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Haftarah: Zechariah 2:14-4:7

December 3-4, 2010 27 Kislev 5771

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“It happened at the end of two years to the day, Pharaoh was dreaming. (Beresheet 41:1)

Parashat Mikess is traditionally read on Hanukah, when we celebrate the victory of the Maccabees over our Greek oppressors. This is not a mere coincidence; there is a deep connection between them and a lesson that we can apply in our own lives. As we know, Pharaoh dreamed of beautiful and ugly cows. In his dream he saw seven cows that were of ugly “mar’eh” – appearance. However, when he told the dream to Yosef he changed it to ugly “to’ar” – form. What’s the difference between them and why did he switch it?

Rabbi Ozer Alport explains that to’ar and mar’eh are very different. To’ar refers to the external quality of a person’s physical face. Mar’eh describes the internal spiritual shine which radiates from within. The Torah praises Rachel (29:17) saying that she was both comely in her to’ar and her mar’eh. Now that we know 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 buried people with their possessions. They couldn’t imagine an afterlife of anything but more physical pleasure. Pharaoh saw cows that were ugly in mar’eh, meaning he was shown a destruction that would go deep down to the inner core of his corrupt society. But, since he was so physically oriented he wasn’t able to grasp the hint. In his eyes beauty was skin deep and he was unable to describe the animals in anything but their external appearance.

The Ramban writes that the Egyptian exile contained the roots of all other exiles. Therefore it isn’t surprising to us to find that in the time of the Hanukah 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.

We see that our society reflects the superficial values of the Egyptian and Greek cultures. The triumph of our righteous ancestors was not only winning a physical war, but it was a victory of our world view over theirs. The Maccabees represented inner depth and spiritual beauty, something we should strive to emulate and incorporate into our daily lives. Shabbat Shalom and Happy Hanukah. Rabbi Reuven Semah

"If I don't bring Binyamin back, I will be a sinner forever."(Beresheet 43:9)

Yehudah wanted to convince Ya'akob to allow Binyamin to go down to Egypt with them. Otherwise, the viceroy would not allow their other brother out of prison. Yehudah therefore told Ya'akob, "If I don't bring back Binyamin I will be considered a sinner my whole life, including Olam Haba, the Next World." The Gemara says that because of these words, Yehudah was not allowed into Olam Haba for many hundreds of years, until Moshe Rabenu prayed fervently, and got Yehudah into Olam Haba.

We see from here how careful we have to be when using words, even about ourselves. Although Yehudah said these words for a noble purpose of reuniting the family, nevertheless, his words affected his future in a very drastic way. We should never utter words which can have a dangerous effect on ourselves or on anybody, even when just joking or playing. Saying things like, "I could die from embarrassment," or, "I'm going to kill you for that," or, "You're dead," and the like, should be avoided at all costs. Although we don't mean these things literally, words uttered have a powerful force. We should train ourselves to say words of berachah (blessing) even when upset or angry. Many people from the old generation used to say, "You should be blessed," or the like, when they got upset with that person. This way, not only did they not say anything negative during an argument, but by saying nice things they made the arguments shorter. This is something to think about and train ourselves to do. Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Shmuel Choueka


“And you shall say to them, ‘Why did you pay back bad for good? Is not this in which my master drinks, and whereby he indeed divines? You have done evil in doing so.’” (Beresheet 44:4-5)

What did Yosef want to emphasize with the additional and seemingly redundant phrase, “You have done evil in so doing”? Rav Shlomo Harkavi z”l cites the Hobot Halebabot, who distinguishes between two obligatory approaches to serving Hashem. One orientation is simply that the Torah implores it. It is Hashem’s command that one performs misvot and avoids transgression. Hashem also demands of us that every action we do, every undertaking in which we involve ourselves, be consistent with “sechel hayashar,” common sense. One who acts in an irrational manner is truly reprehensible.

When one is involved in a criminal act, such as stealing, some form of “justification” may be possible. Perhaps his financial situation may have reached a point that he could no longer endure. His yeser hara, evil inclination, was then able to sway him to steal. If one committed a theft, cognizant that he would be immediately apprehended, he would be viewed as foolish. He wouldn’t simply be a thief, he would be an imbecile! Yosef told his brothers, “How could you add foolishness to your act of thievery? Do you not know that I use this cup for divining and your act of stealing would immediately be uncovered?” Yosef rebuked them for the initial act of stealing, as well as for their failure to apply common sense.

This idea serves as a piercing condemnation regarding every sin we transgress. Are we so foolish to think that Hashem will not “find out” and punish us? Does anything elude Him? Likewise, it also behooves us to use common sense and simple logic for every good deed and misvah we perform. Even the most positive action, if performed without “sechel,” can quickly be transformed into an ugly averah. (Peninim on the Torah)

How are the miracles of Hanukah hinted at in Parashat Mikess?

Just as the weak, scrawny cows devoured the fat, strong ones and the thin wheat stalks consumed the thick ones, so too a small group of talmidei hachamim, known as the Hashmonaim, overcame the larger and more powerful Greek oppressors. Also, just as the nations appeared strong and invincible but through the passage of time have become virtually extinct, the relatively weak and small Jewish nation continues to outlive their enemies and oppressors. (Torahific)


When Pharaoh praised Yosef for successfully interpreting his cryptic dreams, he said, “There is none as wise nor is anyone a thinker like you” (Beresheet 41:39). The king of Egypt used two terms that means ‘smart’ – ‘hacham’ and ‘navon” – ‘wise man’ and ‘thinker.’ What is the difference?

Wise persons can handle whatever comes up using past experience to deal with the situation. Should all remain calm, however, the wisdom may lay dormant. Thinkers, on the other hand, can’t stand idleness. When no new circumstances arise – when no new learning situations confront them – thinkers review that which they have already learned. Thinkers question what they already know, and evaluate its validity. By doing so, they develop new techniques from old ideas. Our Sages teach that wise men are like those who will evaluate any merchandise that is offered to them in the marketplace. Thinkers, however, will not sit by idly when no new goods are presented. Thinkers are like merchants who, when no items are offered to them, will review their stock to see if there is any change they can make to improve their position. Review yields innovation.

When things slow down and it seems like nothing is happening, look again at what has already transpired. Review what you have learned in the past. Evaluate its validity as it applies to your current situation. It takes a minute, but you will find that a look-back will help you move forward successfully. (One Minute With Yourself – Rabbi Raymond Beyda)

* * * * *

A quick tip to boost the power of your prayer. Hazal tell us (Masechet Baba Kama Daf 92A) that Hashem loves the tefilot of one Jew for another so much that anyone who prays on behalf of a fellow Jew with similar needs will have his prayer answered first. A special service has now begun to provide people with names of others who find themselves in a similar predicament. You can call with complete anonymity and get the name of someone to pray for and give the name of someone that needs our prayers. The name of the service is Kol Hamitpalel. Categories include: Marriage; Income; Health; To have children etc.

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