Parshas Mikeitz

This week’s sedra deals with Yosef meeting his brothers. Unlike in fairy tales, instead of revealing himself, Yosef chooses to conceal his true identity and torment his brothers. Through Yosef’s tormenting his brothers he was actively prolonging his father’s agony over his absence. If Yosef would have revealed his identity sooner the brothers could have informed Yaakov Avinu sooner, thus allowing his suffering to end sooner. Why was Yosef attempting to play Hashem and punish his brothers? How could Yosef cause his father with whom he had such a close and special relationship, such unbelievable pain?

The Ramban answers that Yosef merely wanted that his dreams that his brothers would bow to him to come into fruition. This explanation leaves much to be desired. What gives Yosef the right to attempt to manipulate outcomes, especially if it would cause his father more suffering? (See Klei-Yakar)

In last week’s sedra (Vayeshev), the Medrash tells us that upon the sale of Yosef, the brothers swore to one another in the form of a Cheirem not to tell Yaakov of Yosef’s sale. This was done so that none of the brothers would inform Yaakov of the whole episode for fear of the consequences they would subsequently have to suffer. The brothers made up amongst each other that they would all play along with the assumption that he was eaten by a beast of a sort. The only way a cheirem may be nullified is if the party which made the cheirem has regrets for making it either because it is no longer applicable, or because it was realized to have been a mistake in the first place.

Yosef had a difficult task ahead of him. Had Yosef revealed himself to his brothers immediately, his brothers wouldn’t have had sufficient grounds to invalidate the cheirem. They still wouldn’t be able to tell Yaakov of his existence.

The basis for the brothers’ actions toward Yosef was jealousy, provoked by his dreams in which he seemed to be the ruler. Yosef, understanding the predicament and the difficulty the brothers’ would have in voiding the cheirem, decided that he would provide them with ample grounds for its nullification. If Yosef’s dreams would indeed come to fruition and not just remain his fantasies, then certainly the brothers would have good reason to invalidate the cheirem.
Yosef’s desire to orchestrate the fulfillment of his dreams wasn’t in order that his father or even his brothers should suffer, but rather for the sake of enabling his father to discover his existence. Yosef was fueled by a most altruistic purpose.

The Shvatim caused their own suffering by callously creating a cheirem. Sometimes a cheirem or another sort of oath is necessary, but one must always realize the power and severity of it. Hashem enabled us through our speech to bind ourselves to, so to speak, new laws. One should always keep in mind how great the power of speech is.

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In this week’s Sedra Paroh is disturbed by dreams he had. He seeks to no avail someone to interpret them for him to set his mind at ease. None of his wise men and magicians seem to be able to satisfy the Egyptian monarch.

Paroh’s Chamberlain of the Cupbearers (Yosef’s former prison-mate) suddenly remembers Yosef and tells Paroh of Yosef’s amazing ability to interpret dreams. Upon hearing of Yosef’s talent Paroh immediately orders that Yosef be fetched from prison and brought before him so as to hear what he will have to say about his dreams.

Yosef appears in front of Paroh and Paroh tells Yosef that he has heard that Yosef is excellent at explaining dreams. However, Paroh says this in the most peculiar way: Paroh says “I have heard that you hear a dream in order to interpret it.” Many of the Mefarshim touch upon this curious phraseology of Paroh. Targum Yonasson seems to be the first to address this oddity. The Targum Yonasson explains that Paroh told Yosef “I heard that if you hear a dream you immediately can explain it.”

While the explanation of the Targum Yonasson seems a bit better than the words of the Passuk it still seems a bit odd of a way of saying that Yosef was excellent at interpreting dreams.

It is said of the Chofetz-Chaim that he used to spend an hour in the morning and another hour in the evening completely for introspection. My Rebbe Rav Yisroel Belsky Shlita said that when he first heard of the amount of time the Chofetz-Chaim spent on introspection he thought to himself: ‘what a waste of time; can you imagine how much greater of a Torah Scholar the Chofetz-Chaim would have been had he had yet another two hours a day for Torah study? However, said Rav Belsky, he then realized had the Chofetz-Chaim not spent so much of time on introspection the Chofetz-Chaim would have never grown to be the Chofetz-Chaim.

The idea my Rebbe was trying to convey is the importance to take the time to process and think about things.

Maybe this is the exact point the Torah is trying to tell us within these peculiar words of Paroh: the Torah is telling us that Yosef understood dreams as soon as he heard them (see Rashi) because he listened to them in order to figure them out. Yosef looked at everything in life in order to reveal and understand the message and lesson it conveyed.

We pass through life almost as if in a daze; we pay little if any attention to life’s lessons and messages. How much further in life would we get if we merely listened and looked for these messages and lessons imbedded in practically everything.

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In this week’s Sedra we read of Paroh’s dreams (seven fat cows/seven seven lean cows – seven thin stalks/seven fat stalks). Paroh is perturbed and searches for an explanation to his dreams, but to no avail. The Medrash states that there were hundreds upon hundreds of wise men that attempted to interpret Paroh’s dreams yet none came even close to an accurate explanation. When Yosef was brought before the Egyptian monarch, he was able to provide not just some generally valid explanation but a perfect interpretation.

The obvious question is: how could it be that no one came close to explaining the dream accurately?

Shlomo Hamelech in Mishlei tells us: Hashem created man to be straightforward and precise, but man sought to become complex.

Paroh’s Sar Hamashkim (Royal Butler) had suggested to Paroh that he should ask Yosef to interpret his dreams. He had explained to Paroh that Yosef could hear a dream and then interpret it. The Royal Butler’s statement seems a bit oddly stated: he should simply have said that Paroh should ask Yosef because the latter knew how to interpret dreams. Why did the Royal Butler phrase the statement as he did?

My Rosh Yeshiva HoRav Dovid Feinstein Shlita says in the name of his father (HoRav Michel Feinstein Zatzal) that the Sar Hamashkim meant exactly what he said. He was trying to convey to the king the idea that Yosef’s talent wasn’t some sort of freak phenomenon. The Royal Butler was saying that Yosef, rather than trying to impress with a fancy, complex interpretation, would explain the dream in its most natural and simple way.

Often in life we want to be unique. We don’t want to do things in a simple and natural way. We tend to think of being natural or simple as being primitive. In truth, however, generally simplicity is accuracy. The natural way is the truly sophisticated way.

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This week’s Sedra opens with the words: “ויהי מקץ… ופרעה חלם ”– “and behold it was after two years (from when Yosef was jailed) and Paroh dreamed”… There is even at first glance something peculiar about this Passuk. The Torah’s juxtaposition of ‘it was after two years’ with the active form “and Paroh dreamed” implies that Paroh’s dreaming is the main topic at hand. The Torah seems to be telling us that we must pay close attention to the fact that Paroh is dreaming.

However, it would seem from the Mefarshim that the Torah’s main purpose in telling us about these dreams is to recount the chain of events – Paroh’s need to have these interpreted correctly leading to Yosef’s release from prison – leading eventually to Klal-Yisroel ending up in Mitzraim. If this is the case, why is the Torah laying so much emphasis on Paroh’s dreaming itself?

Chazal tell us ’לב שרים ומלכים ביד ה’‘ – “the hearts of rulers and kings are controlled directly by Hashem.” This concept is evident numerous times in Nach. We are told in Melachim for instance that King Rechavam ignored the wise counsel of the elders for the foolish advice of the youngsters he grew up with, because Hashem decreed that the Ten Tribes would rebel against Malchus Bes Dovid. While there are various other examples – with Jewish rulers and Gentile ones alike — the common theme is that Hashem controls the every decision of all the rulers whenever He so chooses (see Malbim, in various places throughout Nach, who explains why this doesn’t contradict the concept of free will).

The Torah is telling us that Paroh’s dream wasn’t merely a dream. It was rather a dream that assisted Bnei-Yisroel in being where they were supposed to be when they were supposed to be there. The Torah is pointing out to us how even the most personal aspects of a world leader are there mainly because they will have a particular and sometimes quite meaningful impact on Klal-Yisroel.

We find ourselves living in worrisome and even alarming times. World leadership is changing in unpredictable ways. Leaders are being replaced by different sorts of personalities – some possibly even more unpredictable than their predecessors. It is obvious that we may now be on the verge of a complete changeover in world politics. If we recognize, however, that all of world politics revolve around Klal-Yisroel perhaps we will then not miss the opportunity we have of harnessing these changes to Am-Yisroel’s benefit. May we be Zoche to the Geula Asida in the very near future.

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The Haftorah for Shabbos Chanukah on years in which there is only one Shabbos Chanukah (and otherwise the first of the two when there are two) is from Zechariah. The Haftorah spans more than one Nevuah but was chosen for the Nevuah with which it ends.

Zechariah sees in a vision a seven-branched Menorah with two olives on top of the Menorah, and oil pouring into the Menorah’s cups. Zechariah asks the angel communicating the prophecy to him to explain the vision. The Malach explains that the vision represents the banyan Bayis Sheni – the building of the second Temple. The Malach explains that it is a message to Zerubavel that the second Bayis isn’t to be built through strength and power, but will rather build itself just as this Menorah appeared to be filling itself with oil on its own. While this idea of self-building is interesting, it seems to lack a real moral. It is unclear as well why this Haftorah is chosen to be the main Haftorah of Chanukah? There are many Nevuos that mention the Menorah.

If the Navi is telling us that the Bayis Sheni won’t be built through strength but instead on its own, it would stand to reason that without this Nevuah one would have assumed that the Bayis Sheni would be built through strength. While the Navi seems to imply so, there doesn’t seem to be any inherent reason to assume that the Bayis should be built davka through strength and power.

The first Bayis was built by Shlomo Hamelech when Klal-Yisroel was at its height of glory. The Bayis Rishon was destroyed when Klal-Yisroel was at an all-time low. There was therefore a natural tendency to believe that the Binyan Beis Hamikdash had a direct correlation to Am-Yisroel’s strength.

The story of Chanukah showed otherwise. We say in Al Hanisim ‘rabim beyad meatim’ (‘the many in the hands of the few’), and ‘Giborim beyad Chaloshim’ (‘the strong in the hands of the weak’). The Nes of Chanukah was clearly a war that was won by itself. The theme of Chanukah is that if we do Retzon Hashem everything falls into place on its own.
The lesson the Navi is telling us is: do not confuse glory with strength. Glory is the result of things falling into place through fulfilling Retzon Hashem. It may be for this reason that this Haftorah is chosen to be the main Haftorah for Chanukah.

The Chashmonaim who waged war against the Greeks realized this, but unfortunately it wasn’t internalized by their descendants. Their descendants veered away from the path of Torah – from Hashem’s order because they were blinded by power.

The message of Chanukah remains for us to eternalize today. As the Haftorah ends לא בחיל… לא בכוח… עם רוח ה’ ‘not through strength, and not through power but through Hashem’s Spirit’. May we merit the binyan Bayis Shlishi on its own through our fulfilling Retzon Hashem.