In This Issue:
Gilad Barach-Editor in Chief 2007-08
Ariel Caplan, Editor-in-Chief 2005-06
Shlomo Klapper, Executive Editor 2008-09
Avi Levinson, Executive Editor 2007-08
Yitzchak Richmond, Editor in Chief 2008-09
Rabbi Michael Taubes Faculty Advisor, Volumes 1-5
Willie Roth, Editor-in-Chief 2004-05
When he came before Paroh, Yosef informed him that any success he may have in comprehending Paroh’s dream would be due only to Hashem’s assistance (BeReishit 41:16, Rashi). After Yosef finished interpreting the dream and recommended a plan to protect Mitzrayim throughout the years of famine, Paroh turned to his servants and exclaimed (41:38), “HaNimtza ChaZeh Ish Asher Ruach Elokim Bo,” “Can a man like this be found – a man that the spirit of God is in him!” How else could a lowly Ivri in an Egyptian prison (see Rashi to 41:12) do what all of Paroh’s sorcerers and wise men could not? Surely, it must have been Ruach Elokim – the spirit of God – that allowed Yosef to correctly understand the dream.
Two years earlier, when Eishet Potiphar tried repeatedly to seduce Yosef, he refused and responded (39:9), “VeEich E’eseh HaRaah HaGedolah HaZot VeChatati Lailokim,” “How can I do this great evil and sin to God?” Yosef’s resistance to violate Hashem’s Will, despite the great temptation presented to him, became a great merit for his offspring; millennia later, Rabi Yochanan said he was unconcerned for similar temptations because he was among Yosef’s descendants, over whom the Ayin HaRa does not exert any control (Berachot 20a). So great was Yosef’s belief in Hashem that the Midrash considers him the epitome of the Pasuk in Tehilim (40:5), “Ashrei HaGever Asher Sam Hashem Mivtacho,” “Fortunate is the man who has made Hashem his trust” (Bereishit Rabbah 89:3). Through these and other examples, it is evident that Yosef was on a remarkable religious level.
Yosef’s Ruach Elokim was reflected not only in his heightened spirituality, but also in his worldly knowledge. After Yosef told Paroh how Mitzrayim could be shielded from starvation, Paroh proposed that Yosef be put in control of the program, because, “Ein Navon VeChacham Kamocha,” “There is no one intelligent and wise like you” (41:39). Radak says Paroh wanted Yosef to take charge of the food conservation program because he had proven to be more knowledgeable than all of the sorcerers and wise men of Mitzrayim. Rashbam says the Ruach Elokim that Paroh saw in Yosef was “in understanding dreams, and certainly in knowing the way of the world.” While his interpretation of Paroh’s dream was done through Nevuah (as stated in 41:16), Yosef’s proposed method to tackle the seven years of famine was of his own inspiration. Perhaps that is the knowledge of the way of the world to which Radak and Rashbam are referring.
Yosef thus had both a keen passion for Yirat and Avodat Hashem and a wealth of worldly knowledge. In fact, if we look more deeply into his response to Eishet Potiphar, we can find a hint of practical rationale on top of his Yirat Hashem. Yosef’s full response reads (39:8-9), “My master (Potiphar) does not know with me what is in the house, and all that he has he put in my hand. There is no one as great in this house as me and he has not withheld anything from me except you, since you are his wife, and how can I do this great evil and sin to God?” What does the trust that Potiphar has put in Yosef have to do with his refusal to sin to Hashem? Yosef gave both a rational reason – for Eishet Potiphar – and a religious reason – for himself – as to why it would be improper to allow himself to be seduced by her.
If we also take a closer look at the juxtaposition of two Pesukim mentioned earlier – “Ish Asher Ruach Elokim Bo” and “Ein Navon VeChacham Kamocha” – then we can further learn how Yosef’s combination of religious and secular knowledge was obvious even to Paroh. Paroh first expressed in awe how unique Yosef was in that he had Ruach Elokim. We now know this means both Hashem’s spirit (Pshat) and worldly knowledge (Rashbam). Then, because “Ein Navon VeChacham Kamocha,” Paroh selected Yosef to spearhead his project.
What then, exactly, is the nature of the Ruach Elokim – to what extent is it a combination of religious and secular awareness? The phrase Ruach Elokim appears five times in the Torah: once at the beginning of Maaseh Bereishit (1:2), once regarding Yosef, twice regarding Betzalel (Shemot 31:3 and 35:31), and once regarding Bilam (BeMidbar 24:2). In both locations related to Betzalel, Hashem filled Betzalel with Ruach Elokim; Rav Saadya Gaon says this means “knowledge, from Hashem.” Ruach Elokim rested on Bilam as he began his third blessing of Bnai Yisrael; Rashbam asserts that this refers to the Shechinah’s presence. We therefore know that Ruach Elokim has both a material and a spiritual embodiment. As we have seen, Yosef’s Ruach Elokim seems to be the combination of both of its potential aspects.
Not only is Yosef the only character in the Torah to have a dual-sided Ruach Elokim, but he is the only one to have it naturally inside him, “Bo.” Whereas Hashem filled Betzalel with Ruach Elokim and Ruach Elokim rested temporarily on Bilam, Yosef’s Ruach Elokim was naturally within. On a similar note, Or HaChayim explains that the reason the Pasuk says, “Can a man like this be found – a man that the spirit of God is in him,” and not “Can a man be found that the spirit of God is in him like this,” is to show that Paroh was doubtful that anyone else could have Ruach Elokim within him, much less to the extent that Yosef did.
So what message can we take from Yosef’s dual personality? Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, leader of the German Orthodox community in the mid-19th century, was a firm believer in “Torah Im Derech Eretz,” Torah with the way of the world. “With,” not “and.” Not only is it important for Jews in the modern world to be both spiritually devout and secularly involved, but these two qualities must go hand in hand. Rav Hirsch reasoned that if this is done properly, the worldly knowledge will enhance religious faith, and the Torah knowledge will in turn enhance worldly knowledge. It is this very ideal that Yosef embodied. Only after he paused due to the realization that he could not wrong Potiphar (a secular moral conclusion), he recognized that being seduced by her would be a sin against Hashem, as well. That’s why he first began his refusal on moral grounds and then added his religious reason. Conversely, because Yosef had the spiritual capacity to decipher Paroh’s dream and predict Mitzrayim’s famine, he had the opportunity to apply his intellectual capabilities to avert a crisis.
Rambam’s first sentence of Mishneh Torah (Hilchot Yesodai HaTorah 1:1) reads “Yesod HaYesodot VeAmud HaChachamot Laida SheYeish Sham Matzui Rishon,” “The foundation of all foundations and the pillar of all knowledge is to know that there is a primordial Being.” “Know,” not “think.” Rambam believes that only through the combination of Torah and secular knowledge and philosophy can a person fulfill fully the obligation to know that there exists a God. Our Modern Orthodox community embraces the ideologies set forth by Rambam and Rav Hirsch and personified by Yosef. Like Yosef, we must never lose sight of the intertwined nature of the two opposites we unite; Torah study should never lead us to become a burden on society or an isolated community, and secular knowledge should never lead us to abandon Torah or misplace our emphasis. Like Yosef, we must maintain, with great challenge and great charge, a dual identity.
The first encounter between Yosef and his brothers begins very strangely as the Pasuk states, “VaYar Yosef Et Echav VaYakireim VaYitnakeir Aleihem, VayDaber Itam Kashot, VaYomer Aleihem MeiAyin Batem, VaYomeru MeiEretz Kena’an Lishbor Ochel. VayYaker Yosef Et Echav, VeHeim Lo Hikiruhu. VaYizkor Yosef Et HaChalomot Asher Chalam Lahem VaYomer Aleihem Meragelim Atem, LiR’ot Et Ervat HaAretz Batem,” “Yosef saw his brothers and recognized them. He acted like a stranger toward them, and spoke to them harshly. He said to them, ‘Where do you come from?’ They said, ‘From the Land of Canaan, to buy food.’ Yosef recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him. And Yosef remembered the dreams that he dreamt about them, and he said to them, ‘You are spies! You have come to observe the nakedness (i.e., strategically weak elements) of the land!’” (42:7-9)
Three questions present themselves in this text. First, it seems that Yosef’s recollection of the dreams prompt him to accuse his brothers of spying; how did one lead to the other? Second, if the dreams were indeed the motivation for his treatment of his brothers, why does he speak harshly to them before this memory surfaced in his mind? Third, why does the Torah need to state twice that Yosef recognizes his brothers?
To understand this selection, a broader view of Yosef as an individual is necessary. Over the course of his life, Yosef seems to display two opposing qualities. On one hand, he displays a tendency to act rashly without considering the consequences. The beginning of Parshat VaYeishev describes how Yosef alienated his brothers, discussing with them his dreams of grandeur, where he would rule and they would be his subjects. Rashi on 37:2, quoting BeReishit Rabbah 84:7, writes that Yosef further repelled his brothers by reporting any perceived flaw to Yaakov. Earlier in this Pasuk, Rashi writes that Yosef acted childishly, fixing his hair and beautifying his eyes; this reflects a certain focus on temporary worldly elements as opposed to big-picture values. Later, during his enslavement, Yosef (according to one opinion in Sotah 36b) entered a house empty of everyone but Potiphar’s wife for the express purpose of sinning with her, ignoring the potential long-term repercussions of this one-time pleasure.
However, an opposing attribute is also visible from beginning to end. Yosef is a dreamer, one who thinks on a grand scale, a plotter of schemes and deviser of clever solutions. As a youth, he already envisions his destiny as a ruler and a leader in his family. He speaks the language of dreams, to the point where he can take what others see and transform it into a clear picture of what their futures hold in store. Yosef grows in his interpretational power over time: he moves from his own familial sphere to the lives of others – first on the individual level, for the Sar HaOfim and the Sar HaMashkim, and then on a national scale, for Pharaoh and Egypt. Moreover, he does not simply state the problems. He offers solutions and practical advice, suggesting a remedy for the troubles to come.
Yosef’s vision is not limited to dreams. Starting in the Pesukim quoted above, he carries out an elaborate plan, whose purpose is disputed among the various Mefarshim. Seemingly on the spur of the moment, Yosef hatches a complex scheme to accomplish his goal. He is able to assess the situation quickly with remarkable perceptiveness and determine the best course of action in the long run. Later, when revealing himself to his brothers, Yosef displays this same quality of vision by immediately reassuring the brothers that he does not hold them at fault for selling him – a concern which was clearly on their minds for decades (see 50:15-20). Yosef’s foresight is further displayed in 46:34 when he takes steps to separate his family from the rest of Egypt when they come to settle. At the end of his life, Yosef leaves a standing order to be buried in Eretz Yisrael, ensuring that Klal Yisrael will not forget its ultimate destiny and home.
We may suggest that Yosef displayed both of these tendencies in his actions here. Initially, “Yosef saw his brothers and recognized them,” but focused on the fact that they sold him into slavery. “He acted like a stranger toward them,” intending to repudiate them, wanting nothing to do with them. This, of course, was no new concept; it was merely the latest in a line of indications that Yosef was not interested in his family any more. Earlier in 41:51, Yosef named his son Menashe “because God caused me to forget…my father’s house,” implying that he wanted to escape his past and his heritage. Additionally, various commentators point out that Yosef neglected to contact his family even during his years of rulership. Yosef’s initial reaction to his brothers may have been a realization of the first tendency mentioned above, as Yosef acted on his gut instinct to stay away from those who had wronged him before. However, he got only as far as “Where do you come from?” before a different motive took over.
As opposed to the first time, where the Pasuk says that Yosef recognized “them,” the second time, he recognized “his brothers.” Looking outward, Yosef realized that he had maligned his brothers and thus could not entirely blame them for his fate. Looking inward, he realized that it was incorrect to continue to isolate himself from his family. No matter how hard he might try to escape, his true identity was not that of an Egyptian viceroy (albeit a moral one), but that of Yosef HaTzadik, Yosef the son of Yaakov, and Yosef the dreamer. “Yosef remembered the dreams that he dreamt about them” – the true perception he had from a young age, that his role was one of a leader within his family. Yosef recognized that, as he stated expressly upon revealing his identity to his brothers, “God sent me before you to establish for you survival in the land” (55:7). Upon achieving this understanding, Yosef stepped into his new role – or, looking from a different angle, his old role – without hesitation, relying on his dreams as a guideline in bringing Klal Yisrael into the next phase of its history.
We have thus far managed to answer all of the questions mentioned above. The Torah states twice that Yosef recognized his brothers to indicate that he viewed them in two different ways – first as the brothers who sold him, then as the partners in destiny whose fortunes were intertwined with his own. He initially spoke harshly as a natural reaction unrelated to his dreams, and then he began to carry out a scheme in order to bring his dreams to fruition. We have also gained a certain perspective in why exactly Yosef took such trouble – and brought pain upon his family – in order to fulfill his dreams. Perhaps he did not understand initially what was meant to emerge from his actions, but he understood that his dreams marked the path toward initiating the next stage for Bnei Yisrael. Executing this grand scheme afforded Yosef the opportunity to redeem the mistakes he had made, to become a member of the family of Yaakov again, and to lead this rediscovered family forward with his gift of superior vision.
This issue of Kol Torah celebrates the continuation of a grand vision that was implemented eighteen years ago. Perhaps those who founded the publication did not fully comprehend the consequences of their actions. But it is because they pursued their dream that Kol Torah has become an institution in many shuls and homes, that it has enriched countless Shabbos tables, and that it has given rise to four (Kein Yirbu) excellent Sifrei Halacha. It was my privilege to serve as a staff member and editor-in-chief during my years in TABC, and I hope to merit seeing this Be’eir Mayim Chayim continue to flourish and spread Torah for many years to come.
As this is the eighteenth anniversary issue, I would like to add one final point linking the aforementioned ideas to marriage, as the Mishnah in Avot states (5:21), “Ben Shemoneh Esrei Lechupah,” “One who is eighteen is ready for marriage.” At a Brit Milah, the Kehillah says twice, “Just as he entered the covenant of Brit Milah, so may he enter the realms of Torah, marriage, and good deeds.” This seems a bit premature! The baby was born just over a week ago; why are we already talking about marriage, which – according to the aforementioned Mishnah – is not supposed to happen for another eighteen years? We might answer that the Brit Milah is not an isolated event; it is the introduction to life, which sets the tone for everything to come. Brit Milah presents a vision, that every aspect of this newborn’s life, down to the most private and sensitive details, will be guided by and imbued with the spirit of Torah. In fact, marriage is particularly appropriate to mention here, as the Brit Milah indicates that the relationship between husband and wife is physically marked as one of sanctity and dedication to Hashem. Additionally, by invoking the concept of marriage at the Brit Milah, we indicate that no individual in Klal Yisrael exists in a vacuum; we are each part of a continuum linking every Jew from Avraham Avinu until the coming of Mashiach, and each individual has a role to play, starting from birth and extending to the transfer of the Mesorah to the next generation in the context of a Jewish home.
May we all merit to play our roles magnificently in the grand vision of the history of Klal Yisrael, and may we see this great drama reach the closing act of Mashiach, speedily in our days.
In his Hilchot Chanukah (3:3), Rambam records that the Chachamim (Sages) established the holiday of Chanukah as eight days, starting from the 25th of Kisleiv, of happiness and thanksgiving, during which we light the Menorah “LeHarot ULeGalot HaNeis,” “to show and reveal the miracle.” Later (4:12), Rambam writes of the Mitzvah of lighting Neirot Chanukah (the Chanukah candles), “Chavivah Hi Ad Me’od,” “it is exceptionally beloved.” He continues to say that one must do Pirsumei Nissa, publicize Hashem’s miracle, and thank Him for the miracles He performed on Am Yisrael’s behalf.
Rambam’s explanation behooves several questions. Why does Rambam highlight “LeHarot ULeGalot HaNeis” as the crux of Neirot Chanukah? What is the difference between LeHarot and LeGalot?
Rambam does not say a Mitzvah is “Chavivah” when writing about other cases of Pirsumei Nissa, such as reading Megillat Ester on Purim and drinking four cups of wine on Pesach. How is Neir Chanukah different from other Mitzvot of Pirsumei Nissa and deserving of the term “Chavivah”?
Obviously there is something special about Neir Chanukah, since if Pirsumei Nissa’s purpose were just to thank Hashem, it would not be different than what we do everyday during davening! What is unique about Neirot Chanukah and how do we characterize this special dimension?
The Mitzvah of Neirot Chanukah is not defined as “Zeicher LeMikdash,” established to commemorate Temple practices. Nevertheless, Neirot Chanukah carry their own special Kedushah, evident from the words we say every night of Chanukah, “HaNeirot HaLalu Kodesh Heim,” “these candles are sacred.” From where is this Kedushah derived if not from the Beit HaMikdash?
Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik explains all these questions based on a statement of the Gemara (Shabbat 22b). It writes that the Beit HaMikdash’s Menorah, expressly its Neir Tamid (perpetually lit center candle) was an undyingly glowing reminder that Hashem’s Shechinah (divine presence) resides among Bnei Yisrael. Ramban, in his commentary to Parashat BeHaalotecha, writes that the Chanukiyah replaces the Menorah BeZman HaZeh (nowadays). We can thus see that their goals are the same: to physically show that Hashem’s Shechinah is among the Jews, even in our generation.
The fulcrum of the disagreement between the Greeks and Jews was if Bnei Yisrael is a nation chosen from among other nations. This issue has been the source of anti-Semitism from Greeks, Romans, Christians, and Muslims. The Greeks posited that God did not cull the Jews from among other peoples; however, the Menorah averred this claim’s speciousness, as it exhibited that Hashem still remained with the Jews.
Thus, we can understand the Chanukah candles in a different light. The candles do not only remind us of the miracle, but reveal Hashem’s Shechinah. When one lights Neirot Chanukah nowadays, he shows that Hashem still resides among Bnei Yisrael. Rambam thus emphasizes that Neirot Chanukah are meant LeHarot ULeGalot HaNeis. LeHarot is to show something perceptible; LeGalot is to reveal something hitherto unknown. To illustrate the two different definitions, one can draw a parable to touring a house. LeHarot is showing extant aspects of an existing house; LeGalot is showing an empty field, how a house formerly stood upon it, who lived in the house, how it was burnt down, and other details that are not readily apparent. Neirot Chanukah have two functions. One is LeHarot HaNeis, to show others the well-known miracle by lighting in a public place. The other is LeGalot HaNeis – to reveal Chanukah’s not readily apparent essence, to reveal why we fought the Greeks, to reveal why we are still lighting commemorative candles today, to reveal to the entire world that Jews are unique and chosen by God, and to reveal that He resides with us – by kindling Chanukah candles.
Hashem shows Himself through Neir Chanukah as he did through the Neir Tamid in the Beit HaMikdash. Through Neir Chanukah, we demonstrate that Hashem resides in every Jew. That fact is the pivot upon which the Torah is based. Thus, Rambam uses the special language of “Chavivah” to show us that Neir Chanukah is beloved because it epitomizes the Torah’s essence.
As they show the bond between Hashem and Bnei Yisrael, Neirot Chanukah are independently holy. We, says the Rav, should approach them with reverence, as Moshe approached the Senneh (the Burning Bush).
Unlike during other persecutions, where Jews were clearly persecuted, during Galut Yavan, the Greek exile, Jews were not overtly victimized. Yet before the Maccabee victory, Judaism was in dire straits. Millions of Jews were fully assimilated, usually willingly, into Greek culture, whose openness to proselytes was an anomaly among the era’s world cultures. Shocked and lured by prosperity and inclusiveness, Jews rampantly assimilated into Greek culture at record, uncontrolled, astonishing rates. The Gemara laments that Jews disregarded even basic Mitzvot, like observing Shabbat and refraining from Melachah. The biggest problem the Jews faced was intermarriage, caused by the unchecked assimilation. The Beit HaMikdash was defiled and violated, but the Jews did not retaliate due to the unbearable, seductive burden of Galut Yavan. Hundreds of thousands of Jews were dying; but, unlike in other persecutions, these Jews were dying spiritually. No fundamental Mitzvot, no usable Beit HaMikdash, pernicious intermarriage rates, and unbridled assimilation always compose a fatal recipe for the Jewish nation. But the Chanukah victory changed our nation’s spirit. We stopped assimilating and intermarrying, cleaved to Torah and Mitzvot, and rededicated the Beit HaMikdash.
Many claim that we are now in Galut Yavan, as Judaism is suffering spiritually, not physically. Before the “Modern Era,” Jews clung to their religion and to each other because they were all we had. Society was less than amiable to Jews. Nowadays, however, we are free from violent persecution and the deleterious intermarriage and assimilation rates plaguing Jews are at historic highs, reminiscent of the Greeks’ spiritual attacks. There is no Beit HaMikdash, and, unfortunately, the vast majority of Jews do not observe Mitzvot because of indifference or lack of exposure. The parallels between our current exile and the Greek exile are mortifying.
Querulous many say there is no foreseeable end to this Greek exile, for our Jewish nation is incorrigibly divided. Chanukah, however, shows otherwise. In the first Galut Yavan, the Jews were saved by retaking control of Israel, reestablishing their Jewish identity, and showing that God’s presence resides among Bnei Yisrael. We should learn from the first Galut Yavan, show our identity to the world, and reveal that God, albeit concealed, resides with Am Yisrael. For centuries, publicly lighting Neirot Chanukah would endanger one’s life; fortunately, we live in a time which allows us to proudly and conspicuously light Neirot Chanukah without fear. When we light the Chanukah candles, therefore, we should assert our unique identity to the world.
It is thus paradoxical that Chanukah, the holiday when Jews are most conspicuously Jewish, is the holiday unfortunately adulterated with non-Jewish themes. Sadly, Chanukah has somewhat morphed into a modulated version of another major holiday in December. When we kindle the sacrosanct Neirot Chanukah this year, perhaps we ought to turn the light inward: LeHarot, to show ourselves the previous rescue from Galut Yavan, which will be repeated only after we realize the imperative LeGalot, to reveal to ourselves and appreciate our unique identity as Jews, a people God chose from among all other nations.
The two Parshiyot that most often fall out during Chanukah are VaYeishev and Mikeitz. They tell the story of Yosef's descent into the mire of Egyptian slavery followed by his amazing ascent to viceroy of the entire country. Throughout his time as a slave, in prison, and as viceroy, Yosef keeps to his principles. He refuses to sin with Potifar’s wife, and even the Egyptians realized that he had special divine assistance. He was able to resist all of the terrible influences of Egyptian society. On a simple level, this is the connection to Chanukah. The small band of Jews led by Matityahu that rebelled against the Greeks was made up of those who resisted the influence of Hellenism and the morass of Greek culture and lifestyle. How did Yosef and the Chashmona’im have the ability to resist the pernicious influence of the surrounding culture? After all, the Rambam (Hilchot Dei'ot 6:1) states that it is natural for people to be affected by their environment!
Chazal give us a hint as to how Yosef survived. Rashi (BeReishit 39:3 s.v. Ki Hashem Ito), in explaining how Potifar knew that Hashem was with Yosef, quotes the Midrash Tanchuma which explains that Yosef always used to mention Hashem’s name. Further on, Rashi (39:11 s.v. LaAsot Melachto) quotes a Gemara (Sotah 36b) which relates that as Yosef was giving in to Potifar’s wife, the image of his father appeared to him and he was able to overcome his desires. The point Chazal may be driving at is that Yosef kept his focus on remembering everything he had learned with Yaakov about Hashem and about what a moral person was. He constantly reminded himself of Hashem’s presence, and when things looked bleak, he tried to remember Yaakov and the shining example he had set. By doing so, he was able to resist the immorality of Egypt.
It seems that the same was true of the Chashmona’im. They resisted the Greeks not as a political move – the Jews of the second Beit HaMikdash era never had been independent – but as a religious uprising. They saw the downward spiral of Jews' commitment to Hashem and were deeply distressed, because Hashem was at the center of their lives. They kept their focus on Hashem, and as long as they did so, they were able to fight the Greeks.
The Halacha (Orach Chaim 671:7) states that the Chanukiyah should be placed in the doorframe of the house (this is not practiced in many places today - see Rama ibid.). Why did Chazal establish that the commemoration of the miracle that occurred in the Beit HaMikdash be placed in the house? What does a house have to do with the Beit HaMikdash? I heard Rav Zvi Sobolofsky explain that the Jewish home is, in fact, supposed to be like a miniature Beit HaMikdash. The house has to be a place of Kedushah that provides a haven from those aspects of society that are dangerous to Avodat Hashem. Even not during Chanukah, we have a Mezuzah to remind us of the role of the house, but on Chanukah, when we remember the courageous stand of the Chashmona’im against the outside culture, we put an extra symbol by the doorpost.
It would behoove all of us to take a careful look in the mirror to see how much of what we are is made up of Torah values and how much is made up of those parts of the surrounding culture that are antithetical to Torah. If we find anything that should not be there, Chanukah is a great time to work on excising it. By critically evaluating what comes into our homes and becomes part of our lifestyles, we will be following in the footsteps of the Chashmona’im and will, Im Yirzteh Hashem, merit a salvation similar to theirs.
When a Jew is asked, “How are you?” it is customary to answer, “Baruch Hashem,” “Thank God.” But does this answer the question? Obviously, it doesn’t, so why answer the question with this response? We can learn the reason for this from this week’s Parsha, Parshat Mikeitz.
The Parsha opens with the incident of Pharaoh dreaming about the seven fat cows and the seven emaciated cows. Because Pharaoh was perplexed by the dream, he began to look for someone who could interpret it. It is brought to his attention that Yosef, a criminal in jail, has the ability to interpret dreams. Pharaoh calls Yosef to his palace to interpret his dream, and we see from the Pesukim throughout this event and from Yosef’s language with Pharaoh that he constantly reminded Pharaoh that everything was in Hashem’s hands: “Biladai, Elokim Yaaneh Et Shlom Paroh.”
This is the first time that Pharaoh is directly exposed to monotheistic beliefs. Yosef constantly reminds Pharaoh of Hashem’s omnipotence and awesomeness. Upon seeing through Yosef’s speech that he was truly a man of God, and, therefore, a man of wisdom, Pharaoh appoints Yosef to the second highest position in the Egyptian government. Ultimately, because of this, Yosef shapes the future of Klal Yisrael.
We can learn from this that one’s speech – which should always convey one’s belief in God, can shape the future of all of Klal Yisrael. When someone asks how you are doing, you should always answer “Baruch Hashem,” to show others your true belief in God.
The Midrash Rabbah (89:3) teaches us that because Yosef put some of his faith in the Sar HaMashkim, Paroh’s butler, he was punished with two more years of imprisonment. This is very troubling, because Yosef merely mentioned the Sar HaMashkim when explaining his salvation to Paroh, and yet he was punished. After all, Rabi Yishmael (Berachot 35b) learns based on the Pasuk in Shema that states “VeAsafta Deganecha VeTiroshecha,” “And you will gather in your grain and your wine,” (Devarim 11:14) that one should work the way of the land and use one’s own intervention. Yosef trusting in the Sar HaMashkim was the standard way to get out of jail. Why, therefore, was Yosef punished so harshly for trusting the Sar HaMashkim, what happened to Hishtadlut?
The Beit HaLevi explains that ideally we should have complete faith in HaKadosh Baruch Hu, but because of our lack of ability to do so, it has become permissible to have human intervention. We see this from the saying of “MiToch SheLo Lishmah Ba Lishmah,” that while initially someone does not have pure intentions he will eventually. However, it is permitted to have only a limited amount of Hishtadlut, active human intervention, not too much, and beyond what is necessary for someone is prohibited. For instance, if one could get by with very little Hishtadlut, but he intervenes too much, Hashem will ensure that the person will have to even work harder that he originally would have.
Yosef, from beginning to end, was surrounded by instances that were beyond the ordinary. For example, he was thrown into a pit with snakes and scorpions but emerged unharmed, and he traveled to Mitzrayim in a caravan of spices, which normally would be filled with soot. Yosef knew very well that when the Sar HaMashkim joined him in prison, it had greater significance than just sharing a cell because he was Yosef’s ticket to get out. Yosef should have had complete, unwavering trust that Hashem would completely provide for him, but instead he failed and used Hishtadlut when it was unwarranted.
The Gemara (Berachot 35a) derives the source for Berachah Rishonah, blessings before meals, based on that if one makes a Berachah once he is full, how much the more so should he make a Berachah when he is hungry. However, this Kal VaChomer seems very strange, for one would be much quicker to offer thanks for something after he receives it then beforehand. However, as Rav Dov Ber eloquently answers that as Jews and Ma’aminim Binei Maaminim, believers the sons of believers, this Kal VaChomer makes perfect sense. It is much more meritorious to offer thanks beforehand because when one does so he expresses his trust in the Ribono Shel Olam.
Yosef’s punishment, albeit at first glance puzzling, was extremely important because it communicated the vital concept of believing in HaKadosh Baruch Hu. It is in our core to have complete trust in Hashem, manifested whenever we make a Berachah Rishonah. It is always important for us to make use of our own Hishtadlut, but at the same time we must know its limits. We should learn from Yosef’s mistake to always trust in Hakadosh Baruch Hu, even in dark times such as when the Chashmonaim struggled against an external and internal enemy, and ultimately we shall prevail.