Parshas Mikeitz – Shabbos Chanukah - The Jewish Voice
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Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Parshas Mikeitz – Shabbos Chanukah

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Artist’s rendition of the biblical Joseph as Viceroy of Egypt

In this week`s parsha we read the dramatic story of Joseph who is now Viceroy of Egypt meeting his brethren after 22 years of separation.


The brothers do not recognize Joseph and when he accuses them of espionage they are overcome by trepidation. They immediately attribute their troubles to the heinous sin that they committed so long ago when they sold Joseph into slavery. In voices full of torment, they cry out,”Aval” – “Indeed”,, we are guilty concerning our brother inasmuch as we saw his heartfelt anguish when he pleaded with us, and we paid no heed; that is why this trouble has befallen us” (Genesis, 42-21) The brothers could of course, have ascribed Joseph`s accusation to the whim of a mad Egyptian despot, but herein lies their greatness. Instead of shifting blame, they searched their souls and looked within themselves.

We can appreciate the depth of their self-scrutiny through an examination of the Hebrew word “aval” – “indeed” which has a double meaning. It can also be translated as “but”. At first glance, these disparate words appear contradictory. The Torah however, is teaching us a profound lesson. Most people, when explaining themselves, prefer to use the word “aval” as “but” to justify their negative behavior. They readily concede that their conduct was incorrect, but then they then go on to say “But, there were mitigating circumstances beyond their control,” thus giving themselves license to continue to follow the same ill begotten path.

The brothers – the tribal patriarchs of the Jewish people, taught us how to repent, how to shed our bad habits and improve our character traits. They use the word “aval” not as “but” (a loophole), but rather as “indeed,” meaning, “Yes indeed” we have sinned, we are accountable – and thus they showed the path of repentance for all generations.

On Yom Kippur, when we confess, we repeat these very words – “Aval anachnu chatanu…” – “Indeed, We have sinned – no ifs ands or buts.” Our sin came about because we used the word “aval” as a rationalization to justify our misbehavior. So when people say, “I know I did such and such, “but”, they give themselves license to continue along the same corrupt path. The brothers however, reversed all that and confessed without excuses – “Indeed, we have sinned.” To make such a confession is very painful and because of that, most people shy away from it. It`s so much more convenient to blame circumstances, but if we are to change, if we are to grow spiritually, we must find the courage for honest introspection, as agonizing as that may be.

Most of us are good and decent people. It is the excuses that we make with “but” that allow us to stray from the path. We have a choice…we can emulate the tribal patriarchs by saying “Indeed,” – grow, change and realize our potential, or we can indulge ourselves with “but” and sink into our weaknesses. It all depends on us.


In this parsha, we also find Joseph confronting the difficult challenge of bringing up his two sons in a hostile environment in which there were no other Jews to be found. To insure their Jewish survival, Joseph made certain to give them only Jewish names and, perhaps even more significantly, was a perfect role model, for he lived what he preached. Although Pharaoh gave him an Egyptian name – Zaphenath-paneah – Joseph never used it. The Torah states that it was Joseph (not Zaphenath-paneah) who “emerged in charge of the land of Egypt.” (Genesis 41:45)

Joseph’s example was emulated by all our forefathers. Our sages teach that one of the reasons why our ancestors were deemed worthy of redemption was that they never altered their Jewish names. To this very day, whenever we bless our sons, we do so by beseeching G-d to make our sons like Ephraim and Menashe – the sons of Joseph who carried their Jewish names with great pride, total commitment, and unflinching loyalty.

We would do well to emulate the example of Joseph and call our children by their Jewish names, not only on special ceremonial occasions, but at all times. These names not only remind us of our Bubbies and Zeides, but they also invest us with a sense of history. They charge us with our legacy, with our responsibilities as Jews. “Shem Yisroel Kodosh – “a Jewish name is holy.” Let us not lose sight of the awesome gift that our names represent.


The kabalah teaches us that the last day of Chanukah is invested with great sanctity. It is the time when the process that was commenced with the month of Elul – Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur is sealed. G-d, in His infinite compassion gives us yet another chance to come close to Him and return to Torah and mitzvos. Let us seize the moment and make this last day of Chanukah a time to commit to more Torah study, more chesed, more acts of loving kindness, more mitzvot and more prayers

Rabbi Osher Jungreis

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