Parsha Potpourri: Parshas Mikeitz


Parshas Mikeitz is traditionally read on the Shabbos which falls out during Chanuka. The mystics teach that the parsha read during a Yom Tov is connected to the themes and events of that festival. The Chida notes one such connection. He points out that the letters comprising the first four words in the parsha – vayehi Mikeitz sh’nasayim yamim – are an acronym for V’ka’asher Yochanan hishmid Yevonim miBeis Kadsheinu tzivanu shenadlik neiros temanya (=Shemoneh) yomi meChanuka, yanichena mitzad yemin mehayotzei – when Yochanan destroyed the Greeks from the Holy Temple, we were commanded to light candles for the eight days of Chanuka, and to place the menorah on the right side of the door (relative to the person leaving the house).

Additionally, Rav Shimon Schwab suggests that Pharaoh’s dreams, in which the weak cows swallowed the strong cows and the thin stalks consumed the healthy stalks, embody one of the central concepts that we celebrate on Chanuka, namely that Hashem delivered the mighty and numerous Greek army into the hands of a few weak and poorly armed Chashmonaim.

Finally, Rav Moshe Wolfson points out that the most well-known question asked regarding Chanuka is that attributed to Rav Yosef Karo, namely that that if enough oil was found to last for one day, there was only a miracle on the last seven days, in which case Chanuka should only be commemorated seven days instead of eight. Rav Karo is best known for his commentaries on the Tur and Rambam, which are respectively entitled “Bais Yosef” and “Kesef Mishneh.” The names of his works appear almost nowhere else in Tanach, but both are mentioned in our parsha (43:18-19, 43:12), alluding to his prominent connection with the festival of Chanuka. 

V’hinei sheva paros acheiros olos achareihen min haye’or ra’os mareh v’dakos basar (41:3)

            There are numerous discrepancies between the Torah’s description of Pharaoh’s dream and the way in which he subsequently related it to Yosef. For example, although in the dream he saw seven cows of ugly “mareh” – appearance, he told Yosef that they had ugly “to’ar” – form. What is the difference between these seemingly synonymous words, and why did Pharaoh switch from one to the other?

The Torah praises Rochel (29:17) by noting that she was beautiful in her “to’ar” and her “mareh.” Rashi explains that these apparently equivalent phrases are not redundant. The term “to’ar” refers to the external beauty of a person’s physical face, while “mareh” describes the internal, spiritual shine which radiates forth from within, and the Torah emphasizes that both of them were present in Rochel.

Now that we understand the linguistic difference between these two words, we can appreciate why Pharaoh changed from one to the other. Egyptian society was so absorbed in the hedonistic pleasures of this world that they were buried with their possessions. They couldn’t imagine an afterlife consisting of anything but more of the same physical pleasures which they viewed as the pinnacle of happiness.

In light of this, Rabbi Mordechai Biser explains that in his dream, Pharaoh was shown a destruction which would permeate to the inner core of his corrupt society, yet precisely because he was so indulgent, he wasn’t able to grasp the hint. In his eyes, beauty was skin deep, and he was unable to describe the animals as anything but ugly in their external appearance.

            As Parshas Mikeitz is traditionally read on Chanuka, when we celebrate the victory of the Maccabees over our Greek oppressors, there must be some deeper connection between them and lesson that we can apply in our own lives. The Ramban writes that the Egyptian exile contained within it the roots of all of the other exiles which followed. Therefore, it isn’t surprising us to find that in the time of the Chanuka miracle, the Greeks were so completely absorbed in the worship of external beauty that they reached the point of outlawing the study of the internal and spiritual Torah.

As 21st-century Americans, we can easily see how history repeats itself as the superficial values of the Egyptian and Greek cultures fill the streets which surround us and permeate the very air that we breathe. As we light our Chanuka menorahs and celebrate the miraculous triumph of our righteous ancestors over these false world-views, we should take a moment to internalize the deeper understanding that this wasn’t a simple military victory. Rather, the miracle of Chanuka symbolically represents the prevailing of the underlying spiritual philosophy for which the Maccabees stood, a philosophy of inner depth and spiritual beauty that we should strive to emulate and incorporate into our daily lives.

V’atah yeireh Paroh ish navon v’chacham vishiseihu al eretz Mitzrayim (41:33)

After Yosef was freed from prison to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams, he explained that they foretold seven years of abundance to be followed by seven years of famine. Therefore, he recommended the appointment of a wise advisor to oversee the project of storing for the famine during the years of plenty. As Pharaoh had only requested Yosef to interpret his dreams, why did he offer advice on how best to deal with the ramifications of his interpretation of the dreams, something which wasn’t at all requested of him?

            The Kehillas Moshe notes that the Gemora in Rosh Hashana (16a) teaches that the world is judged four times annually: on Pesach regarding grain, on Shavuos regarding fruits, on Sukkos regarding water, and on Rosh Hashana all people are judged individually. If so, Pharaoh’s dream, which concerned the future of the crops, should have been on Pesach when the world is judged on grain, yet the Gemora in Rosh Hashana (11a) teaches that this episode occurred on Rosh Hashana.

The timing of this episode indicated to Yosef that it wasn’t only relevant to the harvest, but also to the fate of some individual who was being judged on that day, regarding whom it was decreed that he was to ascend to a position of power. Based on this inference, Yosef felt compelled to propose a plan of action based on his interpretation of the dream which would make its timing appropriate. Specifically, he advised that Pharaoh appoint a wise man to oversee the storage project, as it was due to him that the dream occurred specifically on Rosh Hashana. As an introduction to his suggestion, Yosef hinted to this reasoning by saying “v’atah” (and now), meaning that because the dream took place today, therefore it is appropriate that I recommend the following.

Answers to the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them): 

1)     What was Yosef’s intention in accusing (42:9) his brothers of coming to spy out the land of Egypt, a charge which he knew was false? (Peh Kadosh)

2)     At the end of each parsha, a line appears in the Chumash stating how many total verses are in that parsha. Parshas Mikeitz is unique in that the line which is printed at the end of it states not only that it contains 146 verses, but also that it contains a total of 2025 words. As the word count appears at the end of no other parsha, why is it mentioned here? (Genuzos HaGra)

3)     On Chanuka we add a paragraph, known as “Al HaNissim,” to the Shemoneh Esrei prayers and to Birkas HaMazon in which we thank Hashem for the miracles which He performed at this time. In it, we mention that the Chashmonaim lit candles in the courtyard of the Temple. Why didn’t they light the menorah inside of the Temple where it is normally lit? (Derashos Chasam Sofer Vol. 1 pg. 67, Taima D’Kra, K’Motzei Shalal Rav Chanuka pg. 172-5)

4)     As all festivals are observed in the Diaspora for two days due to a doubt about the actual calendar date, why didn’t Chazal enact that Chanuka be celebrated for nine days for this reason? (Ha’aros Rav Eliyahu Mizrachi on the Smag Hilchos Chanuka, Pri Chodosh and Birkei Yosef Orach Chaim 670, Nefesh Yehonason, Derashos Chasam Sofer Vol. 1 pg. 67, Ma’adanei Asher 5770)

  © 2010 by Oizer Alport.