I often marvel at and how Ezra and those of the Great Assembly with Divine inspiration divided and scheduled the weekly portion we read each Shabbat and how each Perasha seems to synchronize so well with the time of the year. This week’s portion, Miketz is almost always read during Hanukah. We must keep in mind that the Holiday of Hanukah is the last of our holidays and occurs about 200 years after Ezra, about 300 years after Esther and the Purim story and about 1000 years after the Torah was given. Still a quick search yields dozens and dozens of hints, some almost absolutely amazing. A few of my favorites are:
Throughout the Torah at the end of every perashah there is a note listing the number of verses in that portion. For some reason, at the end of the Parshat Miketz, in addition to giving the number of pesukim, we are also told that there are 2,025 words in the parshah. Why is it necessary to know the amount of words? The Vilna Gaon suggests that because one might wonder whether the words Poti Phera are a single or two words, the answer is given by summarizing the total. The Torah Temimah on the other hand suggests that these 2,025 words serve as a hint for the Holiday of Hanukah. The Rabbis tell us that beginning on the 25th we light candles for eight nights. The mitzvah can be fulfilled with only one candle each night for the entire household. In Hebrew a word for candle is “ner” which has the numerical value of 250. Eight times 250 equals 2,000. And the rabbis teach that the event of lighting candles starts on the 25th day in the month of Kislev. Thus, 2,025 alludes to the 25th of Kislev and eight candles.
Upon giving advice to Pharaoh, Joseph suggests that Pharaoh appoint someone to prepare the land. He uses the word VeChimesh which some rabbis interpret as suggesting a tax of 20% (the word can also mean a fifth) over the course of the years of plenty to preserve something for the years of famine. But these letters Chet,mem and shin can also suggest something else. According to the Midrash, the Syrian-Greeks forbade the Jewish people from declaring Rosh Hodesh and using their calendar – virtually eliminating the holidays. They also prohibited milah — circumcision — and Shabbat. The word “chimeish” (חמש) — “prepare” — is an acronym for these three edicts. The “chet” is for “Hodesh” — month — the “mem”is for “milah” — circumcision — and the “shin” is for Shabbat. Why these three?
The Greeks believed in the perfection of nature and held the human body as a work of art as we see through their paintings and sculpture. Brit or circumcision says that it is up to man to take what G-d gives him and through his actions, man brings about perfection. To the Greeks there was no interfering with the system. The declaration of the new moon fits into a similar concept. The Greeks saw themselves subject to the stars, constellations and fate. Declaring a new moon meant it was in the hand of the Jewish people to determine which day fell when.
More so, the declaration of a leap year adding a month meant that the Jews in essence saw themselves as above the stars and able to influence it. Finally Shabbat serves as a declaration that Hashem not only created the world, but continues to be involved with us on a moment by moment basis. The Greeks felt that there was certainly something to creation, but that creator set a system in place and moved on. Shabbat is Berit Olam LeDorotam – an eternal covenant through generations and declares the opposite.
(Keep in mind every time you tell someone Hanukah Sameyach or Happy Hanukah, the word Sameyach is formed from those same letters, reminding us of what the war was truly about, Shabbat, Milah and Hodesh – all attesting to man’s relationship with G-d and G-d’s relationship with man.)
At the beginning of the portion, we are told about Pharaoh’s two dreams. In his first dream he saw seven heavy and strong cows and seven thin cows. The seven emaciated cows swallowed the seven fat cows, yet still remained skinny as before. In the second dream Pharaoh saw seven full stalks of grain and seven withered ones. The wasted stalks swallowed the thick ones but remained thin and withered as before. Why couldn’t any of the professionals in Pharaoh’s court explain what to us seems obvious?
As the Greeks after them, the Egyptians believed in the rule of nature where only the strong survive. They held that according to the guidelines of reason and nature it is impossible for the weak to overpower the mighty or for the few to conquer the many. The magicians of Egypt were bewildered by Pharaoh’s dreams and were thus required to put forward poor explanations to make sense of the visions. Yosef explained that by man’s rules or nature, it was impossible to understand, but by G-d’s rules, even the impossible is possible and that the strong can be overcome by the weak, that the majority can be subordinate to the minority. Pharaoh admitted that Yosef was right. He praised Joseph for his interpretation and for introducing a new methodology of logic and reasoning. Pharaoh confirmed “There is no one so discerning and wise as you”.
We add to our amidah prayer and birkat Hamazon, the text of Al Hanisim which states that the miracle of Hanukah was that the many were delivered into the hand of few and the strong into the hand of the weak. This is the exact opposite of what the Greeks believed was possible.
There are many others which can easily search for on line, but let me suggest a final comparison. The opening words of the portion are, “And it came to pass at the end of two years”. The Midrash tells us that God “put an end to the darkness. A fixed amount of time was given to Joseph – a number of years in the darkness of the prison. When the time came for him to be redeemed, Pharaoh dreamed his dream…” The rabbis suggest that these last two years in prison were perhaps the most difficult and darkest for Joseph. After all he was instrumental in interpreting the dream of Pharaoh’s officers and asked the Sar HaMashkim to remember him. It would be only natural that Joseph could expect the favor to be returned. Yet, he sat and must have wondered. And it was only two years later, on Rosh Hashana, as Hashem sat on his seat of judgment that Joseph was summoned from the darkness of the dungeon and overnight advanced to the height of royalty and the bright lights of adulation. I can’t help but think of the words of King David, “Even though I sit in darkness, G-d is my light.”
We call Hanukah, the festival of lights. Each evening we are commanded to light the menorah and the rabbis suggest that after lighting, one should ponder the flames, and view them as containing something of the mystical “Or HaGanuz” or the hidden light. We learn that on the first day of creation, Hashem created light, but on the fourth day, the sun. We are told that this primordial light was then hidden away. One place where we can access this all seeing and healing light is in the thirty-six primary candles of Hanukah. These thirty-six candles parallel the thirty-six hours during which the primordial Original Light served Adam before eventually being stored away. But it takes man’s actions, the action of lighting to reveal that light.
Let’s close with a final thought, one which really shows the difference between the Jewish people and the Greeks (and all mankind).
The Talmud teaches that Adam created in Late September noticed during the first three months of his life how the days slowly became shorter and shorter – He said: Woe to me, because of my sin the world is getting darker [as soon there would be no more light] and will return to a world of darkness and confusion. This must be my ‘death sentence’. Instead of accepting this imminent fate, Adam overcame his depression and took upon himself to fast, pray and repent. After eight days, Adam noticed that the days indeed had begun to lengthen. Realizing that this is ‘minhago shel olam’ [the way of the world or nature], he made a celebration for eight days giving thanksgiving to the Almighty. The next year, he made these days holidays.
The Rabbis explain that Adam had good intentions when making these holidays; however his offspring turned them into holidays of idol worship or better yet, nature worship. The Talmud tells us that this is the origin of Saturna and Kalanda which we explained eventually became Christmas and New Years.
The pagans celebrated this holiday as one of rebirth, of darkness into light and of the way of the world, of nature. This is the way of the world and this is reason to rejoice.
We too celebrate a holiday of light, where the flame can pierce and break the darkness, but in our holiday it is man who contributes, it is man who lights the flame and celebrates not nature but the miracle.
The world celebrates nature where the strong defeat the weak and the many oppress the few. They celebrate a world created and abandoned to the laws of the stars and of nature. The Jew Celebrates a world where G-d is not only the creator, but he is intrinsically involved in our world. The Jew celebrates a world in which he is given a task and plays a role in perfecting it. The Jew celebrates his role in rising above the stars and the laws of fate. We must remember that the hidden light, the Ohr HaGanuz hidden in the candles we light is also hidden within us and it’s our responsibility to shine for all the world to see.
By: Rabbi David Bibi