderland.

It happens in the course of human events that Hashem blinds the leaders. The saying goes that when the shepherd is angry at the herd, he blinds the lead sheep and the herd follows him over the cliff.

The same phenomenon is again upon us. Our leaders permit the immigration of hundreds of thousands of goyim into the land, permit the Arab population to grow to numbers which will soon endanger the medina, 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 is even more precarious, because Hashem has blinded the eyes of many Torah personalities there. They, like the brothers of old, made the choice to turn their backs upon their brothers in Eretz Yisrael – the millions of Yosefs who are struggling to bring in the eventual geula.

May we merit to see the quality of Hashem which we proclaim daily: “Baruch… Po’kay’ach Ivrim” – Blessed is Hashem who opens the eyes of the blind.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Urim Sameach (Joyous Festival of Lights), Nachman Kahana

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.