Mikeitz/Chanukah – The Suddenness of Redemption

In this week’s parsha, Parshas Mikeitz, the story of Yosef continues.  After being sold at the age of seventeen, bought by Potiphar the chief executioner of Pharaoh (see Onkelos to Bereishis 39:1), then languishing in prison for the next twelve years after being framed by Eishes (Mrs.) Potiphar, Yosef suddenly finds that his fortune (or lack of, thereof), is about to change.

Pharaoh, the most powerful man in antiquity, dreams two dreams – of gaunt cows consuming robust cows and thin ears of grain consuming healthy ears of grain – and there is no one who can interpret his dreams.  Agitated, Pharaoh seeks a satisfactory explanation of his dreams. 

The שַׂר הַמַּשְׁקִים, chief butler to Pharaoh, suddenly remembers that when he was imprisoned, there was a נַעַר עִבְרִי עֶבֶד – a Hebrew youth, a slave to Potiphar – who was in jail as well, and he knew how to interpret dreams.

At the age of thirty, this נַעַר עִבְרִי עֶבֶד, who has been a slave since he was sold thirteen years ago, is about to become the CFO, COO and CEO of Ancient Egypt.  וַיִּשְׁלַח פַּרְעֹה וַיִּקְרָא אֶת-יוֹסֵף, וַיְרִיצֻהוּ מִן-הַבּוֹר; וַיְגַלַּח וַיְחַלֵּף שִׂמְלֹתָיו, וַיָּבֹא אֶל-פַּרְעֹה – So Pharaoh sent, and summoned Yosef, and they rushed him from the pit.  He shaved his hair and changed his clothes, and he came to Pharaoh (41:14). 

Providing sufficient and satisfactory interpretation of the dreams – Yosef says that seven years of plenty in Egypt will be followed by seven years of famine – Pharaoh is smitten with the Hebrew prisoner.  Yosef suggests that Pharaoh appoint someone to amass and ration the food during the years of plenty, so that Egypt will be able to survive the ensuing years of famine. 

וַיִּיטַב הַדָּבָר, בְּעֵינֵי פַרְעֹה, וּבְעֵינֵי, כָּל-עֲבָדָיו – and the matter was good in the eyes of Pharaoh and in the eyes of all his servants; And Pharaoh said to his servants, “Could we find like this – a man in whom is the spirit of G-d?”  And Pharaoh said to Yosef… אֵין-נָבוֹן וְחָכָם, כָּמוֹךָ, there is no one as discerning and wise as you! אַתָּה תִּהְיֶה עַל-בֵּיתִי, וְעַל-פִּיךָ יִשַּׁק כָּל-עַמִּי; רַק הַכִּסֵּא, אֶגְדַּל מִמֶּךָּ – You shall be over my house and by your command shall all my people be sustained; only by the throne shall I outrank you (41:37-40).

And suddenly, in the proverbial blink of an eye, from hated brother to dreamer, from youth to man, from slave block to throne, from jail to palace… Yosef the Dreamer becomes Yosef the Ruler

When Yosef least expected it, redemption arrived.  Who would have thought that Yosef the dreamer, the foolish, hated youth, expelled from his home, his family and his land, would ever amount to anything…?  Who amongst mortals would have believed that the moment G-d desired him ruler instead of slave, at that very moment, redemption would arrive…?

The Sages teach כל מה שאירע לאבות סימן לבנים – all that happened to our forefathers (in the book of Bereishis) is a foreshadowing for future generations (see Ramban to Bereishis 12:6).  As Yosef was redeemed in the land of Egypt, when he least expected it, so too, hundreds of years later, the Bnei Yisrael would be redeemed from Egypt. 

R’ Soloveitchik zt’l teaches, “Genuine geulah (redemption) always comes suddenly, unexpectedly, at a time when people are ready to give up hope.  Sometimes historical situations keep deteriorating; people pray and cry, begging for mercy – but there is no answer to their prayer, only silence.  At that moment, when the crisis reaches its maximum and threatens the very existence of the community, when people begin to give up, the geulah suddenly comes and takes them out of the land of affliction. It comes in the middle of the night and knocks on the door when no one expects it, when everybody is skeptical about it, when everybody laughs off the possibility of redemption. 

“This is what happened in Egypt…When the crisis reached its climax… Moshe came.  At the beginning, he was very far from successful; apparently, the plagues did not convince the Jews that redemption was near.  They did not expect Divine revelation that night.  Indeed, this is the most important feature of geulas Mitzrayim.  The redemption from Egypt consisted not only of the fact that our ancestors went from slavery to freedom, but, more importantly, that this redemption and the revelation of the Almighty were a surprise to them.  This is the nature of geulah” (The Seder Night: An Exalted Evening, p.99-100). 

And is this not the story of the miracle of Chanukah? 

Many Jews in the land of Israel had assimilated and gone to the other side.  The Misyavnim (Hellenists) had throw off the crown of Torah to live by the Greek culture and ways.  The Temple was desecrated and in ruins.  The enemy army was huge.  The Jewish battalions were but few and weak.  The golden menorah had been lost and hope for oil to be found in the defiled Temple was minimal to none.

And who would have believed that a small band of brothers could lead a Jewish army to victory?  And who would have believed the light of Torah would yet shine from the deepest darkness of assimilation?  And who would have believed one flask of oil, enough for one night, burned for eight nights?  And who would have believed that at the very moment Hashem willed the redemption to arrive, so it would?

כל מה שאירע לאבות סימן לבנים – The story of Yosef is always read before-during-after Chanukah, for Yosef is the “Chanukah Jew.”  Many are the connections between Yosef and Chanukah, yet perhaps, most impactfully and most hopefully, is the story of redemption that links Yosef to Chanukah.

When everyone had given up on the slave who was languishing in the dungeon for thirteen years (!), and when all hope seemed lost for the light and truth of Torah and mitzvos to shine once again, exactly then, redemption came. 

The Ribbono Shel Olam (Master of the World) has a Divine plan which is unfathomable to us.  Yet just as redemption came for Yosef, and Moshe came for the Jews suffering under the tyranny of Pharaonic Egypt, and the Maccabbim miraculously won against the huge Syrian-Greek army, so too, exactly when G-d wills it – no matter how bleak and dark the world may seem – at that moment, redemption will arrive.

שעשה ניסים לאבותינו בימים ההם בזמן הזה – May it be immediate and in our time.

בברכת חנוכה שמח, חודש טוב, ושבת שלום,


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