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Torah Attitude: Parashas Miketz, Blowing whistles


There was a very close connection between Joseph’s time in prison and Pharaoh’s dream. G’d’s will to have Joseph freed from prison was the real cause of Pharaoh’s dream. In most cases, the real cause is beyond human sight. Pharaoh and the butler and everyone else involved in the process of releasing Joseph from prison were merely “whistleblowers” in the hands of the Almighty. Our enemies at Purim and Hanukkah were just the instruments through which G’d wanted to wake us up. The sin at Purim was done physically with our bodies. The sin at Hanukkah was done spiritually at the Temple service. Those who rise up against the Jewish people are just stones. The real power behind the stones is our own shortcomings.

End of two years

At the beginning of this week’s portion we read, “It happened at the end of two years. And Pharaoh was dreaming” (Be. 41:1). Why does the Torah mention that it was “at the end of two years” when Pharaoh was having a dream? What was so special about these two years? The Midrash Rabbah quotes a verse from Job (28:3) “An end was put to the darkness”. Explains the Midrash, the end of the two years refers to the end of Joseph’s time in prison. As the two-year term ended, then Pharaoh had a dream. On the surface, there does not appear to be any direct connection between Joseph’s time in prison and Pharaoh’s dream. But as the Midrash explains, in fact there was a very close connection.

Real cause and effect

At first reading, it appears that Pharaoh’s desire to have his dream interpreted caused the butler to remember Joseph’s ability to interpret dreams. This seems in turn to cause Joseph to be freed from prison. So it appears that Pharaoh’s dream brought about Joseph’s release from prison. The famous Rav of Brisk, known as the Bais Halevi, explains that the truth is just the opposite. G’d had decided that Joseph had to stay for another two years in prison. This resulted from Joseph’s failure to put his trust in G’d rather than relying on the butler, who he should have realized was not trustworthy. But now it was time for Joseph to leave the prison and that is why G’d brought about Pharaoh’s dream. G’d’s will to have Joseph freed from the prison was the real cause for Pharaoh’s dream. The Torah refers to “the end of two years” as a hint that Pharaoh’s dream was divinely arranged just in time for Joseph’s release from prison.

Beyond human sight

This teaches us a very important lesson in life. What to the human eye seems to be the cause might be the effect, and what seems to be the effect may be the cause. For example, if a person invests in a certain stock that yields a large capital gain, we would say that the cause is the investment in this particular stock and the effect is the capital gain.

The Torah here teaches us otherwise. When G’d decides that a person should have a capital gain, G’d arranges events so that the stock being held as an investment will increase in value. While most see the stock going up in value as the cause of the capital gain, G’d’s desire to benefit the person is the real cause. In most cases, the real cause is beyond human sight.

The whistle blower

The Chofetz Chaim compares this to a parable of someone that comes for the first time to the train station and hears the whistle blower summoning passengers to the train. He sees how the passengers board the train after they hear the whistle blow. The newcomer is in awe of this person who appears to be the one in charge. He respectfully approaches the official, asking all sorts of questions about the operations of the train station. The whistle blower looks at him with amusement saying, “I can’t answer these questions. You have to ask the stationmaster.” The newcomer responds, “I thought you were the stationmaster. You seem to be in control.” He says, “No my friend. I am just a low ranking employee who takes instruction from the stationmaster’s office. He is too busy and too important to go around the station blowing the whistle. He sits upstairs in his office making sure that everything continues to run smoothly.” So concludes the Chofetz Chaim, many people make this mistake when they see people around them who seem to be in control. The truth of the matter is that the one who really is in control is “Upstairs” hidden from the human eye. The ones down here are nothing but whistle blowers. In reality, just like Pharaoh, the butler and everyone else involved in the process of releasing Joseph from prison were merely “whistleblowers” in the hands of the Almighty, so has everyone got a host of “whistleblowers” around them all the time.

Purim and Hanukkah

With this in mind we can understand as the Bach, a commentary to Tour Shulchan Aruch, explains, the difference in the way we celebrate Hanukkah as opposed to the way we celebrate Purim. Both concern events when the Jewish people were in mortal danger and were saved from our enemies. So why is it that Purim is a time of merriment, with an emphasis on eating and drinking, whereas Hanukkah seems to be a more spiritual celebration, with candle lighting (symbolizing the Jewish soul and the wisdom of Torah) and extra prayers? Explains the Bach, again we have to look at the underlying cause. It was not just Haman and his cohorts at the time of Purim or the Greek-Assyrian Empire at the time of Hanukkah that endangered the Jewish nation. The real cause, as our sages explain, was the shortcomings of the Jewish people themselves. Our enemies were just the instruments through which G’d wanted to wake us up.


The Talmud explains (Megillah 12A, see also Midrash Rabbah Ester 7:18) that the mistake in the days of Mordechai and Ester was the participation of the Jews in banquets hosted by King Ahashvairus. They were warned by Mordechai not to participate. Although the food served to the Jews was under kosher supervision, it was not appropriate to join in the celebration that was full of immorality and entertainment unsuitable for a holy nation. As the Jews sinned with their bodies by participating in these festivities, their bodies became endangered. Haman, just like the Nazis, did not care whether the Jews were observant or not. His intent was to annihilate all of them. He was after the Jewish body. Only when the Jews repented and listened to Mordechai and with fast days, extra prayer and Torah study, returned to our Father in heaven, did the danger pass. The sin was the sin of the Jewish body. The danger was against the Jewish body. Therefore, we celebrate Purim the way the body celebrates, with food and drink.


On the other hand, explains the Bach, the events leading up to Hanukkah were of a different nature. The Temple service had been slacking. That is why the Hellenists came and forbid bringing sacrifices, lighting the Menorah, and other spiritual activities. They introduced the worship of Greek idols and the admiration of the human body. Greek sporting events soon replaced the Temple service in the holy city of Jerusalem. Only when the Hasmoneans stood up and were ready to sacrifice themselves to restore the holiness of Jerusalem and rededicate the Temple service did G’d miraculously help them. With G’d’s intervention, the many were delivered into the hands of the few, the strong were delivered into the hands of the weak, and the wanton were delivered in the hands of those occupied in Torah study (Al Hanisim). A handful of Kohanim was victorious over the most powerful army in the world. The Hellenists originally did not go after the Jewish body but the Jewish soul. They wanted the Jews to assimilate and act like them. Just like Communist Russia, as long as the Jews went along with the ideas and ideals of those in power, they would leave them in peace. But as soon as the Jews wanted to observe the laws of the holy Torah they were persecuted without any mercy. So we see that Hanukkah is totally different than Purim. The sin of Hanukkah was spiritual. Therefore, the danger faced by the Jews was spiritual annihilation. The victory came when Jews stood up to serve G’d in the way of their forefathers. So we celebrate Hanukkah the way the soul celebrates, with candle lighting and prayer.

Dog attacks the stone

The Chofetz Chaim quotes a strange statement from the Talmud (Sanhedrin 97A) that in the time before Mashiach the generation will be in some way comparable to a dog. If someone throws a stone at a dog, the reflex action of the dog will be to attack the stone. The dog does not appreciate that the real danger is the power behind the stone. In the time before Mashiach, we have been warned that our enemies will rise against us. Many people make the mistake thinking that those who rise against us are the real danger. We dare not forget that they are just the stones. The real power behind the stones is our own shortcomings. Our mistakes empower our enemies to harm us. We have had plenty of wake-up calls. The time has come for us to identify the real causes and not be fooled by appearances. We must stop focusing on the whistle blower and direct attention to the One above so that we, like our ancestors, may be saved from our enemies to again serve G’d in peace. Then the lights of the Menorah will burn bright again in the Temple in Jerusalem.

These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.

Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Jerusalem, Israel