Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
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To dedicate this lesson

The Spirit of Hashem in Them


Various Rabbis

2 Tevet 5770
In our parasha, the powerful and presumably responsible leader of the ancient world’s superpower, Paroh of Egypt, makes an incredibly strange political decision. He takes a convict, an ex-national of a lowly, despised nation, and gives him unparalleled power. Based on what? He had a convincing solution to Paroh’s dream, one which had not yet even been proven to be true. Even if we accept the explanations that Yosef proved he knew things others did not, in a country famous not only for great science but even for prowess in the occult, how does this make Yosef fit for immediate ascension to close to the throne?
Paroh thus explains his rationale to his people: "Shall we find like this, a man within whom is the spirit of G-d?" (Bereishit 41:38). Where does Paroh see this is spirit of G-d? Does it just mean that he once succeeded in telling the future? Firstly, we find Yosef invoking Hashem’s Name in his exploits. While this is the third time during Yosef’s stay in Egypt this is recorded, this is the most inclusive evoking of His Name. Yosef tells Potiphar’s wife of his elevated status and says that if he sins, he will be sinning to Hashem (ibid. 39:9). Regarding the dreams of the butler and the baker, he says: "For meanings of dreams are Hashem’s" but then says, "Tell me now," giving himself a little power over the matter (ibid. 40:8). This time, Yosef says: "It does not have to do with me. Hashem will answer for Paroh’s welfare" (ibid. 41:16).
However, we can advance the understanding that the spirit of Hashem within him is more than just ‘talking the talk.’ Yosef, living among the morally lacking Egyptian society, carried himself with an air of godliness that beyond finding expression in speech, was natural and innate in his personality. While it is hard to rely on it fully, most of us have probably felt something special when being around a great person. While a long white beard might help, sometimes someone just exudes a certain spirit of G-d within him or her. On the flip side, one can sometimes sense when he is around someone dangerous or evil. Yosef apparently succeeded in conveying the former earlier in his stay, thereby receiving the full trust of his masters. Yet by the time he met Paroh, this characteristic was able to give him unprecedented authority.
Let us connect this to the Chanuka story. The first recorded encounter between the great Greek Empire and Judaism is the story of Alexander the Great’s meeting with Shimon Hatzaddik (see Yoma 69a and midrashim). The sight of Shimon Hatzaddik in kohen gadol’s garb (along with some Divine Providence) convinced Alexander that this was a person with whom he wanted to coexist harmoniously. Even or especially an emperor/warrior can sense when he is in the presence of someone spiritually great in a manner he can only appreciate from afar. Perhaps by the time of the Chanuka story, we lacked leaders with that degree of an aura of sanctity. This forced us to survive spiritually by taking on the empire through willingness to give one’s life and the bravery to beat the enemy at their own game of war.
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