Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Miketz
To dedicate this lesson

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Asher Ishaayahu Ben Rivka

The Power of Trust

The link between the feast of Joseph and his brothers in Egypt and the customary festive meal of Chanukah becomes clear. They together represent the attribute of trust in the Almighty.


Rabbi David Dov Levanon

Kislev, 5762
1. "Tevo'ach Tevach VeHakhen"
2. The Chief Steward's Dream and its Significance
3. "Yet they did not recognize him"

"Tevo'ach Tevach VeHakhen"
Halakhic authorities found a Biblical allusion which supports the custom of celebrating Chanukah with a festive meal. It appears in the Torah portion "MiKetz" - which always falls during the Festival of Chanukah - where it is told that Joseph prepared a feast for his brothers. The expression used there is, "Tevo'ach Tevach VeHakhen" ("Butcher an animal and prepare it"), and it contains the Hebrew letters of the word Chanukah.
What, though, does the feast that Joseph held in Egypt for his brothers have to do with the festive meal we eat during Chanukah?

Perhaps this can be best explained in light of the words of the following Midrash: "The word 'VeHakhen' (prepare) is a clear reference to Sabbath, as it is written: 'And on the sixth day prepare...' From here we learn that Joseph observed the Sabbath even before it was commanded [at Mount Sinai]" (Bereshit Rabbah 92:4).

It appears, then, that Scripture here refers to the Sabbath meal, and that there seems to be a connection between the Sabbath meal and Chanukah. The Sabbath meal teaches us the attribute of trust in the Almighty: While in the Wilderness, the Children of Israel did not go out and collect manna on Sabbath. They relied upon what they had prepared on the sixth day. By virtue of the merit of Sabbath, their bread was blessed and they received a double portion. Basing themselves upon this, the Sages taught that even if one does not manage to finish all his preparations before the Sabbath enters, "consider it as if your work had been completed" (Yalkut Shimoni, Yithro).

Similarly, during the Festival of Chanukah we commemorate the great trust in God displayed by the Hasmonean priests whom, though few in number, dared to do battle with many; though weak, dared to do battle with the strong. Upon entering the Sanctuary they set about both purifying and repairing it. Despite the fact that there was only enough oil to burn for one day, they kindled the lights of the Menorah, an act which demonstrated their great faith in God. It was for this reason that they merited the miracle of the jar of oil.

It has therefore become a custom to hold a festive meal on Chanukah which is reminiscent of a Sabbath meal. Songs of praise and thanks are sung, and it serves to strengthen faith in God.

If we take a close look, we will find that the theme of trust in God plays a central role in this week's Torah portion, and a number of profound ideas are to be learned from it.
The Midrash teaches: "Praiseworthy is he who places his faith in God," - this refers to Joseph, "and does not turn to Egyptians" - because he said to the chief steward, "When things go well for you, just remember that I was with you," two years were added to his prison sentence. (Bereshit Rabbah 89:2)
On the face of things, the Midrash contradicts itself. On the one hand it refers to Joseph as one who places his faith in God - "Fortunate is he who places his faith in God," - this refers to Joseph. - On the other hand, it states that he turned to Egyptians, i.e., he did not trust in God.

Rabbi Yoseph Dov Soloveitchik in his classic "Beit HaLevi" explains that for Joseph - concerning whom it says, "Fortunate is he who places his faith in God," - even this very slight effort should have been unnecessary. It was therefore considered a "turn to Egyptians."
It would seem that Joseph's sin lay not in the realm of action, but in the realm of thought. Joseph was free to take action in order to save himself, for it is forbidden to sit back and rely on miracles. His shortcoming was in his inner feeling - his feeling that he had been forgotten by the Almighty. The Sages sensed this in the repetitive language Joseph used when speaking with the chief steward - "Remember that I was with you…" "Say something about me to Pharaoh..." This appears to indicate that he had been "forgotten" by the Almighty, and was pleading to be remembered; this was no doubt a sin for somebody of his level. Truly speaking, the opposite was true. God was with Joseph. "I am with him in his difficult hour." The Sages of the Midrash relate: " 'The chief steward did not remember' - all day long he [the chief steward] would make conditions, and an angel would come along an upset them; tie knots, and an angel would come and untie them. God said, 'You forget him but I will not forget him.' " i.e. according to the laws of nature, the chief steward did remember Joseph, only that the Almighty wanted to demonstrate that even if the chief steward were to forget, He Himself would not forget.

In truth, there was no Divine forgetfulness here. The time for his liberation had not yet arrived, as our Sages say regarding the passage, " 'And it came to pass at the end of two years' - He put an end to the darkness. Time was given to the world, a number of years in darkness... 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." On the face of things, Joseph's interpreting Pharaoh's dream was the reason for his being released from jail, yet the Sages understood these events on a deeper level. When the time for Joseph's redemption came, Pharaoh dreamed a dream, and as a result, his release from the prison became possible.

The Chief Steward's Dream and its Significance
When was Joseph's release from prison supposed to take place?
On the one hand, the Midrash tells us that "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." From here, it appears that it had been preordained that Joseph would be freed from jail after twelve years. On the other hand, the Midrash states that it was decreed that Joseph remain in prison for an additional two years because he sinned by not placing complete trust in God. Were it not for Joseph's sin he would have been released two years earlier. These two midrashic sources seem to contradict each other.

It would appear that Joseph was truly supposed to spend twelve years in jail, as he did. Notwithstanding, the possibility existed of his being released before the affixed deadline. This possibility offered itself two years before Joseph's actual release, when he interpreted correctly the dream of the chief steward. The chief steward's dream, and its solution, was intended to cause Joseph himself to consider his own situation and to interpret his own "dream" positively. Everything depends how the dream is interpreted, for "dreams merely follow speech." Is it not written, "And as he interpreted it, so it came to pass" (Genesis 41:13). The lesson, then, is that if an individual trusts in God, and believes that "from the mouth of God neither good nor bad is decreed," and that what befalls him in life has some positive purpose, he naturally interprets his dream favorably, and merits having his interpretation come to be.

When, then, Joseph interpreted the dream of the chief steward, he felt as if he had interpreted his own dream. What did it mean to him? "There was a grape vine right there in front of me" - This, thought Joseph, refers to Israel who is likened to a grape vine; "The vine had three branches" - Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, thought Joseph; "As soon as its buds formed…" - the forming of Israel's redemption; "its blossoms bloomed..." - the blooming of Israel's redemption; "...and its clusters ripened into grapes." - vines that formed buds immediately blossomed; grapes that blossomed immediately ripened. Joseph then said to the chief steward: "Just as you brought me good tidings, I will bring you good tidings - In three days... [Pharaoh will give you special consideration and give you back your position]" (Bereshit Rabbah 8:4).

It seems that a profound idea is being expressed here: It is not easy for a person in a difficult situation to view things positively, for, "One who is imprisoned does not free himself from jail." Therefore, the chief steward was sent by God in order that Joseph be given the opportunity to interpret his dream. Having interpreted the chief steward's dream on the positive side, he was roused to interpret his own "dream" positively, and to discern in the dream of the chief steward a good tiding for Israel. The Children of Israel would - foresaw Joseph - eventually be redeemed from their enslavement in Egypt. Yet, Joseph still lacked the strength necessary to interpret his own personal fortune positively. He lacked faith that God would release him from the jail. He therefore remained in prison for another two years.

"Yet they did not recognize him"
How is it possible that the brothers saw Joseph yet did not recognize him? Could brothers possibly fail to recognize one another?
The brothers were not able to recognize Joseph because they had lost their prophetic vision. It was taken from them because they did not believe that the descent to Egyptian enslavement could possibly contain the happy conclusion of redemptive Exodus. How could Joseph's being sold into slavery possibly lead to his eventual appointment as the King of Egypt's viceroy, and the key to their own survival? How could something so bad turn out so good? "Rabbi Levi explained that when they fell into his hands 'Joseph recognized his brothers.' Yet, when he had fallen into their hands 'They did not recognize him.' " In other words, Joseph showed kindness to them and did not take revenge upon them. They, though, had not displayed kindness towards Joseph when he had fallen into their hands. But does this explain why they did not recognize him when they stood before him in Egypt? It would appear that the sin that they committed against Joseph when they threw him into the pit made it difficult for them to accept that they would one day find themselves the benefactors of his kindness. Their wrongdoing was transformed into rehabilitation, but they would have to undergo the sufferings of repentance before they could become purged of their transgression and fully enjoy this good fortune. Joseph, on the other hand, "recognized his brothers" and showed kindness to them even now.

Therefore, he was reluctant to reveal his identity to them immediately. He wanted them to build up a degree of dependence upon him so that they be forced to descend to Egypt, and not remain in Canaan at all costs. And so Joseph behaved toward them like his grandfather Isaac, reasoning "If God does not reveal it to them, then neither will I. Rather, he sets up a goal for them: "You are spies!" - Come, uncover me and discover that I, your brother Joseph, am still alive. Ever so slowly, the brothers understand that there is a mystery here that has to be uncovered. " 'What is this that God has done to us?' they asked each other with trembling voices." Still, they are unable to uncover the hidden identity of their brother. At the feast that Joseph prepares for them, the brothers were seated before him; they were placed in order of age, from the oldest to the youngest. The brothers looked at each other in amazement." Despite all of these signs, they are unable to recognize the King's viceroy who sits before them. "They drank with him and became intoxicated." The Sages say that, "From the day that they sold him [into slavery] they did not drink wine, and he did not drink wine. Yet, on that day they all drank wine" (Bereshit Rabba, Rashi). Why should they have drunk at this point if Joseph had not yet revealed himself to them? Perhaps the Sabbath meal which Joseph prepared for them instilled them with the attribute of trust which so typifies the Sabbath, and they came to believe that Divine salvation was quickly approaching... until they finally uncovered Joseph.

In light of all we have said here, the link between the feast of Joseph and his brothers in Egypt and the customary festive meal of Chanukah becomes clear. They together represent the attribute of trust in the Almighty. This is the trait that Joseph radiated at his feast - the very same trait that so characterized the Maccabees, and through which they merited defeating the Greek Army.

Some of the biblical verses here were taken from Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan's "Living Torah."

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