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Genesis 41:1-44:17

Nearly every year Parashat Mikeitz is read in conjunction with the celebration of Hanukkah. Can we find any parallel or insight in this week’s Torah portion that relates to Hanukkah? A few of our rabbis (particularly Rabbi Yaakov Weinberg) have brought insight into this correlation. Our parashah tells us:

And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I have had a dream, and there is no one who can interpret it. I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.” Joseph answered Pharaoh, “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.” (Genesis 41:15–16)

In this instance we read that Joseph is brought before Pharaoh to interpret his dream. Pharaoh begins his conversation with Joseph by giving him credit for being able to interpret dreams. Rather than taking credit himself, Joseph deflects this statement and gives proper recognition to God as the true interpreter of dreams. Joseph is a true example of humility. In him we see a firm reliance upon God. He realizes that everything that happens to him—every success and every failure—is in the hands of Heaven. He is only the vessel through which the Creator can do His will. He shined his light before Pharaoh. A single candle amidst the darkness of Egypt.

We see this in the leadership of Judah Maccabee as well:

And Judah and his brethren saw that evils were multiplied, and that the armies approached to their borders, and they knew the orders the king had given to destroy the people and utterly abolish them. And they said every man to his neighbor, “Let us raise up the low condition of our people, and let us fight for our people, and our sanctuary.” And the assembly was gathered that they might be ready for battle, and that they might pray, and ask mercy and compassion. (1 Maccabees 3:42–44)

An Inspiration for Hanukkah

Winter has come, and with it the days have grown colder and shorter. The trees have resigned their leaves, the grass has been lulled to sleep and lost its color, and the warm sunlight of summer has retreated in place of a weak and apathetic replica of the same. Darkness pushes ever so firmly against the light that it seems the days are but a single breath between the long nights. Peering beyond frosted glass, the frozen blackness consumes any light too weak to withstand its shadowless embrace. A deafening silence settles in among the houses and trees, gently smothering the distant sounds of fading traffic. Outside all is cold, dark, depressing. Yet, it appears a minuscule and lonesome light flickers in the distance through a frozen window. Barely visible, the flame of a single candle dances to a silent, pulsating melody. In stark contrast to the bleakness of a winter night, this candle frantically struggles to give forth its light while swaying and swooning to keep time with a song only it can hear.

But if we look longer and more intently we make out another window also with a single candle, another small, flickering flame waging war against the harsh winter night. And if we look harder, we see another, and yet another. It seems there are battles of light and darkness being fought all around, a virtual war zone in which the outwardly insignificant flames of individual candles are beginning to press back the darkness. The night is becoming brighter, and a once hopeless cause now seems to be coming to life, lead by these individual flickering flames dancing to the same silent song.

Parashat Vayeishev begins the story of Joseph. When we first encounter him, he is a seventeen year old young man. We learn that his father, Jacob, had a special love for him above all of his eleven brothers. He was loved so much that his father had given him a special and highly recognizable garment that distinguished him from among his brothers. This disproportionate love stirred up jealousy from his brothers and fostered their resentment toward him. That resentment eventually turned to a genuine hatred of Joseph and caused his brothers to plot to do away with him.

As the story goes, one day Jacob tells Joseph to go out to the land of Shechem where his older brothers were watching over the flock. He was to check in on them and see how they were doing and then report back to his father. His father knew he would give him the scoop on what his other sons were really doing while they were away from home with the flock. His brothers probably called him the Little Snitch. And being his father’s spy didn’t earn Joseph any brownie points with his brothers. It only stirred up more hatred toward him.

When Joseph finally tracked down his brothers, his presence was not well received. As a matter of fact, when they saw him coming in the distance, they conspired on how they could kill him. Fortunately Reuben, the eldest brother, dissuaded his brothers from actually killing Joseph and instead convinced them to throw him into a pit until he could come up with a plan of what to do with him. The description of their throwing Joseph into the pit, however, is interesting. The Torah says, “And they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it” (Genesis 37:24). Since the Torah tells us that the pit was empty, why does it have to follow this up by letting us know there was no water in it? Why wasn’t it sufficient to simply let us know that the pit was empty?

Parashat Vayishlach (Genesis 32:3-36:43)

When Shechem first saw Dinah, he immediately desired her. He knew he needed to do whatever it took to get her. Our English translations make it appear that he simply found her alone and had his way with her. It says, “he seized her and lay with her and humiliated [or violated] her” (Genesis 34:2). The next verse, however, seems to indicate that Shechem had a genuine love for Dinah. It says, “And his soul was drawn to Dinah the daughter of Jacob. He loved the young woman and spoke tenderly to her” (Genesis 34:3). Even more confusing is the midrash’s account of how Dinah was rescued from Shechem. Commenting on the Torah’s account that they “took Dinah out of Shechem’s house,” Rabbi Judah says, “They dragged her out [against her will] and departed” (Midrash Rabbah 80:11 commenting on Genesis 34:26).

At first, this doesn’t seem reasonable. It seems clear from a plain reading of the text that Dinah was being held against her wishes. A quick examination of the Hebrew, however, helps shed light on this. In Hebrew, the phrase, “[he] spoke tenderly to her,” in verse three is more literally translated, “he spoke to the heart of the young woman” (vayidaber al lev hana’ara). It seems that Shechem was what we call a “smooth talker.” Whether their relationship began with this smooth talk or not, it seems clear that Dinah’s emotions were being played upon at some point along the way and kept her from leaving him. In today’s terminology, we would call situations like this codependency. In a codependent situation, a woman will continually return to her husband after being abused because she believes his love for her is sincere, despite his abusive behavior. This isn’t rational behavior.


Latest Book Review

The Magerman Edition

Author: Daniel Rose & Jay Goldmintz
Publisher: Koren Publishers
Year: 2014

The Koren Ani Tefilla Siddur is one of the latest in Koren’s growing collection of siddurim (prayer books) geared towards a specific demographic. Koren describes Ani Tefilla as “an engaging and thought-provoking siddur for the inquiring high school student and thoughtful adult.” Koren says that Ani Tefillah has been developed in order “to help the user create their own meaning and connection during the Tefilla [prayer] experience.” The name of the siddur is connected with its objective. Ani Tefilla means “I pray.” 


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