You can find the rest of the parsha text on Chabad.org at Mikeitz.
This is a beautiful Chanukah teaching from
Reb Mimi Feigelson that was published in
in this year’s Kol Chevra. It mentions this
week’s parsha, Mikeitz.
The Source of Light
Reb Mimi Feigelson
Torah Reading: Genesis 41:1 – 44:17
Haftarah Reading: Zekhariah 2:14 – 4:7
Barely two double sided pages in the Talmud are the primary rabbinic source to the foundation of Chanuka and the laws pertaining to lighting Chanukah candles. Within the context of questioning what oils are appropriate for kindling the Shabbat lights, the Talmud (tractate Shabbat 21b – 23a) questions the source of the holiday, the laws (no eulogies at funerals, the recitation of Hallel) and a long detailed discussion about the timing and location of the lighting of the candles themselves.
The core of the Talmudic discourse surrounds the lights – who lights, how many and why – and only in passing discusses the historic source for this celebration. It is for this reason that I point our attention specifically to the timing of the mitzvah of lighting the candles.
We are taught: The time of fulfilling this mitzvah is from when the sun sets until there are no more people in the market. If that isn’t specific enough, Rabba bar Bar Channa in the mame of Rabbi Yochanan teaches us that we are not talking about the shoppers, not even the merchants, we are talking about the time when the Tarmudai are no longer in the market place. Rashi explains that the Tarmudai were a people that would come out even after the merchants left and collect pieces of wood, splinters and slivers of wood, to sell later on to the home owners, so that they – the home owners – would have light in their homes.
This commentary of Rashi demands of us to pause and reflect on our life. What we are being challenged with here is the notion that the homeless are those that bring light into our home! The homeless are those that function as the closing bracket of timing for fulfilling the mitzva of lighting Chanuka candles! The Tarmudai are not the merchants that offer us a service and we offer back to them words of gratitude, waiting to see them the following week. The Tarmudai are those that will remain in our consciousness both faceless and nameless.
Reb Shlomo Carlebach would share a considerable amount of time with the homeless of the Upper West Side of Manhattan. When he died there were numerous stories of them coming to pay their respects as the funeral left from the Carlebach Shul on 79th St. When returning there for the first time, months after Reb Shlomo died I remember how proud I was that I had a teacher that the homeless missed as much as his students did. They told him that the hardest time of the day to be on the streets was the time between sunset and when the streets became empty. They said that during the day there were a lot of people on the street so that they weren’t alone. Late at night they would all settle into their night location but the time when people (ish u’bei’to – a person and their household – Shabbat 21b), as home owners/home dwellers, were rushing home – that was the time that they had nowhere to go. This was their hardest and loneliest.
Let’s return to our Talmud section for a moment:
The time of fulfilling this mitzvah is from when the sun sets until there are no more people in the market… the time when the Tarmudai are no longer in the market place. Is this not exactly the time that the homeless of the upper West Side of Manhattan were describing as their hardest time of day that contains their greatest darkness.
There is one halacha that seems to break this unbearable chasm between those who live on the inside and those who live on the outside – the location of the kindling. The Talmud, and later we will find this in the Shulchan Aruch (the Code of Law, Rabbi Yeseph Caro) that the lighting of the candles needs to be precisely where they are meant to be placed – Hadlakah b’ makom hanacha ( lighting where they are placed) – ideally at the gates of our home, or as many practice at a window that is seen by the passerby. This location, the Talmud teaches us, is there to promote the spreading of the miracle of Chanuka – that people walking by will se them and remember what had happened in the time of the Maccabees.
It seems to me that there is another way to look at this location. We are taught, and thus sing, “ and we have no permission to use them, but rather to only glance at them.” We can’t read with their light, or even sit down to a romantic dinner with their glow. They are meant to be observed, acknowledged for the memory that they hold. Their light is their one mission.
There is, though, one caveat to that law. If there is a person, a homeless person, for example, that has no home to light candles in, that has no money to purchase Chanuka candles, then they can use our candles, the ones burning in our openings and windows to say a blessing and fulfill the mitzvah of lighting the Chanuka candles.
It would appear to be teaching us that while we live in a world of home – dwellers and street – dwellers, a world of insiders and outsiders, a reality that in itself tells us that the world we live in carries pockets of darkness, nonethless, the one reality that has no room in our world is a reality in which no matter what state or condition we are in, we aren’t able to say a blessing over the light. Yes, we may not be the owners of the source of light, but as I remember Reb Shlomo saying, “Is it not a miracle that we can at least say a blessing over someone else’s light?”
Midrash Rabba opens its commentary on this week’s Torah portion, Miketz (in the end0 with a verse from E’Yov (Job 28) Ketz sam la’chosheh – “He brings an end to the darkness.”
It is true that there are blessed moments in our life that are filled with light – we have a home( ish ubei’to – both physical and figurative), we have candles to light and those to light them with. We even have the ability to share our light with those less fortunate. It is also true that there are times in our life that darkness prevails, that we feel as though we are wandering through the streets of G-d’s world ( Tarmudai). Rabba bar Bar Channa and the Midrash Rabba come to teach us that there is an end to that darkness – this Shabbat Chanuka comes to teach us that there is always a source of light in our life to say a blessing over- whether our own source of light or someone else’s.
May this Shabbat- Rosh – Chodesh – Chanuka bring all of us internal and surrounding light. May we bask in our light and share it with others. And may the Tarmudai of our life become named and faced!
Shabbat shalom, chodesh tov and Chanuka sameah.
Two teachings from Rav Kook
Mikeitz: Waiting for the Dream
It took a long time, but Joseph’s dreams eventually came to pass.
How long? Joseph became viceroy of Egypt at age thirty, and nine years later (after seven years of plenty and two years of famine), his brothers came to buy food. So Joseph’s dream that his brothers would one day bow down before him and recognize his greatness were fulfilled only when he was 39 years old. Since he had dreamt those dreams of future greatness at age 17, we see that they took 22 years to come true!
“Rabbi Levy said: one should wait as long as 22 years for a good dream to come true. This we learn from Joseph.” [Berachot 54a]
What is special about the number 22? In what way is it connected to the fulfillment of dreams?
Rav Kook noted that there are 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet. Through myriad combinations of these 22 letters, we can express all of our thoughts and ideas. If we were to lack even one letter, however, we would be unable to formulate certain words and ideas.
The ancient mystical work “Sefer Hayetzira” (“Book of Formation”) makes an interesting point concerning the creation and functioning of the universe. Just as words and ideas are composed of letters, so too, the vast array of forces that govern our world are in fact composed of a small number of fundamental causes. If all 22 letters are needed to accurately express any idea, so too 22 years are needed for all those elemental forces in the world to bring about any desired effect. Thus, we should allow a dream as long as 22 years to come to fruition.
Rabbi Levy is also teaching us another lesson: nothing is completely worthless. We should not be hasty to disregard a dream. In every vision, there resides some element of truth, some grain of wisdom. It may take 22 years to be revealed, or its potential may never be realized in this world. But it always contains some kernel of truth.
[adapted from Ein Eyah vol. II, p. 268]
Copyright © 2006 by Chanan Morrison
Joseph and Judah (II)
Miketz: Joseph and Judah (II)
As explained previously, the strife among Jacob’s sons centered on conflicting viewpoints regarding the sanctity of the Jewish people. Judah felt that we must act according to the current reality. Given the present situation, the Jewish people need to maintain a separate existence to safeguard their unique heritage. Joseph, on the other hand, believed that we should concentrate on the final goal. We need to take into account the hidden potential of the future era, when “nations will walk at your light” [Isaiah 60:3]. Thus, even nowadays we are responsible for the spiritual elevation of all peoples.
So, which outlook was correct – Judah’s pragmatic nationalism or Joseph’s visionary universalism?
The Present versus the Future
The dispute of Judah and Joseph is in fact a reflection of a fundamental split in the world. The rift between the present reality and the future potential is rooted in the very foundations of the universe. On the second day of creation, God formed the rakia, separating the water below from the water above [Gen. 1:7; see Chagigah 15a]. This separation signifies a rupture between the present (as represented by the ‘lower waters’ of this world) and the future (the ‘elevated waters’ of the heavens). The inability to reveal the hidden potential in the present is a fundamental defect of our world. Unlike the other days of creation, the Torah does not describe the second day, when this breach occurred, as being ‘good’.
Joseph Needs a Hey
According to the Midrash [Sotah 36b], the angel Gabriel taught Joseph seventy languages. He also added the letter hey from God’s name to Joseph’s name, calling him Yehosef [Psalms 81:6]. What is the significance of this extra letter?
The Sages wrote that God created this world with the letter hey, and the World to Come with the letter yud [Bereishit Rabbah 12:9]. For Joseph, each nation is measured according to its future spiritual potential, in the manner in which it will fit in the final plan of “kiddush Hashem”, sanctification of God and revelation of His rule in the world. The particular role of each nation relates to its unique language. Without the letter hey, however, Joseph could not properly grasp the language of each nation, i.e., their portion in the future world. The letter hey, used to form this world, allowed Joseph to understand the world as it exists now, and thus comprehend the languages of all peoples.
Joseph saw the sanctification of God in the world according to its hidden potential, with the help of a single letter. He used the hey, a letter open from the bottom, to connect to the present world. Judah, on the other hand, viewed the sanctification of God in the world as it is revealed now. “Joseph who sanctified God’s name in private, merited one letter of God’s name; Judah who sanctified God’s name in public, merited that his entire name was called after God’s name” [Sotah 36b].
Two Types of Tzaddikim
According to the Zohar, Benjamin complemented his brother Joseph: “Rachel gave birth to two tzaddikim, Joseph and Benjamin. Joseph was a ‘tzaddik for above’, and Benjamin his brother was a ‘tzaddik for below'” [Vayetze 153b]. What are these two types of saintly “tzaddikim”? The “tzaddik for above” continues the divine influence (“shefa”) from above, while the “tzaddik for below” passes it on below. The role of Benjamin was to imbue our lowly world with holiness. His whole life, Benjamin was concerned that the Temple should be built in his inheritance. Why was that so vital to Benjamin? The Temple is “a house of prayer for all peoples”, allowing all to share in its holiness. “Had the nations known how important the Temple was for them, they would have surrounded it with forts in order to guard over it” [Tanhuma Bamidbar 3].
When the brothers appeared before Joseph in Egypt without Benjamin, Joseph accused them of being spies. They had come without Benjamin, without the desire to influence and elevate the nations through the holy Temple. They were separated from the rest of the world, like the spies in the time of Moses who did not want the holiness of the Land of Israel to spread to the rest of the world.
The Monarchy and the Temple
The dialectic between Judah and Joseph finds expression in two institutions, the monarchy and the Temple. The monarchy, protecting the national sanctity of the Jewish people, was established in Judah’s inheritance, in Hebron and Jerusalem. The Temple, elevating all humanity, was built on Benjamin’s land. Yet, the Temple was partially located on a strip of land that extends from Judah’s portion to Benjamin’s portion. This strip represents the synthesis of Judah and Joseph, the integration of the national and universal outlooks.
“Miketz”, the name of the Torah reading, means “at the end.” The Midrash Tanhuma explains that God established an end for all things. Just as Joseph’s imprisonment finished, so too this conflict will be resolved after a constructive period of development and change. The fundamental dissonance in the world will be corrected, and the rift between the present and the potential, between the lower and higher waters of creation, will be healed.
[adapted from Shemuot HaRe’iyah 10, Miketz 5690 (1929)]
O holy Shabbes Inspiration Miketz
*Maqam Sigah, tri-chord: e half-flat f g (Mi half-flat fa sol)
Every Shabbat is associated with a maqam, a musical figure,
Maqam cognate to Hebrew maqom, signifying Place.
There’s only one thing I can’t handle
— rejection from God
he gets sold out by his brothers
isn’t that close?
Sold out by his brothers
he ends up going down to the darkest of places
exile into Mitzrayim Egypt narrow and dark
it doesn’t get much worse than that.
he goes down to Egypt with spice merchants —
Isn’t the sweet smell of the spice merchant caravan
wasted on Joseph?
Isn’t that detail of the story wasted?
One of the commentators —
that’s the sign from God that
You are never lost from Me
You will go down into exile
sold out by your brothers
and arrive with spice merchants
smelling sweet all the way down.
Joseph the dream master
he’s the one who harvests events
He knows dreams
he knows dreams imply blessings.
The journey to Egypt with the spice merchants
must have been the darkest time in his life
it smelled sweet all the way down
some sort of sign
do not despair, my servant Joseph
I will NEVER
You are spinning through the darkest part of your journey
and when you see your brothers, Joseph
you will bless them
you will say
it was not you who sent me here
I just knew it
you will think —
your brothers will ask
I smelled it, you will say
and they will think
Reb Sholom Brodt
YOSEF’S LAST NIGHT IN PRISON
The Ishbitzer Rebbe draws our attention to Yosef’s last night in prison.
Surely Yosef constantly prayed for Hashem’s salvation, but the prayers of that last night are the ones that opened the Gates of Salvation. The Torah tells us that Hashem was with Yosef and therefore he was successful in all that he did. And Yosef, was constantly conscious of Hashem’s presence. Thus Hashem was always with him even in prison.
Though Yosef did never stopped trusting in Hashem throughout his imprisonment, the last night was different. This time Hashem answered his prayers. On this last night, says the Ishbitzer, Yosef was on the verge of giving up, ‘chas v’shalom’, and he had to gather all his strength and faith not to give up.
That night he found in the deepest depths of his heart, the pure oil for his lamp – to give light and to bring Hashem’s light into the darkest land, the land of Mitzrayim.
B”H we are in the midst of Channukah and we are lighting candles. The Lubavitcher Rebbe zt”l often emphasized, that on this holiday as we celebrate the rededication of our Holy Temple in Yerushalayim, we should remember to rededicate our personal temples, the temples in our hearts. Like Yosef Hatzaddik we must never give up. We must continuously bring much more of Hashem’s light into this world, for it is still so dark.
“And he gathered up all the food of the seven years which were in the land of Egypt, and laid up the food in the cities; the food of the field, which was round about every city, laid he up in the same”. (Bereshis 41:48)
Yoseph gathered and stored grain during the years of plenty, in order to sustain multitudes of people during the years of famine. This story about what Yoseph had done, is not meant to relate to us the history of the events of what transpired in ancient Egypt. This story of Yoseph’s accumulating grain for the years of famine comes to teach each individual a profound lesson. How does this story relate to us, in our daily lives? Every person in his life goes through good years and bad year. Therefore, like Yoseph, every person is required to save during the good years for the lean Years.
During the good years, when one is healthy, young, string, capable, and has the opportunities, one should accumulate as much Torah knowledge and the performance of good deeds as possible, to, save them for the lean years. What are the lean years? This is the time of one’s life when they get older, and it becomes increasing more difficult to learn Torah and perform mitzvoth, due to a lack of physical strength. The following illustrates this concept. “Remember your Creator [by doing good deeds] in the days of your youthful vigor, while the evil days [the bitterness of old age are yet not come” (Koheles 12:1). “Whatever [mitzvot] your hand can find to do with your might [when you are young-, and healthy] that for there is no worth, nor experience, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the nether world, where you- will go,” (Koheles ‘3:11)). “Hillel said do not say, ‘When I am free I will study [Torah], for perhaps you will not become free’” (Avot 2:5).
These teachings warn a person not to wait for when it is almost too late to perform mitzvoth, but one should perform mitzvoth, when has the opportunity to do so. The previous leader of the Vaad of elders of Breslov in Yerushalayim, Rav Levi Yitzchak Bender zal, commented in this teaching, and he gave himself as an example. He was over 90 years old and lost most of his vision, due to old age, when he gave over this analogy: He said that it was a good thing he worked hard at studying Torah and prayer before he became old, lost most of his vision and became weakened by old age. He was now able to pray most of the prayers and give Torah lectures from memory. He said that he had accumulated his vast knowledge when he was younger and in better physical condition. By doing this, he was able to continue serving Hashem through his memory, in the lean years of his old age, from that he stored-up in the years of plenty, in his youth. He had followed the advice that Yoseph gave Pharaoh, and the advice Yoseph had given to all of us. (Lekutai Halachot: Orach Chayim Hilchot Chanuka 3:7)
“And one of you [brothers]. and let him fetch your brother [Binyamin] and [the rest of you brothers] you shall be bound [in prison], that your words may be proven to be true.” (Bereshis 42:16)
Why did Yoseph want all 12 brothers to come together? He required that Binyamin to be brought to Egypt, even though he knew this might kill his father great anguish? The end of our verse tells us: “That your words may be proven to be true”. Our verse is informing us that only when there are 12 tribes assembled together can the truth be discerned. It is only through diversity can Hashem be properly served as was mentioned last week. Therefore, Yoseph wanted all his brothers present when he revealed himself to them, so they all could discuss what had happened to Yoseph and arrive at a truthful conclusion. The Talmud in the end of Brachot emphasizes that a person should not learn alone on a regular basis. For there would be no one to correct him if he made a mistake. He could come to derive the wrong interpretation.
However, when two or more people study the Torah together, they could discuss each others understanding and discuss where it is not clear. They would ask questions of each other to come to a better understanding of the text. Only in this way could the truth be discovered. Therefore there is a need for 12 tribes and 12 different views to derive the truth. This is what our verse is alluding to. (Lekutai Halachot: Choshen Mishpat: Hilchot Geneva 5:31).
“And the wine goblet (geveah) was found in Benjamin’s sack.”
Finding the wine goblet in Benjamin’s sack caused the brothers great pain and suffering. Just as today when a person goes through trouble, they worry and-become depressed. However, it was through the trouble of the of the wine-goblet incident that their entire family came to great joy. It was through the wine goblet incident that Yoseph revealed himself to his brothers and they all rejoiced as a result. When a person is in great trouble and becomes very bitter from his troubles, he should know and believe that even this trouble is for his good. Hashem’s great mercy is hidden in the bitterness of his troubles. Therefore, one should cry and scream for Hashem’s mercy to be aroused upon him, and await patiently for Hashem’s help. All troubles brought upon a person are only given for the end result to bring that person closer to Hashem and to eventual eternal joy. How do we know when Hashem’s mercy is hidden in one’s troubles? For our verse mentions the word geveah, wine-goblet. If you rearrange the letters of wine goblet “gaveah”; gimmel, bais, yud, ayin, the result is, yud, gimmel, and ayin, bais. Yud, gimmel, which has the numerical value of 13, which this numerical value refers to the well known 13 attributes of Hashem’s mercy. The letters ayin, bais, refer to the word av, which means cloud or thick in Hebrew. These two sets of letters combined together, tell us that within the brother’s trouble, caused by the geveah, wine-goblet, there was hiding Hashem’s great mercy. This is referred to by the word geviah, which is broken into two sets if letters, yod, gimmel: Hashem’s 13 attributes of mercy — and av: cloud, thickness, [Hashem’s mercy being very thick] or hidden, like a cloud protects from the harsh rays of the sun. Also, ayin, bais, refers to one of Hashems names, consisting of 72 letters [the numerical value of av being 71. This name refers to Hashem’s highest level of manifestation of His mercy to the world. Therefore, this verse informs us, that within every trouble a person experiences in life, is where one will find Hashem’s great mercy hiding. (Lekutei Halachot Orach Chayim: Hilchot Hodaah 6:45)
From Rabbi Avraham Arieh Trugman
Weekly Torah Portion
The last two of the ten dreams to appear in the book of Bereishit are those of Pharaoh. Joseph interprets his dreams and in so doing rose to be the de facto ruler of Egypt. Both of Pharaoh’s dreams are similar. In his first dream he sees seven healthy cows emerge from the Nile and graze when seven other ugly and skinny cows emerge from the Nile and consume the seven healthy ones. His second dream is of seven healthy ears of grain sprouting on one stalk of wheat followed by seven unhealthy ones. The thin ones, scorched by an eastern wind, consume the healthy ones (Genesis 41:1-7). He called his advisors, but none could interpret the dreams. Rashi states that there were interpretations, but Pharaoh did not like them.
It is explained that along with the dream Pharaoh was also given its meaning, but he forgot it upon waking. When he hears Joseph’s interpretation it rang true to him for deep within he knew it was the correct interpretation. This is an extremely important point, for many times the meaning of our dreams are quite obvious to us, while other times we know intuitively the meaning of our own dreams when they are properly interpreted.
Chassidut teaches that everything in Torah is an allusion to how to best serve God and how to bring out the best within us. The Slonimer Rebbe in Netivot Shalom, explains that the seven good cows and seven good ears of grain represent our good characteristics, while the unhealthy ones represent our evil inclination. We must always be on the guard lest all our good works and intentions are consumed by our baser desires. After Pharaoh’s first dream the Torah mentions that he fell back to sleep when he dreamt a second time. This, the Slonimer Rebbe teaches, emphasizes that even when we awake and initiate a change of priorities we may still fall back to sleep, slipping once again into old habits and negative traits.
It is significant to note again, as pointed out in the portion of Vayeitze, that after Jacob dreamt of a ladder reaching the heavens and God appeared to him, he awoke exclaiming: “Surely God is in this place and I did not know.” He not only did not fall back to sleep but was fully aware that God had not only appeared to him in a dream but immediately integrated the message that God was ever present in his life.
The Slonimer Rebbe continues to explain that the cows and the description in the dreams of their flesh symbolize our carnal desires, while the grain represents our desire for eating. These, according to Chassidut, are the two main drives in man and have the power to consume the Divine soul when not properly rectified. Rebbe Elimelech of Lyzhansk commented that the verse describing the brothers going down to Egypt to obtain food is symbolic of the soul descending into this world. The verb used “to obtain” the food is the same root as “to break.” He explains that the soul is sent into this world with the challenge of breaking the hold of the physical world in order to infuse physicality with spiritual energy and content. This process subsequently propels the soul to an even higher spiritual level than if it had not come into this world. In the Talmud it is taught that God exclaims: “I created the evil inclination and I created the Torah as its remedy” (Kiddushin 30). The Torah is the source of ongoing advice and strength as how to overcome man’s baser desires and how to rise to new soul heights.
Joseph symbolizes the ability to overcome and transmute these desires for the good. It was he who overcame the advances of the wife of Potifar, while he became the ruler of Egypt through his interpreting the dreams of Pharaoh. His wise advice as how to save grain during the years of plenty so there would be what to eat in the years of famine represents his ability to control the forces that fuel the desire to eat.
Joseph becomes the eternal symbol of how we can rise above the cravings of the body and how the intellect should rule over the emotions. We do not attempt to annihilate the natural needs of the body yet we must learn not to be a slave to them. By conquering these forces Joseph rises from a slave to ruler of Egypt.
From Rabbi Shefa Gold
(At the End)
Genesis 41:1 – 44:17
Joseph gets out of prison by successfully interpreting Pharoah’s dream. He rises to power in Egypt. He has a dramatic encounter and reunion with his brothers who had wronged him.
THE FOUNDATIONAL STORY of our people is the story of leaving Egypt, going from slavery to freedom. This journey home is the story of consciousness evolving from narrowness and separation to expansion and awareness of its identity in the One. If the book of Exodus follows this journey of liberation, then Genesis is the story of how we got into that state of enslavement in the first place. And this portion of Miketz holds the key to that enslavement.
In the language of the soul, enslavement is the process of incarnation and the complete identification of ego with the material world. When the soul loses its conscious connection with the infinite, then it is “in Egypt”, (in constriction). Miketz reminds us how we got there, how we got stuck, how we got lost in the illusion of a limited reality. The blessing that is hidden in Miketz is that whenever we descend into the tangle of incarnation, we take with us the seeds of liberation.
It all happens so innocently. Joseph is raised up into power through his wisdom and psychic gifts. On behalf of Pharaoh, (the status quo), he gathers the wealth of the land during the time of plenty, and then sells it back to the people during the time of famine. Because of the system that Joseph sets in place, the wealth of the land is redistributed and the people become completely dependent on Pharaoh. As this system of dependency evolves, whoever is at the lowest socio-economic level becomes vulnerable. Joseph’s own people are the ones who will suffer and be enslaved by the system of power and wealth that he himself set in place.
AS WE DESCEND with our people into the bonds of physicality, we take with us the seeds of our liberation. We see in Joseph, the dreamer, a heart that still suffers and loves, despite the hardships that he has endured. Through Joseph, we struggle with power, and slowly make peace with our past. Through Joseph, we struggle with our past and slowly make peace with power. In Joseph’s heart, the two sides of his father’s legacy are revealed. The side of Jacob, the schemer, plays the game of getting even, while the side of Israel, the God-wrestler weeps with the glimmer of a love that transcends bitterness.
The bones of Joseph (his deepest essence) will be buried in Egypt, as seeds of liberation and awakening. Joseph is recognized by Pharaoh as “the one in whom the spirit of God lives.”1 The bones of Joseph represent his deepest intention, buried under so much of the illusion of Egypt.
THE SPIRITUAL CHALLENGE
WHEN PHARAOH PERCEIVES the spirit of God in Joseph, he puts a ring on his finger, dresses him in fine linens, lays a gold chain on his neck, gives him a new name and an Egyptian wife. The challenge of power and wealth is that you become bound to serve the one who confers it upon you. You become invested in defending the system that keeps your wealth and power intact. If you can constantly remember that God is the true Source and know that it is really God that you serve, then your wielding of power will express the divine attributes of justice and compassion. This remembrance becomes more difficult when, like Joseph, we are carrying old hurts. Whatever is unhealed in us becomes an obstacle to the pursuit of justice, obscures the heart of compassion, and keep us locked in patterns of manipulation.
Even though the “Spirit of God” is in us, we spend most of our time listening to the command of Pharaoh, who has put the ring on our finger and the gold chain around our necks.
WE ARE TANGLED up in a system that is inherently unjust. We can work towards establishing a more equitable distribution of wealth. And we can honor and protect the seeds of liberation that are in us – our compassion and open-hearted vision of the preciousness of every being. When we carry old hurts and the bitterness that surrounds those wounds, then our every attempt to do justice is distorted by a sensation of pain And so the spiritual challenge is to heal those deep places of bitterness. In that healing, the Spirit of God in us is made manifest.
1 Genesis 41:38
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Torah Reading for Week of December 21-December 27, 2008
“Faith that Emerges from Crisis”
By Rabbi Mel Gottlieb, PhDAJR, CA President
“And Jacob saw that there was ‘shever’ in Egypt.”(Ber. 42:1). In the context of this verse, the word ‘shever’ means ‘food.’ However, it is a homonym, for ‘shever’ also means ‘destruction’ or ‘ruin.’ And in the Midrash, our Rabbis point out that by changing the position of the dot on the letter “shin,” you have the word ‘sever,’ which means “hope.” Perhaps Jacob saw ruination facing his descendants in Egypt – but he also saw the resulting redemption. He sensed the tragedy of famine, but he knew that the years of plenty preceding them would help his children survive, and that every famine is followed by prosperity. He saw in Egypt the episode of Joseph – starting with the ‘shever’ of miserable captivity and ending with the ‘sever’ of eminence. It is an intensely Jewish quality which our Rabbis read into Jacob’s vision: the ability to see beyond the crisis and the destruction to the hope and the promise. It is more than seeing the silver lining; it is a matter of seeing through the very cloud to the bright sun shining above whose warm rays will soon evaporate all clouds. The ability to survive adversity instead of being crushed by it lies in the G-dly gift of transforming a “shin” to “sin,” “shever” to “sever,” ruin to hope.
Furthermore, this capacity for converting “shever” to “sever” is not a matter of blind optimism. The Jew has always been optimistic, but it has been an enlightened optimism, not what William James called “the religion of the happy-minded.” It is the kind of optimism that requires insight and intuition, not only a profound and mighty faith. And more than that; the transformation of “shever” to “sever” requires hard work and sweat and often great sacrifices. It is a way of life, not a way of shielding one’s self from the ugly realities of existence.
During the past decades, within the Jewish community there have been studies pointing to massive assimilation, and youngsters searching for spiritual renewal outside of the walls of our community. Many individuals have viewed this dire situation as a spiritual “shever,” foretelling the decline of Judaism and the withering away of loyalty to the ideals of our sublime tradition. Because of this despair, it has been difficult for some to creatively plan expansive, energizing ideas and strategies in the face of the competing values of American society and thus they have drawn inward trying to protect their small community of faithful followers. There were others, however, who saw beyond the “shever” to the “sever.” They knew that the Jew has weathered many storms and surmounted previous crises, and so they began to lay the groundwork for the era of “sever,” where the uneducated and under-stimulated American Jewish community could begin to re-experience the vitality and depth of Jewish tradition through newly formed institutions and communal structures. With toil, will-power, and sacrifice they lifted the dot from the right bar of the “shin” and made hope of ruin. Now the students of these newly formed institutions are energetically, enthusiastically and creatively sharing the profound teachings of Judaism with communities that are being revitalized by their exposure to profound ideas and loving faithful Rabbis, Cantors, and Chaplains.
Each of us, in the course of a lifetime is beset by one “shever” or another. Our Tradition encourages us in such moments not to submit to defeat, but to look beyond to “sever.” And the best way to convert ‘Ruin into Hope,’ is by listening to the very next words of our Father Jacob, “Why do you look at one another?” Just looking about in desperate bewilderment is not going to help. Instead, “Get you down there,” begin to work and toil with faith. “Sever” will come
From Rabbi Rachel Barenblat
The treasure of teshuvah (Radical Torah repost) 2006
Here’s the d’var Torah I posted for this week’s portion two years ago at the now-defunct Radical Torah.
Late in this week’s portion, Mikets, there is an intriguing conversation between Joseph — by now, in command of Egypt’s storehouses, and second only to Pharaoh in the power structure of the land — and his brothers.
The first time the brothers visit Egypt in search of food, Joseph gives a secret order that their money-bags be returned to them along with their grain. Upon their next journey there, they go immediately to Joseph and protest that they don’t know how they managed to leave without paying him last time. “Peace be with you,” he responds, “Do not be afraid. Your God, the God of your father, must have put treasure in your bags for you. I got your payment.”
We, the readers, know perfectly well that the money was returned to them by Joseph. But he chooses to let them believe it is a gift from God. What gives?
One answer can be found by looking at the brothers’ response to the unexpected windfall, and what their response tells us about their theology and their sense of themselves in the world. In Genesis 42:27, as the brothers are on their way home from Egypt, one of them opens his sack and finds his money there. The brothers’ hearts sink, the text tells us, and they turn to one another trembling, saying, “What is this that God has done to us?”
In this light, Joseph’s statement about the money — that God must have given it to them — is a kind of gentle rebuke of their theology. The brothers leap immediately to anger with God instead of taking responsibility for their own actions or opening themselves to the possibility that this is a blessing in disguise. In return, Joseph takes care to credit God, as if to remind them of the Source from Whom all blessings flow.
Where Joseph sees blessing, the brothers see themselves being thwarted. These responses aren’t innate, but rather learned…and they offer insight into the way that the inability to forgive oneself, and to seek God’s forgiveness, can block one to blessing.
Joseph’s brothers did a dreadful thing when they were young. They made a terrible mistake, which caused profound suffering — especially for their father, who was inconsolable at losing Joseph. But it has been years, and they have grown. By now they regret what they did, and wish to move beyond it. And yet they feel plagued by misfortune. The famine, the arduous journey to Egypt, and then the startling discovery that their money had been replaced in their bags: being who they are, they can’t help suspecting some kind of plot. They mistrust the world, because they mistrust themselves.
Joseph, on the other hand, has grown into a model of faith in Providence. Despite the dire straits he has often found himself in, God’s name has been ever on his lips. In fact, one might argue that his misfortunes have been his best schooling. Having taken a few knocks, he becomes able to recognize God as the source of his dream-interpreting talents — and having made that recognition, he never again fails to give credit where it’s due. When he interprets Pharaoh’s dreams, he begins by asserting that not he but God will see to Pharaoh’s welfare. As a result of his faith and his humility, Pharaoh promotes him to vizier on the spot.
Joseph’s brothers respond to this new twist in their story with fear and blame, signs of their guilty consciences. Perhaps their ambivalent feelings about their brother have metamorphosed, with time, into regret and remorse. They’re caught in the past; they can’t let go of what they did, which means they can’t ask God for forgiveness, which means they can’t know themselves to be forgiven. They’re stuck, stunted by the moment of their worst collective transgression.
Joseph, in contrast, responds to uncertainty with calm faith. He knows that God is with him, and because he knows it, it is manifestly true. He trusts that things are unfolding as they should, that everything is happening for a reason — as, indeed, our perspective on the story tells us that it is. He was brought down to Egypt in order to be able to rise up; the Israelites will descend into Egypt in order to be freed; and in both the individual case and the national one, what’s important is the moral and spiritual valance of the journey, and the process of transformation that it entails.
Many of us may recognize something of ourselves in Joseph’s brothers. We have made mistakes — perhaps none so weighty as selling a bratty sibling into slavery, but mistakes all the same — and we are always in danger of forgetting the spiritual leap of teshuvah that leads to forgiveness. When we feel distant from forgiveness, every setback feels like a conspiracy against us, and the easiest response is fear and blame.
But we may also recognize something of ourselves in Joseph, too. This week’s portion invites us to find ourselves in the story’s hero: to have enough humility to credit our Source for our insight and understanding, and enough wisdom to navigate challenges on even the broadest of scales. To recognize blessings — even those which we ourselves had a hand in bringing about — as ultimately a gift from God, abundance flowing from the Source of All. As we meditate on this story this week, may we be truly able to recognize our misdeeds, make teshuvah with whole and open hearts, and relinquish our attachments to who we’ve been in the past…and may we be able too to mirror Joseph’s faith, trust, and benevolence in the face of whatever comes our way.
From Rav DovBer Pinson
And it came to pass…(Genesis 41:1)
The three Torah sections (Vayeishev, Mikeitz and Vayigash) that relate the story of Joseph and his brothers… are always read before, during or immediately after the festival of Chanukah.
Since “to everything is its season, and a time for every purpose” (Ecclesiastes 3:1), certainly the arrangement of the festivals of the year, which are the “appointed times of G-d” (Leviticus 23:4), as well as the festivals and fasts instituted by the Sages, all have a special connection to the Torah readings in whose weeks they fall, since everything is masterminded by G-d. Thus the story of Joseph is destined to be repeated with the royal Hashmonai family in the Greek era…
And Pharaoh said to Joseph: “In my dream, I am standing on the bank of the River. And, behold, there come out of the River seven cows…” (41:17-18)In contrast, Joseph saw in his dream (recounted in the beginning of the previous Parshah) that, “We were binding sheaves in the field…”
Both Pharaoh and Joseph behold the future in their dreams, but with a significant difference. To Pharaoh life is a river, with himself standing on the riverbank-outside of its flow, a passive bystander to what transpires. To Joseph life is a field within which he toils, laboring at “binding sheaves”–gathering its diverse stalks and binding them into an integral whole.
Many are seduced by the enticements of Pharaoic life. “We remember the fish that we ate in Egypt for free,” the children of Israel grumbled (Numbers 11:5) when G-d had stripped them of the shackles and security of slavery. Life is a free lunch in Pharaoh’s Egypt; there are no choices in your life, but neither is there the anxiety and responsibility they entail. You simply stand on the riverbank and watch the cows and years follow and consume one another.
Pharaoh’s vision may be every vegetable’s utopia, but there is little satisfaction and no fulfillment in his free fish. It is only in the toilsome labor in the field of life that the most important freedom of all is to be found: the freedom to achieve and create.
(from the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe)
And Pharaoh said to Joseph…there is none as understanding and wise as you (41:39)
“Understanding” (navon) is one who can deduce one thing from another; “wise” (chacham) is one who possesses wisdom. A navon who is not a chacham is like a mighty warrior who is unarmed; a chacham who is not a navon is like a weakling with armaments; a navon and chacham is a strong and armed warrior.
And to Joseph were born two sons… (41:50)
In galut (exile), a person is deprived of his “home”–of the environment that preserves his faith, nourishes his growth and spurs his achievements. But precisely because it deprives him of the support of his natural environment, the state of galut compels the person to turn to the inner reaches of his soul and extract from there reserves of commitment and determination never tapped in more tranquil times.
This is one positive function of galut. In addition, exile broadens a person’s horizons, bringing him in contact with things and circumstances he never would have encountered at home. Many of these are negative things and circumstances, contrary to the values of his homeland and tradition; but everything in G-d’s world possesses a positive potential. When a person learns to resist and reject the negative aspects of these alien things, he can then redeem the “sparks of holiness” they harbor at their core by utilizing their essence toward good and G-dly ends.
Joseph in Egypt experienced these two stages in the positive exploitation of galut. In naming his first son Manasseh (“forgetting”), Joseph referred to his struggles in an environment intent on eradicating all memory of home and roots, and how his battle against forgetting and disconnection uncovered his deepest potentials. His second son, Ephraim, so named “because G-d has caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction,” represents the second dividend of galut–the manner in which the “land of affliction” itself is exploited as a source of growth and productivity.
SEEING, DISCERNING AND RECOGNIZING
Our parsha, Yosef’s dreams, Pharaoh’s dreams, the holiday of Channukah, the month of Kislev, which is associated with sleep, the month of Teves, which is associated with the tribe of Dan and the letter ‘ayin’ [an eye], all share the underlying themes of seeing, discerning and recognizing.
“HE RECOGNIZED THEM BUT THEY DID NOT RECOGNIZE HIM” [29-30 Kislev 5762]
In last week’s parsha Yosef was sold by his brothers, served as a slave in Mitzrayim and finally ended up being in prison for 12 years [one year for each of the twelve brothers- including himself]. This week B”H, Yosef is getting out of jail and rises to power as he was appointed to be the Viceroy over all of Egypt. By devising a wise strategy he saves all of Egypt from certain starvation during the seven years of ‘great famine’. The famine had also reached the Land of Canaan where Yaakov Avinu dwelt with his family. Word had spread that there was food for sale in Mitzrayim. Yaakov Avinu sends his ten eldest sons to
purchase food in Mitzrayim and finally the brothers meet again. Only, Yosef recognizes them but they do not recognize him … not yet. There is still a lot of work to be done before Yaakov Avinu’s ‘ruach’ will be restored to be alive again.
REB NACHMAN ZTZ”L SAID: “AS LONG AS THE CANDLE IS BURNING IT IS POSSIBLE TO FIX.”
Even the tzaddik has to go through awesome struggles in this world; all the time, again and again! There is a verse in Mishlei which says: “ki sheva yipol tzaddik, v’kam!” The tzaddik falls seven times, and he keeps on getting up! What distinguishes the tzaddik, among other things is that no matter how many times he falls he keeps on getting up again and again.
This Shabbos we are blessed with the combined lights of the holy Shabbos candles and with the holy light of the Channukah candles. May we be blessed to receive holy light of the Torah, the holy light of Shabbos and of Channukah. May we be blessed to use this light to heal and fix our connections with each other, to recognize one another and to see the good points in ourselves and in each other.
The Ishbitzer Rebbe draws our attention to Yosef’s last night in prison. Surely Yosef constantly prayed for Hashem’s salvation, but the prayers of the last night before his release are the ones that opened the Gates of Salvation. Hashem was with Yosef and he was successful in all that he did. Yosef was constantly conscious of Hashem’s presence, and thus Hashem was with him constantly even in prison.
Throughout his imprisonment, Yosef did not stop trusting in Hashem. But that last night in prison was different, this time Hashem answered his prayers. That night he was on the verge of giving up and he had to gather all his strength and faith not to give up. That night he found in the deepest depths of his heart, the pure oil for his lamp to give light, to bring Hashem’s light into the darkest land, Mitzrayim.
We are B”H in the midst of Channukah and we are lighting candles. The Lubavitcher Rebbe zt”l often emphasized that on this holiday when we rededicated the Holy Temple, we should remember to rededicate our personal temples in our hearts. Like Yosef Hatzaddik, we must not give up. We must bring much more of Hashem’s light into the world, for it is still so dark.
“MY G-D, MY G-D WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?”
What was Yosef’s prayer that night? “My G-d, my G-d why have You forsaken me?” Hashem, You are surely right here with me, You have decided that this is where I need to be right now. Am I not one of Your candles? I must light my Menorah to let Your light shine in this world. I need some oil. Hashem, please help me to find my pure oil to selflessly share Your light with my loved ones and with all Your creation.
CONTRIBUTE YOUR OIL – CONTRIBUTE YOUR LIGHT!
As we have learned, at the same time that the community of Yisrael was instructed to build a sanctuary for Hashem, so too was each individual instructed to make a sanctuary for Hashem in his and her heart. Just as we were given the mitzvah of contributing oil for Hashem’s sanctuary, so too we must ensure that there is pure oil in our personal temple.
In the temple service, oil was used for three different purposes. There was the oil for the Menorah, the anointing oil, and the oil that used as part of the ‘meal offering’ – the ‘Korban Mincha’.
CRUSHED TO GIVE LIGHT
Hashem tells Moshe Rabbeinu [our Rebbe-teacher]:
“v’atah te’tzaveh et bnei Yisrael = and you shall command the children of Israel… “yikchu eilecha shemen zayit zach = and they shall take to you pure olive oil… ‘katit lama’or = which was crushed to give light… leha’alot neir tamid = to give a continuous [daily] light”… (Exodus 27:20)
Rashi, on the words ‘katit lama’or’ – crushed to give light, cites the following teaching from the Talmud: Only the very first drops oil that came out of the first ‘squeezing’ of the olives were used for the Menorah lighting. This was the most pure oil and it did not have any ‘shmarim’ dregs or particles.
Often if not always, we need to be squeezed a little bit or crushed before we give forth our oil. To be squeezed and crushed is certainly painful, but it is not ‘bad’. Some commentators even go so far as to say that the crushing is a pre-condition to providing light. “There is nothing more whole than a broken heart”, said the Kotzker Rebbe.
Which is the purest oil? Which is the oil that provides the clearest light? It is the oil that comes from the first squeeze. In other words, we will all one day, sooner or later, contribute our oil and our light; the question is how many times will i have to be squeezed, how many times will my facade have to be crushed before [i will allow my oil] my inner light to shine forth? By respond immediately to Hashem as soon as we feel even the slightest of squeezes, we can bring to Hashem oil for light! This is the oil without dregs; this is the oil for the Menorah.
To this day we are still being squeezed and crushed. In these times we are living in, may we be truly inspired by Yosef Hatzaddik not to give up. We must give forth more oil, we must bring more and more of Hashem’s light into our lives and into the world. May Hashem answer all our prayers and open the Gates of Complete Salvation and Redemption.
THE OLIVE TREE
The Jewish people are referred to as a beautiful olive tree, abundant in oil and vitality. [Jeremiah 11] The Midrashim elaborate on this comparison:
— Just as the olive becomes sweeter by being crushed, so too [the children of] Yisrael, are sweetened and return to the paths of good through suffering. [See the Baal Shem Tovs’ teaching further on]
— Just as the leaves of the olive tree do not fall from it, neither in the summer nor in the winter, so too Yisrael’s existence will never be abolished.
— Just as olive oil does not mix with any other liquids and always rises to the top, so too Yisrael [remains distinct and] rises among the nations.
— Just as olive oil brings light to the world, so too Yisrael is a light unto the nations.
May we all be blessed with true love and may we all shine our light with joy. We send blessings of healing to all who need a ‘refuah shleimah’. May we all have a wonderful ‘lichtigeh’ Shabbos. Amen.
Torah Reading for Week of November 28 – December 4, 2010
“Interpreting Dreams and the Meanings of Our Lives”
by Elihu Gevirtz, AJRCA Fourth Year Rabbinic Student
The Torah tells us in Paresha Miketz that Pharaoh dreamed two dreams, and the next morning “his spirit was agitated” for he ached, knowing that the dreams held a message that he did not understand. He sent for all of the magicians and all of the wise men in Egypt, but none could interpret them. Joseph had spent years in jail in the dungeon beneath the palace and was not known to Pharaoh. But Joseph’s ability to interpret dreams was brought to the Pharaoh’s attention only as a result of teshuvah done by the Pharaoh’s chief cupbearer who confessed that he had failed to return the kindness that Joseph had shown him two years earlier (Genesis 40:9-15).
Immediately, Pharaoh summoned Joseph from the dungeon into the light in the royal court and said to him: “I have heard it said of you that for you to hear a dream is to tell its meaning.” The Mei HaShiloach (Rabbi Mordechai Yosef of Isbitza) teaches “this means that all the matters of this world are like a dream that needs interpretation.” He observes that the Hebrew word for bread (lechem) is composed of the same letters of the word for dream (chalom), suggesting that just as we must interpret our dreams, we must also interpret the bread in our lives – that which sustains us and gives us nourishment and satisfaction. We must examine our lives and the ways in which we are nourished, and we must strive to speak and act in ways consistent with the virtues of love, justice, truth, and beauty (among others). These are things that give meaning to our lives. What teshuvah, years in the making yet still left undone, will bring clarity to the surface just as Joseph was brought to the surface?
Joseph explains to Pharaoh that his two dreams are really the same dream – the same message given by G-d to Pharaoh. Perhaps Pharaoh’s dreams are also a message for each of us. We will have times in our lives in which a spiritual practice seems unnecessary for there is great abundance and it feels as if the Divine Presence is with us wherever we go; and then we will have times of emotional and physical famine and spiritual exhaustion, in which G-d feels so far away that answered prayers seem impossible.
Joseph tells Pharaoh to find someone who has the qualities of discernment and wisdom (navon ve-chacham) who will preside over the land in its fullness and in its emptiness, gathering and storing grain for the lean years ahead. So it is with us. In our daily prayers, we ask G-d to grant us discernment and wisdom. The first of the interior set of blessings within the Amidah says: “Grace us with the knowledge, understanding and discernment that come from you. Blessed are You, Infinite One, who graciously grants knowledge.”
Today, as many of us and many of our neighbors struggle to sustain ourselves economically and spiritually, and as the land of Israel thirsts for winter rains in the midst of a severe drought, we ask that the Holy One bless us and the land of Israel with courage and strength and rain. May our spirits be agitated like Pharaoh’s so that we are motivated to interpret our dreams and our lives and to live lives of virtue. As we say in the Amidah: “Bless this year for us, Holy One our G-d, and all its types of produce for good. Grant dew and rain as a blessing on the face of the earth, and from its goodness satisfy us, blessing our year as the best of years. Blessed are You, Holy One, who blesses the years.”
From Rabbi Rachel Barenblat
Brokenness and hope: in this week’s Torah portion and in our lives
This week we’re in parashat Miketz, continuing the Joseph story. I want to share a couple of beautiful teachings which I learned from the writings of Rabbi David Wolfe-Blank, may his memory be a blessing. (This teaching can be found in his Meta-parshiot commentary from 5757.) Genesis 42:1 reads: וַיַּרְא יַעֲקֹב, כִּי יֶשׁ-שֶׁבֶר בְּמִצְרָיִם; וַיֹּאמֶר יַעֲקֹב לְבָנָיו, לָמָּה תִּתְרָאוּ. / — “Now Jacob saw that there were rations in Egypt…”
The word translated here as “rations” (some translations say “corn”) is שבר. With the dot on the upper-right of the ש, the word is shever, “rations.” (R’ Wolfe-Blank explains that the word “rations” means “distribution of food” — in that sense it speaks to a kind of brokenness, e.g. a small quantity of food broken into many pieces.) It’s also a homonym for another word (pronounced the same way) which means “destruction.” But with the dot on the upper-left of the ש, the word is sever, “hope.” Since the Torah scroll is written without dots or diacritical markings, one can creatively misread the word so that what Jacob is finding in Egypt is hope. (Though our tradition holds that the word is indeed shever, reading it creatively as sever is a classical midrashic technique for drawing new meaning out of the same letters.)
“Jacob saw that there was שבר in Egypt.”
There was shever [brokenness] – that is the famine;
there was sever [hope] – that is the plenty.
There was shever [brokenness] – “Joseph was taken down to Egypt;”
there was sever [hope] – “Joseph became the ruler.” (42:6)
There was shever [brokenness] – “They shall enslave and afflict them;”
there was sever [hope] – “In the end they shall go free with great wealth.” (15:14)
(– Bereshit Rabbah 25:1, quoted in The Beginning of Desire, Aviva Gottlieb Zornberg, p. 301.)
Jacob, writes R’ Wolfe-Blank, is having a simultaneous vision of hope and of brokenness. He sees that in Mitzrayim, the children of Israel will be made into slaves — and yet he sees that in emerging from Mitzrayim, the children of Israel will become a great nation. “Without a crisis, without ‘going down to Egypt,’ hope cannot arise.”
This is the message of the Joseph story writ large: sometimes descent is necessary in order for ascent to be possible. Joseph had to be thrown into a pit in order to be rescued; had to be sold into slavery in order to rise up in Egypt; had to be thrown in Pharaoh’s prison in order to be in a position to interpret Pharaoh’s dream and achieve the power which would enable him to save the lives of all Egypt and of his own home community as well.
And in our lives, too. Sometimes you have to go through something hard in order to be able to get to something sweet. A woman at the end of pregnancy has to endure labor and birth before her child can be born. New parents have to endure weeks of sleeplessness and exhaustion before their child even learns to smile. Relationships go through tough times, and the only way out is through — but if you trust that something better is coming on the other side, then the dark moments become bearable, because they’re the path toward new light.
“This is reflected in the lights of Hanuka,” writes R’ Wolfe-Blank, “where we live through the darkest part of the year and light the wicks of hopefulness.” As we light our Chanukkah candles tonight, may we be blessed with a vision which transforms any brokenness in our present lives into the wholeness which is coming. Chag urim sameach (a joyous festival of lights) and Shabbat shalom!
From Rabbi Rachel Barenblat
UNRECOGNIZABLE (MIKETZ) 2008
When Pharaoh placed his signet
on my hand, dressed me in gold
and cloaked me in new syllables
I became unrecognizable
even to my own brothers
who prostrated before me.
All these years I’d imagined
reunion, though in my wildest dreams
I never pictured it like this
how my brothers tore into dinner
as though they feared deep down
there wouldn’t be enough…
I turned away and wept
but I hid my sorrow, not ready
to show my true face
or how I had yearned
for the relationship we still
didn’t know how to have.
From Rabbi Laura Duhan Kaplan
Miketz: Dreams, Symbols, and Hints of God
Torah Reading for Week of December 9-15, 2012
“What’s in a Name?”
By Rabbi Neil F. Blumofe, ‘09
Miketz ends, moments before Tsafnat Paneiach, overcome with emotion, reveals himself to be Yosef, the brother who was sold into slavery and assumed lost. As Yosef diverts his brothers, hiding from them and stringing them along, our commentators teach that throughout, Yosef was connected to haShem’s overall plan – that this reunification ultimately, was meant to be – and that Ya’akov and his family were destined to move to Egypt, and the Jewish people into exile. All of this dissembling by Tsafanat Paneiach is somehow inevitable. But let us consider Yosef – in stark contrast to his ancestors, he was a young man when he was handed authority – having led a life of transition and unexpected circumstances, prior to his ascension to power and the assumption of his exile name. He owes his freedom and the recovery of his name to the direct intervention of Pharaoh, the greatest ruler in the Ancient Near East. As much as he may possess ruach Elohim, Yosef is constantly adjusting to change and his circumstances. He may possess deep insight and even vision, but he too must react to life – in his life, he must sort out what he has the ability to change and what for him can never be altered and how circumstances can change, instantly.
Pharaoh is the agent to deliver haShem’s plan, in this moment. Our sages teach that the only difference between exile and redemption is the revelation of the shechinah — all of the exiles and troubles that we endure have an aspect of hester panim, the concealment of G-d’s Presence. Once we notice the light within our hardship, our hardship can instantaneously dissipate and the shell in which we cloak ourselves, can then fall away.
Like Yosef, we are often, in times of flux or unexpected circumstance, perhaps crafting or caught in a situation beyond our control. Frequently we find ourselves in situations not of our own making or having to balance between time commitments, obligations or even the lesser of two evils. To who are we loyal? To what are we loyal? How do we shift responsibility, or sidestep blame? What deserves our attention and our time? How do we keep focused on what matters most to us? The odd maneuvering that Yosef displays with his brothers are his attempts to find control in his life. He is struggling with this new reality (his brothers appear in Mitzrayim to buy food in a time of famine) and he is trying to come to terms with his conflicting emotions, doubts, insecurities, fears and anger. As we celebrate this Festival of Dedication (Hanukah), may we echo the actions of G-d who dared to bring a world into being, declaring, “Let there be light!” Let us too, promote life and act godly when we declare, “Let there be light in our world that contains so much darkness—the darkness of suffering, of loneliness, of pain. May the light of our goodness dispel even a little of the darkness, and may our true names shine forth from the dark chambers of delay and evasion.”
From Rabbi David Ingber
Hiding in Order to be Seen
From The Maqam Project
Paradox of Free Will (5774/2013)
Pharaoh dreams: seven gaunt cows eat seven healthy cows; seven withered sheaves of grain swallow seven robust sheaves. Yosef interprets the dream: seven years of famine will follow seven years of abundant harvest. God has set a process in motion, says Yosef, and shown you a glimpse of what is to come. Now you must find, do, appoint and gather, so that your people will have food.
Here, free will and determinism are comfortably balanced: Human beings cannot control the forces of nature, but we can decide how to respond.
Yosef is appointed minister of food distribution. One day his eleven older brothers travel to Egypt seeking an audience with the minister. They do not realize the powerful minister is Yosef, the brother they sold into slavery years earlier. As they enter, they bow, faces to the ground. Twenty years earlier, when Yosef had dreamed that eleven stars bowed down to him, his brothers, recognizing themselves in the stars, had ridiculed and bullied him.
Here, determinism trumps free will: each human being has a destiny, and every apparently free choice only realizes the destiny.
Parshat Miketz lays out the paradox. On the one hand, natural processes are mostly reliable, and summarized in scientific laws. The consequences of human actions are inevitable. On the other hand, we weigh options, make decisions, and fix mistakes. As Rabbi Akiva says in Pirkei Avot, “Everything is foreseen, yet freedom of choice is given” (3:19).
How can we hold this paradox? Some teachers suggest we understand it as a glimpse into the Divine mind or, in contemporary language, expanded consciousness. We can see our lives from multiple perspectives. A shift in perspective can feel like a gift of Divine grace, opening into freedom, comfort, and greater possibility.
May you receive such gifts this Hanukkah.
From American Jewish World Service
Parashat Miketz continues the narrative of Joseph and his brothers. It describes Joseph’s ascent to power, the trust he earns from Pharaoh and his power as a minister over all of Egypt. It also mentions, in passing, a woman whose life becomes entwined with Joseph’s: Osnat, daughter of the Priest of Ohn. Osnat receives a bare four sentences, and is never again mentioned in the Tanach. Who is she, and what can we learn from her presence in the text?
At first glance, she seems heavily disempowered. She is mentioned in the Torah only because Pharaoh gives her as a wife to Joseph. The text reads: “[Pharaoh] had him [Joseph] dressed in fine clothing and placed a gold chain around his neck…and he gave him Osnat, daughter of Poti-phera, priest of Ohn, as a wife.”1 It seems like Osnat is not much more than a possession Pharaoh uses to demonstrate Joseph’s changed status, comparable to jewelry and fine clothing.
When the rabbis explore her background, they paint a picture of a history of further disempowerment. They write that she is not just any Egyptian woman, but related in a tragic way to Jacob himself.2 According to the rabbis, Osnat is the daughter of Dina, daughter of Jacob. Remember Dina? Her rape at the hands of Shchem, and her brothers’ subsequent violent destruction of the city, represents the essence of total disempowerment.
At second glance, however, there is more to the story. Unlike many female characters in the Bible, Osnat has a name. Being identified by name humanizes her in the text. Osnat’s character becomes yet more rich and complex when we consider another midrash about her in which the rabbis suggest she is more righteous than Joseph. When it comes time for Jacob, the grandfather, to bless Joseph’s sons, according to rabbinic interpretation, he is only convinced to do so by Osnat’s presence.3 How could Osnat, who began our story in such a disempowered state, become so powerfully righteous?
Maybe the rabbis are suggesting that Osnat, having grown up the child of Dina and knowing of Dina’s rape, gained extra resilience in her own life that enabled her to reclaim her humanity. Maybe they mean to imply that Osnat, learning from the past and from her mother’s story, was strong enough to fight against her own disempowerment, strong enough to claim a name for herself. And maybe this strength is what the rabbis notice when they credit her as being even more righteous than Joseph.
Tragically, many girls in countries across the world today face circumstances similar to that of Osnat. Every year, about 10 million girls become child brides, and one in seven girls in the developing world is married before the age of 15.4 Child marriage makes girls vulnerable to high levels of illiteracy, poverty and gender based violence. Additionally, they are more likely to die in childbirth or experience the death of their babies and children. Specifically, girls younger than 15 are five times more likely to die in childbirth than those in their 20s. And girls who marry before 18 are more likely to experience domestic violence than their peers who marry later.5
We, as a global society, need to support girls and young women as they face these challenges and empower them to overcome them. Organizations like Awaaz-e-Niswaan (AEN), in Mumbai, India, are working to promote the rights of girls and reduce the incidence of forced teenage marriage. To help girls escape the cycle of poverty and violence, AEN provides girls with a haven where they can meet peers and learn to understand and defend their rights. Those who refuse arranged marriages or want to leave violent situations can get legal support and assistance from AEN, which helps them negotiate with their families and file reports with the police. AEN also provides girls with college scholarships, vocational training and assistance in finding jobs. This support helps them gain financial independence and enables them to have greater choice in whom they marry.6
In this week’s parashah, Osnat embodies transformation. She moves past the disempowerment of her mother’s violent rape and her own forced marriage to make a name for herself and ensure the blessing of her sons. We can all follow Osnat’s example by transforming the global treatment of girls and women. AJWS will soon be launching a campaign to end violence against women and girls, stop hate crimes against LGBT people and hasten the end of child marriage around the globe. Please stay tuned for more information about joining that campaign in the coming weeks.
May we all merit to draw lessons from the righteous in our society, those who are often disempowered and traded as objects, and may we support them as they find for themselves the resilience to survive and fight for their empowerment.
1 Breishit 41:42.
2 Midrash Aggadah Breishit, Parashat Miketz, Chapter 41.
3 Pesikta Rabati Piska 3 — On the 8th Day.
4 Mark Tran, “Child marriage campaigners in south Asia receive $23m cash injection,” The Guardian, 23 August 2013. Available at http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2013/aug/23/child-marriage-india-bangladesh-nepal.
5 “Child Marriage Facts and Figures,” International Center for Research on Women, 2012. Available at http://www.icrw.org/child-marriage-facts-and-figures.
6 Leah Kaplan Robins and Sasha Feldstein, “A Call Against Violence Heard Around the World,” AJWS Reports, 2013, p. 8. Available at http://ajws.org/who_we_are/publications/ajws_reports/2013.pdf.
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Miketz-Hanukkah byte: ( the letters ‘shin, bet, reish,’ mentioned so often in the parsha, usually meaning food, can also have two opposite meanings: Shever, broken, and Sever, hope; it all depends on where you put the dot- let the Hanukkah lights help shift your focus and
perspective. Chag Sameach!
Miketz and Chanukah: letting your light shine
Here’s the d’var Torah I offered at my shul this morning.
The first thing Joseph does, when summoned from Pharaoh’s dungeon, is shave and change his clothes. Presumably he does this because it’s not appropriate to appear before the ruler of the land in rags… but given the importance of clothing in the Joseph story, I see something deeper.
Remember his coat of many colors. Remember the garment which he relinquished to Potiphar’s wife in escaping from her clutches. Remember Tamar, who disguises herself in a cloak in order to orchestrate justice. Clothing in this story is symbolic of internal reality.
As a child I learned from my mother that how we dress gives us an opportunity to show respect for others. We dress nicely because that’s a way of showing the people we meet that they matter. Surely that’s part of what Joseph is doing at this moment in his story.
I also learned from my mother that how we dress can impact how we feel inside. When I’m not feeling great, sometimes brushing my hair and putting on lipstick can help me perk up and feel ready to face the world. That may have been part of what Joseph was doing, too.
And another thing he may have been doing is adjusting his outer appearance so that it matches what he knows about himself inside. A number of Hasidic teachers speak about the tension between pnimiut, what’s hidden deep inside, and chitzoniut, the external face one presents to the world. We each carry a divine spark inside. That spark connects us with the Holy One of Blessing.
That spark is the source of our light; as we read in psalms, “the soul of a person is the candle of God.” As we kindle candles, God kindles souls. If we’re willing to be kindled, we can carry divine light into the world. But we each get to choose whether and how to reveal that light.
For me, one of the challenges of spiritual life is trying to ensure that my external face matches my internal light. Deep down, I’m always connected with God. But can I manifest that reality in the face I show to the world? Am I willing to risk letting my inner light shine?
Because it does feel like a risk sometimes. This world doesn’t always reward those who let their light shine. I could be laughed at. I could be sneered at. I could be told that I am delusional, or naive. Someone could lash out at me because they don’t like my light.
One of the primary mitzvot of Chanukah is pirsumei nes, publicizing the miracle. This is the origin of the custom of putting a chanukiyah in the window or in a public place — because we’re not supposed to keep it hidden, we’re supposed to let the light of Chanukah shine.
As we’re supposed to let the light of our souls shine. Whatever clothing we wear, whatever persona we adopt, it’s our job in this world to be human candles. To shed light in the darkness, wherever we go.
When do you feel most able to let the light of your soul shine through?
Who are the people who help you cultivate that feeling?
Where are the places, what are the practices, which help you shine the most?
This Chanukah, will you rededicate yourself to letting your light shine?
From Rav Kook
Mikeitz: Interpreting Dreams
The Sages made a remarkable claim regarding dreams and their interpretation: “Dreams are fulfilled according to the interpretation” (Berachot 55b). The interpreter has a key function in the realization of a dream: his analysis can determine how the dream will come to pass. The Talmud substantiated this statement with the words of the chief wine-butler:
“Just as he interpreted, so [my dream] came to be” (Gen. 41:13).
Do dreams foretell the future? Does the interpreter really have the power to determine the meaning of a dream and alter the future accordingly?
The Purpose of Dreams
Clearly, not all of our dreams are prophetic. Originally, in humanity’s pristine state, every dream was a true dream. But with the fall of Adam, mankind left the path of integrity. Our minds became filled with wanton desires and pointless thoughts, and our dreams became more chaff than truth.
Why did God give us the ability to dream? A true dream is a wake- up call, warning us to correct our life’s direction. Our eyes are opened to a vivid vision of our future, should we not take heed to mend our ways.
To properly understand the function of dreams, we must first delve into the inner workings of divine providence in the world. How are we punished or rewarded in accordance to our actions?
The Zohar (Bo 33a) gives the following explanation for the mechanics of providence. The soul has an inner quality that naturally brings about those situations and events that correspond to our moral level. Should we change our ways, this inner quality will reflect that change, and will lead us towards a different set of circumstances.
Dreams are part of this system of providence. They are one of the methods utilized by the soul’s inner quality to bring about the appropriate outcome.
The Function of the Intepreter
But the true power of a dream is only realized once it has been interpreted. The interpretation intensifies the dream’s impact. As the Sages taught, “A dream not interpreted is like a letter left unread” (Berachot 55b). When a dream is explained, its images become more intense and vivid. The impact on the soul is stronger, and the dreamer is more primed for the consequential outcome.
Of course, the interpreter must be insightful and perceptive. He needs to penetrate the inner message of the dream and detect the potential influences of the soul’s inner qualities that are reflected in the dream.
All souls contain a mixture of good and bad traits. A dream is the nascent development of the soul’s hidden traits, as they are beginning to be realized. A single dream may contain multiple meanings, since it reflects contradictory qualities within the soul.
When the interpreter gives a positive interpretation to a dream, he helps develop and realize positive traits hidden in the soul of the dreamer. A negative interpretation, on the other hand, will promote negative traits. As the Zohar (Mikeitz 199b) admonishes:
“A good dream should be kept in mind and not forgotten, so that it will be fulfilled…. Therefore Joseph mentioned his dream [to his family], so that it would come to pass. He would always anticipate its fulfillment.”
It is even possible to interpret multiple aspects of a dream, all of which are potentially true. Even if they are contradictory, all may still be realized. Rabbi Bena’a related that, in his days, there were 24 dream-interpreters in Jerusalem. “Once I had a dream,” he said, “and I went to all of them. No two interpretations were the same, but they all came to pass” (Berachot 55b).
Dreams of the Nation
These concepts are also valid on the national level. Deliverance of the Jewish people often takes place through the medium of dreams. Both Joseph and Daniel achieved power and influence through the dreams of gentile rulers. The Jewish people have a hidden inner potential for greatness and leadership. As long as this quality is unrealized, it naturally tries to bring about its own fulfillment – sometimes, by way of dreams.
When a person is brought before the Heavenly court, he is questioned, “Did you yearn for redemption?” (Shabbat 31a). Why is this important?
By anticipating and praying for the redemption, we help develop the inner quality of the nation’s soul, thus furthering its advance and the actualization of its destined mission.
(Gold from the Land of Israel. Adapted from Midbar Shur, pp. 222- 227)
From Rabbi David Kasher
A House of Forgetting: Parshat Mikeitz
From Rabbi James Stone Goodman
Month of dreams
Joseph the bridge person —
between patriarchs and tribes,
he harvests events
He has become
I don’t interpret dreams —
he says, G*d does,
Still, his gift gives him power.
I remember dreams,
That he dreams at all
means he’s sleeping well
The rest of us fidgeting in bed
Joseph part prophet
Dreaming 1/60th of prophecy
the need for prophecy
From My Jewish Learning
Connecting With Others
Prayers can help repair the world.
BY GUY IZHAK AUSTRIAN
Commentary on Parashat Miketz, Genesis 41:1 – 44:17
We usually think of prayer as a way of connecting to God. But this week’s Torah portion suggests that prayer can also help us connect with other people and open the way toward tikkun — repairing brokenness in our world.
Parashat Miketz describes the slow, agonizing process of Joseph’s reunification with his brothers, who have come down to Egypt to plead for food. The Torah tells us: “Joseph recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him.” The relationship between them, long broken since their bitter childhood, cannot be repaired so quickly. Joseph chooses not to reveal himself, taunting and testing his brothers and maintaining their estrangement.
Only when Benjamin, Joseph’s youngest and only full sibling, arrives in Egypt, is Joseph confronted with a deeper recognition of brotherhood. Choking up, he utters a short prayer of blessing:
“May God be gracious to you, my boy.” With that, Joseph hurried out, for his compassionate feelings grew hot toward his brother, and he needed to cry; he went into a room and he cried there (vayevk). Then he washed his face and returned; restraining himself, he gave the order [to his servants]: “Put out bread.” They served him by himself, and them by themselves…
The encounter with Benjamin stirs Joseph’s compassion, but the short prayer cracks it open. Suddenly he feels the pain of disconnectedness from his family and is able to empathize with his brothers’ hunger and powerlessness. And yet, Joseph hides his cries. Determined to maintain his distance and power, he stifles his own emotions and offers only a terse order to give bread. He cannot and will not sit and eat with his brothers. How familiar is this feeling to those of us who see suffering or poverty and yet hold our full selves back from such an encounter, content instead merely to give a bit of tzedakah!
And yet: “vayevk–and he cried.” This powerful word reappears at two crucial junctures in the next parashah. The first comes when Joseph finally reveals himself to his brothers. He allows his emotions to break free; he still tries to hide his cries, but the Egyptians outside the room hear him sobbing. The second comes when Joseph reunites with his father Jacob, apparently in full view of many others. At this moment of reconciliation, the process of recognition and reunification reaches its fulfillment.
A 19th-century Hasidic text, The Well of Living Waters, illuminates how prayer can be a model for tikkun olam. Commenting on the verse in which Joseph begins to recognize his brothers, it cites a teaching by Rabbi Isaac Luria, one of the founders of 16th-century Kabbalah. Luria explains why the central prayer of Judaism, the Amidah, must first be said silently, before being repeated out loud:
So it is in the way of holiness: it both disappears and is revealed. And in a place that requires full repair (tikkun) and unification (yichud), at first the unification needs to be in secret… But afterward, when the unification has been effected quietly, then one is able to raise one’s voice and to effect the unification, revealed to the eyes of all.
Unlocking the Divine Light
Luria, a mystic, believed that prayer (like other mitzvot) unlocks the Divine light in our broken world and reunites it with its Divine Source. The author of The Well of Living Waters argues that just as the Amidah must begin silently and then become loud in order to achieve tikkun, so too Joseph’s recognition of his brothers must unfold gradually, from hidden and stifled to public and open. As this recognition grows, so does its expression in Joseph’s cries, until full tikkun and yichud—repair and reunification—are achieved.
We can learn from the tikkun in Joseph’s relationship with his family that sometimes the commitment to pursue justice also needs to unfold within us in stages. Justice is—or would be—the ultimate result of a full recognition of our common humanity with others, and thus, our responsibility for others. That recognition often begins quietly within our consciousness: stirred by an encounter with another person, it may then be unlocked or revealed to us through prayer. Unsettled, we may seek to stifle this growing knowledge because of its profound implications. Some time may pass before our changes in consciousness lead to changes in our outward behavior.
Yet we are obligated to emerge eventually from our silence; to cry out against injustice, and take action. Just as the public repetition of the Amidah must follow its silent recitation, external advocacy and action are the necessary consequences of our internal awakening. Our actions can then lead to the repair of brokenness, to the release of hidden Divine light and to a closer unity between this world and its Divine ideal.
Provided by American Jewish World Service, pursuing global justice through grassroots change.
The Great Awakening
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