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Parshas Mikeitz - Vol. 11, Issue 10
Compiled by Oizer Alport


Vayehi mikeitz sh'nasaym yamim u'Paroh choleim v'hinei omeid al ha'ye'or (41:1)

Vayedaber Paroh el Yosef b'chalomi hineni omeid al s'fas ha'ye'or (41:17)

There are numerous discrepancies between the actual dream of Pharaoh and the way in which he related it to Yosef. For example, in his dream he saw himself actually standing on the river, while in telling it to Yosef he claimed to have been standing on the banks of the river. Why did he change this detail when recounting his dream to Yosef?

Rabbeinu Bechaye explains that the Nile river was one of the Egyptian gods, and in envisioning himself literally standing on it, he was showing how wicked and conceited he was, in thinking himself even more mighty and powerful than the god he purported to worship, yet he was embarrassed to admit as such to Yosef, so he doctored it and reported having seen himself standing by the banks of the river. Yosef recognized the change and made no reference to the banks of the river in interpreting the dream, as he knew that hadn't been part of the original dream.

Rav Meir Shapiro and Rav Boruch Teumim-Frankel beautifully suggest that this is the meaning of the verse in Tehillim (81:6) Eidus bi'Yehosef samo b'tzeiso al Eretz Mitzrayim s'fas lo yadati eshma, which can be read as referring to the testimony of Yosef upon his rise to greatness in Egypt, that he heard a reference to "the banks" of the river, but had no clue why it was being mentioned or how to interpret it as it hadn't been part of the original dream.

K'she'amda malchus Yavan ha'resha'a al am'cha Yisroel l'hashkicham Torasecha ul'ha'aviram me'chukei retzonecha (Al HaNissim)

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 that He performed at this time. In this prayer, we describe the threat posed to us by the Greeks in the times of the Chanuka miracle as an attempt to cause us to forget the Torah and to deny us the ability to perform mitzvos. Although it is physically possible to prevent another person from doing mitzvos or engaging in additional Torah study, how is it possible to cause somebody to forget the Torah that he has already learned?

Rav Meir Wahrsager of Yeshivas Mir in Yerushalayim posits that in their war against Hashem and His Torah, the Greeks understood that it was impossible for them to delete knowledge from somebody's mind, so in their wickedness, they instead developed and promoted a new culture and value system in which Torah has no significance, and by making it irrelevant, it would naturally be forgotten. The Ramban (Vayikra 16:8) describes Aristotle, one of the foremost Greek philosophers, as denying anything that couldn't be physically sensed and experienced. The Greek's new value system was one in which only chitzoniyus (externality) was important. They constructed magnificent edifices, created beautiful art, and glorified the human body, but the underlying common denominator behind all of their advances and developments revolved was the pursuit of superficial accomplishments.

In contrast to the advice of Chazal in Pirkei Avos (4:20) not to look at the vessel, but at what it contains inside, the Greek approach was precisely the opposite. As the Jewish people became surrounded by this culture and the Greek philosophy began to permeate their thinking, they slowly began to forget about Torah and mitzvos, which revolve around a focus on penimiyus (internals). We can't observe or measure any physical impact on the world when we put on tefillin, shake a lulav, or recite the daily prayers, because Torah and mitzvos occupy the world of the internal, beyond the fa?ade and the glitter.

The Gemora in Shabbos (130a) teaches that the Jewish people are compared to a yonah, a dove. There are no coincidences in the Hebrew language, and the word yonah is comprised of the word Yavan - Greece - with an additional letter "heh" at the end. In Hebrew, adding a "heh" to the end of a word transforms it into the feminine grammatical construct. While Yavan epitomizes the male emphasis on the external, the Jewish people possess the uniquely feminine ability to recognize and appreciate the internal.

This insight into the Jewish focus on penimiyus and the non-Jewish emphasis on chitzoniyus can also help us understand a seemingly perplexing comment by Rashi at the beginning of Parshas Vayeishev (37:1), which is read in most years on the Shabbos just before Chanuka. Rashi questions the juxtaposition of the beginning of Parshas Vayeishev, which begins by mentioning Yaakov's son Yosef, to the end of Parshas Vayishlach, which concludes by listing the kings and leaders who were descended from Eisav.

Rashi explains the connection by way of a parable. A flax merchant was traveling with camels that were laden with a large quantity of flax, and as the merchant passed by, a blacksmith wondered aloud where so much flax could possibly be stored. A wise man responded by telling the blacksmith that his tools could produce one spark that would burn and consume all of the flax. Similarly, when Yaakov saw that so many powerful leaders would be descended from Eisav, he wondered how they could possibly all be conquered. The Torah responds to Yaakov's concern by invoking his son Yosef, as the verse (Ovadiah 1:18) compares Yaakov to a fire, Yosef to a flame, and Eisav to straw. Just as the wise man told the blacksmith, one spark will come forth from Yosef that will burn and destroy all of Eisav's descendants.

Rashi's parable is difficult to understand, as the blacksmith's question was where so much flax could be stored, not how it could be destroyed. How did the wise man's response address his question, and how does this parable help us understand the nature of the conflict between Yaakov and Eisav? Rav Wahrsager suggests that the wise man was conveying a profound insight into the deeper struggle between Eisav and the Jewish people. The wise man explained to the blacksmith that although at first glance the flax appears to take up a tremendous amount of space, upon further reflection one realizes that it's actually a lot of fluff and there's not much substance there, as demonstrated by the fact that one small spark is capable of reducing all of the flax to nothing.

Similarly, when one looks at the world superficially, Eisav and his powerful descendants appear quite formidable. Eisav dominates the world of external appearances, and in terms of quantity, he has a clear advantage over the Jewish people. The Jewish strength lies in the realm of penimiyus, the ability to penetrate beyond the fa?ade and appreciate what is hidden from the eye. If Yaakov and Yosef and their descendants attempt to counter Eisav in the external world of raw numbers, they are doomed to failure. However, when they are on fire spiritually by focusing on the internal world of Torah and mitzvos, they are able to expose and defeat Eisav's vacuous fa?ade. This concept is clearly manifested on Chanuka, when we celebrate the triumph of the Jewish emphasis on quality over quantity, as we praise Hashem in Al HaNissim for delivering the many into the hands of the few, and the wicked into the hands of the righteous.

Sadly, although our ancestors were victorious over the false worldview of Eisav and the Greeks, the battle is not over and these struggles continue in our generation, as Western culture once again attempts to entice us to abandon the internal world of spirituality for the pursuit of the temporal pleasures of this world. Chanuka gives us an opportunity to reflect and reorient our priorities and values. As we light the menorah each day, we should remind ourselves of the flame's message not to get caught up in the flax. The glitter and sparkle of Western culture is designed to seem tantalizing and appealing, but ultimately, it's empty, as there's nothing inside. Torah and mitzvos are our special inheritance, and by recommitting ourselves to the penimiyus spiritual world that they represent, we should merit sending forth the spark that will consume Eisav and his superficiality once and for all.

Answers to the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!
To receive the full version with answers email the author at oalport@optonline.net.

Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1) Rashi writes (40:23) that the additional two years of jail time Yosef served (41:1) was his punishment for the sin of asking the cupbearer twice (40:14) to intercede with Pharaoh and secure his release instead of placing his trust in Hashem. Had Yosef asked him only one time, what would have been his punishment? (Chaim Sheyeish Bahem Vol. 2 Parshas Vayeishev)

2) The Gemora in Pesachim (7b) derives from 44:12 the obligation of bedikas Chometz. In reference to chometz on Pesach, the Torah commands (Shemos 12:19) se'or lo yimatzei (leavened bread shall not be found), a similar expression to that used here in reference to Yosef's goblet (vaye'matzei). Just as the Torah mentions that the goblet was looked for, so too must we search for any chometz that may remain in our property before Pesach. Why doesn't the Gemora derive this point from an earlier verse (31:35), which uses the same expression in reference to Lavan's search for his idols in Rochel's tent? (Maharsha Pesachim 7b, Taam V'Daas)

3) What is permissible on Shabbos, but forbidden on Chanukah? (Rambam Hilchos Nedorim 3:9)

4) The Gemora in Shabbos (21b) teaches that the primary obligation on Chanuka is to light one flame on each night, but the mehadrin min hamehadrin - most preferred - level is to light an additional flame on each successive night for each member of the household. If a person lit one flame and realized that he forgot to say the blessings, may he still say the blessings before lighting the additional flames, or is it too late to do so because he has already fulfilled his basic obligation? (Shu"t Rav Akiva Eiger 2:13, K'Motzei Shalal Rav Chanuka pg. 240-1)

  2015 by Oizer Alport. Permission is granted to reproduce and distribute as long as credit is given. To receive weekly via email or to send comments or suggestions, write to parshapotpourri@optonline.net


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