Beit Midrash

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To dedicate this lesson

The Torah study is dedicated in the memory of

R. Avraham ben-tziyon ben shabtai

The Kingdom of Israel

With the decrees of Antiochus it became clear that there is no room for Jewish existence without Jewish rule.


Rabbi Shaul Yisraeli zt"l

Kislev 5762
1. An Unlikely Couple
2. Pharaoh's Dream in Joseph's Hands
3. The Jewish War

An Unlikely Couple
In the framework of their yearly reunion, this week's Torah episode, "MiKetz ," and the episode of days past, Hanukah, strike us as being quite opposite in nature.
Our weekly portion, on the one hand, describes Joseph's rise to power in Egypt, a result of his cooperation in saving the kingdom from impending ruin. We bear witness to the interlacing of the Hebrew nation into the fabric of Egyptian society, and to the strengthening of relations between the family of Jacob and the Egyptian powers that be. The days of Hanukah, on the other hand, are characterized by an altogether different nature: They teach us of the manner and way in which this chapter of partnership and cooperation with foreign rule came to a close - they teach us of the road to true independence.

While it is clear and obvious from the outset that Israel's cooperation with Egypt is a temporary rendezvous which could not have possibly lasted for very long, even for the sake of this short lived affair it was necessary to create the proper conditions…

Pharaoh's Dream in Joseph's Hands
"Pharaoh woke up and realized that it had been a dream… He sent word, summoning all the symbolists and wise men of Egypt. Pharaoh told them his dreams, but there was no one who could provide a satisfactory interpretation."
(Genesis 41:7,8)

"The wise men said, 'The seven handsome cows symbolize seven daughters that you will father… the seven good ears of grain symbolize seven kingdoms that you will conquer.'"
(From the Midrash)

In the episode of Pharaoh's dream we are struck by the obvious perversion on the part of Pharaoh's symbolists and wise men of that which appears to be self-evident. They were unable to produce the simplest and most obvious explanation of Pharaoh's dream until Joseph came along and unveiled it. This appears to reflect a fundamental difference in the characters of Joseph and the king's wise men. The king's men could not produce the correct interpretation because it would have negated their entire paganistic way of thinking.

The philosophy which supposes nature to be pervaded by Divine forces clashing with one another, and struggling to grab hold of the reigns of world control, views the kingdom and its regime as an end in itself. The entire objective of the king is to amplify his own honor, riches and power. Power, according to this attitude, is not a means towards some greater ideal - it itself is the ideal. It follows that the responsibility of the king to care for his people exists only to the extent that without a people there can be no king: In order for there to be a king and a kingdom there has to be a people to rule over.

Naturally, this outlook espouses a world divided into higher and lower castes, each rung bound to the service of the one above it, from the lowest rung up to the king himself. The wise men, adherents of this approach and viewpoint, are incapable of interpreting Pharaoh's dream in a manner which would inform him of what he must do for the sake of his people. They look for solutions in the arena of royal dominion: "You will conquer seven nations," and in the realm of the king's own private family: "You will father seven daughters." Yet, in order to uncover the true explanation Joseph has to be brought in.
Joseph's understanding of the concept of kingdom, stems from a recognition of God's oneness, a faith in the one and only power which governs over and rules the entire universe. This sort of outlook refuses to view the kingdom as a mere self-serving vehicle, an end in itself. Joseph sees the kingship as a means of securing law and justice in the world, a restraining device against the enemies of the vulnerable, and against the desire of destructive forces to get the upper hand. He cannot view it as a goal or an end in itself. Only this sort of perspective is capable of arriving at the sort of interpretation which Joseph indeed arrived.

The Jewish War
In light of this approach - that power is not an end in itself, and that authority's ultimate goal is the establishment of law and justice in the world - we are better equipped to understand the national frame of mind at the outset of the Second Temple period. For we find that the Jewish people's desire for national independence at this point in history lies dormant. After seventy years of exile, our political acuteness had been sapped: We desired nothing more than to be free of the yoke of national sovereignty.

But this submissive cooperation on our part, this willingness to forgo independence, came to an end with the decrees of Antiochus. It became increasingly clear that pagan rule does not limit itself to pure administrative bureaucracy, allowing personal freedom of conscience and faith. Along with their renunciation of political autonomy the Jewish people were called upon to relinquish spiritual autonomy as well, to abandon cherished values and ideals.

With the decrees of Antiochus it became clear that there is no room for Jewish existence without Jewish rule. The war waged by the Maccabees was a war for rule of a true Jewish nature, a war for the reign of the Torah of Israel, for if there is no Jewish rule the Torah itself con not exist. It is impossible to study Torah and to keep the Sabbath while under foreign rule, for, as we learn from the story of Hanukah, there is no way to avoid eventual confrontation.

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