Miketz: Recognizing Divine Providence
Our Parasha this week is Miketz and this year it coincides with Chanukah and Rosh Chodesh Tevet. We can see Divine Providence in both the Parasha and the Chanukah story. Thousands of years ago the Greeks became the leading Empire. They eventually conquered Judea which is now Eretz Yisrael. The Greeks, ruled by King Antiochus, wanted everyone to be Greek. They wanted the Jewish people to dress like them, worship their idols, and forget about G-d. The Jewish people were prohibited from observing Shabbat, performing Brit Milah (circumcision), observing Rosh Chodesh; essentially, they were prohibited from being Jewish. They were not allowed to be different! Finally, Matityahu (Mattathias) and his five sons formed an army called the Maccabees which stood for: מי כמוך באילים י׳ “Mi kamocha ba’eilim Hashem, (Who is like You among the mighty, O G-d).” These are the words that B’nai Yisrael said after G-d split the Red Sea. The Maccabees recruited others who were passionate about retaining their Judaism. Eventually, the Maccabees won and drove the Greeks out, they rededicated the temple, which is where the word Chanukah comes from and found a small jar of oil to light the menorah. They thought the menorah would last for one day, but instead it lasted for eight days. We commemorate the miracle of the oil lasting for eight days and the battle of the small against the mighty by celebrating Chanukah. We light menorahs (Chanukiyot) in our homes every night of Chanukah. We, gradually increase the light by adding one more candle each night. We follow the tradition of Hillel who believed that through the illuminating fire we can focus on our strengths instead of our weaknesses and be a light to the world!
Rabbi Sacks said that “It teaches us this fundamental truth, as relevant to our lives today as ever before: To defend a country physically you need an army, but to defend a civilisation you need education, you need educators, and you need schools. Those are the things that kept the Jewish spirit alive and the Menorah of Jewish values burning throughout the centuries in an everlasting light. Often what seems at the time to be the headline news, the military victory, is, in the hindsight of history, secondary to the cultural victory of handing your values on to the next generation. If we do that, we will ensure that our children, and theirs, light up the world” (Rabbi Sacks on Chanukah).
Perhaps this is why Parashat Miketz is read around the time of Chanukah. Our sages tell us that Yaakov taught Yosef all of his Torah. Yosef always attributed his talents to G-d. He was able to interpret dreams. As we know from last week’s Parasha, Vayeshev, Yosef interpreted the dreams of the butler and the baker. Finally, it was time to interpret the dreams of Pharaoh. Pharaoh was standing by the Nile River when seven fat cows came out of the river and grazed on the grass. Then, seven skinny cows came out of the river. The seven skinny cows ate up the fat cows. Pharaoh awoke, then fell asleep a second time. This time he dreamed about seven healthy ears of corn, behind them came seven thin ears of corn scorched by the east wind. The seven thin ears of corn ate the healthy ears of corn (Bereishit 41:1-7).
וַיְהִ֕י מִקֵּ֖ץ שְׁנָתַ֣יִם יָמִ֑ים וּפַרְעֹ֣ה חֹלֵ֔ם וְהִנֵּ֖ה עֹמֵ֥ד עַל־הַיְאֹֽר
וְהִנֵּ֣ה מִן־הַיְאֹ֗ר עֹלֹת֙ שֶׁ֣בַע פָּר֔וֹת יְפ֥וֹת מַרְאֶ֖ה וּבְרִיאֹ֣ת בָּשָׂ֑ר וַתִּרְעֶ֖ינָה בָּאָֽחוּ
וְהִנֵּ֞ה שֶׁ֧בַע פָּר֣וֹת אֲחֵר֗וֹת עֹל֤וֹת אַחֲרֵיהֶן֙ מִן־הַיְאֹ֔ר רָע֥וֹת מַרְאֶ֖ה וְדַקּ֣וֹת בָּשָׂ֑ר וַֽתַּעֲמֹ֛דְנָה אֵ֥צֶל הַפָּר֖וֹת עַל־שְׂפַ֥ת הַיְאֹֽר
וַתֹּאכַ֣לְנָה הַפָּר֗וֹת רָע֤וֹת הַמַּרְאֶה֙ וְדַקֹּ֣ת הַבָּשָׂ֔ר אֵ֚ת שֶׁ֣בַע הַפָּר֔וֹת יְפֹ֥ת הַמַּרְאֶ֖ה וְהַבְּרִיאֹ֑ת וַיִּיקַ֖ץ פַּרְעֹֽה
וַיִּישָׁ֕ן וַיַּֽחֲלֹ֖ם שֵׁנִ֑ית וְהִנֵּ֣ה | שֶׁ֣בַע שִׁבֳּלִ֗ים עֹל֛וֹת בְּקָנֶ֥ה אֶחָ֖ד בְּרִיא֥וֹת וְטֹבֽוֹת
וְהִנֵּה֙ שֶׁ֣בַע שִׁבֳּלִ֔ים דַּקּ֖וֹת וּשְׁדוּפֹ֣ת קָדִ֑ים צֹֽמְח֖וֹת אַֽחֲרֵיהֶֽן
וַתִּבְלַ֨עְנָה֙ הַשִּׁבֳּלִ֣ים הַדַּקּ֔וֹת אֵ֚ת שֶׁ֣בַע הַשִּׁבֳּלִ֔ים הַבְּרִיא֖וֹת וְהַמְּלֵא֑וֹת וַיִּיקַ֥ץ פַּרְעֹ֖ה וְהִנֵּ֥ה חֲלֽוֹם
Pharaoh awoke and wanted to find out what those dreams meant. The butler mentioned to Pharaoh a man, Yosef, who interpreted his dream. Not only does Yosef interpret the dreams, he also offers a solution. He tells Pharaoh that there will be seven years of plenty followed by seven years of scarcity. This sounds like a cycle of booms and busts. He suggests that Pharaoh hire someone to oversee storing grain during the years of plenty, so that they can use the reserves during the years of famine. Also, they would have in case people from other areas come down to Egypt, which is exactly what happened.
Yaakov sent his sons down to Egypt, all except Binyamin. Rabbi Yaakov Wolbe says that while Yosef’s brothers were in Egypt to procure food, they were also looking for Yosef. They find themselves standing in front of Yosef, only they don’t recognize him. According to Ramban, the brothers never imagined that Yosef would be a viceroy in Egypt. They never considered that Yosef had greatness of that magnitude within. He recognizes them though and puts them through a few tests to see whether they still felt ill will toward him.
The first test is the request that his brothers bring back Binyamin with them. He took Shimon and held him in Egypt, while the rest of the brothers returned home to bring back Binyamin. When they returned home, they realized that their money still in their sacks. Yehuda stands up and takes responsibility for Binyamin’s safety.
The brothers returned to Egypt with Binyamin. When Yosef saw Binyamin he invited them all to his house for a feast. Yosef inquired about his father. Yosef had to leave the room, as he was overcome with emotion. He washed his face, then returned. Each of the brothers received a portion, but Binyamin’s portion was greater than the others.
Yosef instructed his servants to fill each of their bags with food and money, and to put his silver goblet in Binyamin’s sack. This was the second test to see how they would respond. Yosef’s brothers left the city when Yosef and his men overtook them. He accused them of taking the goblet. He looked in each bag and found it in Binyamin’s bag. At the end of the Parsha, Yosef says that he will send everyone else back home, but Binyamin must stay.
We are free because we are given free choice by G-d. However, we are also characters in G-d’s divine plan. There are many things outside of our control, but we must be attentive to opportunities that cross our path. In the Chanukah story, the Jews could’ve gone along with the Greek way of life, and many of them did, but a small group stood strong and fought for their beliefs. Yosef used the opportunity to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams to create rations for the famine, which helped his own family. Eventually, he was able to reunite with his brothers, and later his father. These are also lessons for us; when opportunity knocks, will we answer the call? When we are faced with the opportunity to stand up for what is right, will we take the stand? Events are certainly aligning, and ultimately, things happen at the time they are supposed to happen. May we merit to achieve our full redemption, peace, and the coming of Mashiach speedily in our days!