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Parashat Miketz and Shabbat Hanukkah - 5777

Dear friends,

This week's Parasha, Miketz, tells the story of Joseph's extraordinary change in fortune - his rise from a slave in prison, 'the pit',  to the highest position in the country as viceroy of the land of Egypt.

At the end of last week's Parasha, we read how Joseph interpreted the butler's dream and told him that he would be released in three days and would be reinstated to his position as Pharaoh's butler. Joseph at that time begged him to plead for him before Pharaoh and help him get out of jail because he was innocent of all charges. Did the butler help him? No. The last verse in last week's portion emphasizes, "The chief butler did not think of Joseph and he forgot him." (Genesis 40:23) Now, two years later, Pharaoh had these two dreams:

". . . while standing on the Nile, he sees seven cows come out of the Nile. These seven cows are handsome and sturdy, and grazing in the reed grass. And then seven other cows came up from the Nile close behind them, ugly and gaunt, and stood beside the cows on the bank of the Nile, and the ugly gaunt cows ate up the seven handsome sturdy cows. And Pharaoh awoke."

"He fell asleep and dreamed a second time: seven ears of grain, solid and healthy, grew on a single stalk, But close behind them sprouted seven ears, thin and scorched by the east wind, and the thin ears swallowed up the seven solid and full ears. Then Pharaoh awoke: it was a dream." (Genesis 41:1-7)

We are familiar with the story. Pharaoh is agitated because of these dreams, and none of his advisors and magicians could interpret them to Pharaoh. That's when the butler tells Pharaoh about this young Hebrew slave, who is in prison and who interpreted his and the baker's dreams correctly. Pharaoh sends for Joseph, they rush him from the pit. He is given a haircut and new clothes, and he appears before Pharaoh.

Three important observations from this week's Parasha:

1) This Parasha is always read during the week of Hanukah. Does the story of Joseph have anything to do with Hanukah? The truth - nothing. However, Joseph's story can be compared to the story of Hanukah.  The miracle in the Hanukah light is that a small amount of oil could burn for eight days and bring light to the people. Hanukah is the story of hope that, even during the darkest moments, when Israel was under Greco-Syrian rule, the Maccabees, few in number, stood up against an overwhelming force and liberated their land and their people. Joseph was able to bring an end to the darkness and confusion that enveloped the king's palace because of the dreams Pharaoh had when no one could enlighten him as to their meaning. Joseph's interpretation and recommendations saved Egypt and the region from certain famine and suffering.

Joseph, a young Hebrew slave who spent a total of 12 years in prison, could have been crushed by the tragic events since his exile from his home and family, but he survived and rose to the highest and most powerful position because he never gave up.  That's a miracle - the victory of the spirit, even against all odds.

2) Why does this Parasha emphasize that this story happened two years after the butler was released? Our sages explain that Joseph was condemned to ten years in prison, but because he placed his faith in the butler, he had to serve an additional two years.

3) The question is always asked: What was so unique about Joseph's interpretation of Pharaoh's dreams that there will be seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine? Listening to the dream, even a child could give such an interpretation. Why were Pharaoh's wise men and magicians stumped and unable to interpret the dream to Pharaoh's satisfaction? It seems that the detail in the dream that baffled the Egyptian wise men was the word 'they stood'. Had the ugly and gaunt cows come up after the good ones and replaced them, anyone could have interpreted that seven years of plenty will be followed by seven years of famine. In his dream, Pharaoh saw the ugly and gaunt cows come up and stand by the good cows - as if the plenty and famine were happening at the same time. This bothered the wise men. How can good and bad be there at the same time?

Joseph's successful interpretation consisted of his recommendation which he gave without even being asked. That Pharaoh must start planning for the years of famine from the very start of the years of plenty. That is why the dream showed that they stood side by side. Joseph detailed the importance of preparing for the years of famine immediately, throughout the years of plenty. That pleased Pharaoh and the wise men.

These three messages are important in our individual lives. Even during dark moments and challenges in our lives, we cannot give up hope. Think of Joseph, the Hanukah light and the Maccabees. Always rely on your own efforts and God's help. Do not place your faith in the hands of humans.

Good and bad go hand in hand. We must strive for the good and be grateful to God for the good things in our lives by showing appreciation and helping spread more goodness in this world.

Wishing you Shabbat Shalom and a Happy Hanukah!

Avram