Parshas Mikeitz – The Land of Affliction

In this week’s parsha, Parshas Mikeitz, Yosef the slave, the prisoner, the unwanted, suddenly becomes Yosef the viceroy.  After Pharaoh dreams two disturbing dreams that no one can interpret to his satisfaction, the chief butler remembers that there is a Hebrew lad in jail who can successfully interpret dreams. וַיִּשְׁלַח פַּרְעֹה וַיִּקְרָא אֶתיוֹסֵף, וַיְרִיצֻהוּ מִןהַבּוֹר; וַיְגַלַּח וַיְחַלֵּף שִׂמְלֹתָיו וַיָּבֹא אֶלפַּרְעֹהAnd Pharaoh sent and called Yosef, and they rushed him from the pit, and he shaved and changed his clothes, and he came to Pharaoh (Bereishis 41:14).  After Yosef correctly interprets Pharaoh’s dreams, noting that there will be seven years of plenty, during which they must stockpile food, followed by seven years of famine, Pharaoh appoints Yosef as the viceroy.  אַתָּה֙ תִּֽהְיֶ֣ה עַל־בֵּיתִ֔י וְעַל־פִּ֖יךָ יִשַּׁ֣ק כָּל־עַמִּ֑י רַ֥ק הַכִּסֵּ֖א אֶגְדַּ֥ל מִמֶּֽךָּAnd Pharaoh said to Yosef… You shall be over my household, and through your command all my people shall be nourished; only through the throne will I be greater than you (v.40).

Now ruler, at the age of thirty, Yosef is renamed by Pharaoh as Tzefanas Pa’nei’ach, and he is given Osnas bas Poti-Perah as a wife.  During the seven years of plenty, Yosef fathers two sons: the bechor, Menashe, “for G-d has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house”, and the younger son, Ephraim, “כִּֽי־הִפְרַ֥נִי אלקים בְּאֶ֥רֶץ עָנְיִֽי, for G-d has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering” (v.45-52).

On the name Ephraim, the Da’as Zekeinim teaches:

קרא אפרים. על שם אבות אברהם ויצחק שנאבהם אפר. אברהם שנאמר ואנכי עפר ואפר. יצחק כאפר על גבי המזבח דאפרים משמע שתי אפרות. ולכך נקראו ישראל על שם אפרים שנאהבן יקיר לי אפרים

(And to the second son) He called Ephraim: Ephraim [from the root word אפר, ashes], as a reference to the forefathers, Avraham and Yitzchak.  About Avraham, the pasuk says: אנכי עפר ואפר, I am but dust and ashes (18:27), and Yitzchak was like ashes when he was bound on the altar (Gen.22).  Hence, the name אפרים, plural, as in אפר x 2, which is a reference to these two afarot, two instances of ashes.  One of Avraham, and the other Yitzchak.  And that is why Israel is called Ephraim, as the verse says: הֲבֵן֩ יַקִּ֨יר לִ֜י אֶפְרַ֗יִם, Is Ephraim a dear son to Me?  (Jer.31:19).

Perhaps Yosef understood that no matter how powerful a person becomes, he is only but dust and ashes compared to the Absolute Power of the RS”O, and that all his success comes from Him.  Furthermore, with a reference to the two afarot of the Avos, Yosef was imbuing the chain of the mesorah into his children who were born and bred in galus, in Egypt, a land far away – both spiritually and religiously – from the land of their fathers.  Do not forget, he was telling his children, the sacrifices of Avraham, and that of Yitzchak, in their quest to serve G-d their entire lives.  Even when those around them mocked their ways, they clung to the Truth and led a saintly way of life.  This would be a beacon of light and guidance for his sons who were raised in exile.  

The sefer Peninim on the Torah notes, “As Yosef named his second son, he chose to emphasize that Egypt was not his home; it was אֶ֥רֶץ עָנְיִֽי, the land of my suffering, even though this land had become the source of his eminence!  Here, he had become known; here, he had become wealthy and powerful; here, he went from being a lowly slave to associate ruler of the country.  Yet, he wanted to remember and inculcate this idea in his children: Egypt is not our home; it is אֶ֥רֶץ עָנְיִֽי, the land of aniyus – affliction, suffering and poverty.

“Rav Chizkiyahu Cohen zt’l comments that the greatest ‘ani,’ poor man, is an ‘ani b’daas,’ one who is deficient in his mind, one who lacks wisdom.  In Egypt, Yosef was far removed from daas Torah, the Torah perspective of his father.  Yosef sought to convey to his sons that Egypt was the land where they happened to live.  It was not, however, their home.  It was a land whose values, cultures and lifestyle were antithetical to the way of life mandated for a Jew.  Egyptian ‘weltanschauung’ did not represent the Torah point of view and way of life… In naming his son, Yosef was telling him to (always) perceive Egypt as a land foreign to the Jewish way of life” (Peninim on the Torah, 11th Series, p.68-69).

Noting that the story of Yosef is always read during Chanukah, R’ Avrohom Pam zt’l derives an important lesson in regard to our current exile and neiros Chanukah.  “There is a halachic requirement of pirsumei nissa, to publicize the miracle of the oil.  For Jews living outside Eretz Yisrael, this expresses itself in the menorah usually being placed at the front window of the home.  Yet, is it necessary for the window shade to be completely open to show off not only the menorah but the entire dining room or living room area?  Is it necessary that the window coverings remain open for hours after the last candle has been extinguished, thereby allowing every passerby, especially non-Jews, to observe what is going on in the home, and the many possessions and luxuries contained therein?  That is certainly not a part of the mitzvah and can arouse the jealousy of non-Jews who see how much their Jewish neighbors have.

“Jews must live their lives in a ‘low-key’ way and not forget that even in the hospitable, comfortable atmosphere of the medinah shel chessed, America, they are still in galus.  When non-Jews, especially poor ones, see the opulence in the homes of their Jewish neighbors, it does not lead to good things.  Therefore, while taking all necessary precautions to keep the menorah a safe distance from any window coverings that can catch fire, it is prudent advice that the shades be kept closed as much as possible” (A Vort from Rav Pam, p.72).

כִּֽי־הִפְרַ֥נִי אלקים בְּאֶ֥רֶץ עָנְיִֽי, for G-d has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering.  While our nation may be fruitful and successful in our current exile, let us remember that to Yosef ha’Tzadik, no matter how much power he yielded, how many riches riches he had, and how great was his leadership… he was in galus, and galus, by definition, is the land of our affliction.  

Perhaps, when we truly desire the dust of the Land, as did Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov and Yosef, then we will merit to be returned to her, in everlasting peace.  כִּֽי־רָצ֣וּ עֲ֖בָדֶיךָ אֶת־אֲבָנֶ֑יהָ וְאֶת־עֲפָרָ֥הּ יְחֹנֵֽנוּFor Your servants desired its stones and favored its dust (Tehilim 102:15).

בברכת חודש טוב, חנוכה שמח, ושבת שלום


1 Comment
  • Shoshana Zakon
    Posted at 11:37h, 16 December

    Truly miss your shiurim in Ohel.

    Chag sameach.

    Shoshana Zakon