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Torah Attitude: Parashas Miketz/Hanukkah, Blowing whistles


There is a very close connection between Joseph's time in prison and Pharaoh's dream. G'd's decision 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 of the Jewish people at the time of Purim was physical. The sin at the time of Hanukkah was spiritual. Those who rise up against the Jewish people are just like stones. The real power behind the stones is our own shortcomings.

End of two years

At the beginning of this week's Parasha we read, "It happened at the end of two years. And Pharaoh was dreaming" (Bereishis 41:1). There is an obvious question here. What does the Torah refer to when it says that Pharaoh's dream took place "at the end of two years"? What was so special about these two years? In order to answer this question the Midrash Rabbah (89:1) quotes a verse from Job (28:3) where it says: "An end was put to the darkness". The Midrash continues to explain that "the end of the two years" refers to the end of Joseph's time of darkness in prison. G'd had decided that Joseph deserved to stay in prison for another two years. As the two-year term ended, then Pharaoh had a dream. On the surface, there does not seem to be any direct connection between Joseph's time in prison and Pharaoh's dream. But the Midrash explains that there was in fact a very close connection.

Real cause and effect

At first reading, it appears that it was Pharaoh's dream and his desire to have it interpreted that caused the butler to remember Joseph's ability to interpret dreams. This in turn seemed to bring about that Joseph was freed from prison. The famous Rav of Brisk, known as the Beis Halevi, explains that the truth is just the opposite. As mentioned above, G'd had decided that Joseph had to stay for another two years in prison. This resulted from Joseph's failure to put his complete trust in G'd rather than relying on the butler, who he should have realized was not trustworthy. As the time had come for Joseph to leave the prison, G'd brought about Pharaoh's dream. When the Torah refers to "the end of two years", it is 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 really be the cause. For example, we are going through extremely difficult times and most investors have taken big hits in the last few months. Just two weeks ago, I heard about a person who had a very big profit from an investment in a certain stock that had been dormant for many years. In general, people would claim the cause of this gain is because this person invested in this particular stock and the effect is this large profit. However, based on the lesson the Torah teaches in this week's Parasha, we shall look at this from the Torah's perspective. Accordingly, G'd decided that his person should have a profit just now and arranged that the company of this stock suddenly found out that they had made a major mistake in their calculation which meant that the company was worth millions of dollars more than anticipated. In most cases, the real cause is beyond human sight, but in this case we have some "inside information" that may shed some light on why G'd would reward this particular person with such a large gain. I happen to know that this person almost lost his investment company over the last few months. Nevertheless, after consulting with halachic authorities, he decided to go beyond the letter of the law and continued to dispense large amounts to Torah institutions and poor Torah scholars from his personal assets.

The whistle blower

In general, we are not privy to such information and often wonder why things happen the way they do. 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 blow of the whistle. 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 runs 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. In reality, just as Pharaoh, the butler and everyone else involved in the process of releasing Joseph from prison were merely "whistleblowers" guided by the hand of the Almighty, so has everyone got a host of "whistleblowers" around them all the time. Recent events clearly show us how people who used to be very important and influential members of society and hold a lot of power and control suddenly are reduced to become nothing more superior than anybody else, if that.

Purim and Hanukkah

With all this in mind we can understand what the Bach, in his commentary to Tour Shulchan Aruch (Chapter 670), explains regarding the difference in the way we celebrate Hanukkah as opposed to the way we celebrate Purim. Both commemorate events when the Jewish people were in mortal danger and were saved from our enemies. So, asks the Bach, 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? The Bach answers that here as well 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. Our sages explain that the real cause for our suffering was the shortcomings of the Jewish people themselves. Our enemies were just the instruments through which G'd tried to wake us up.


The Talmud (Megillah 12A, see also Midrash Rabbah Ester 7:18) explains that the mistake of the Jewish people in the days of Mordechai and Ester was their participation in the 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 for them 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 was just like the Nazis. He 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 they repented and listened to Mordechai and returned to our Father in Heaven through fast days, extra prayer and Torah study, did the danger pass. The sin was the sin of the Jewish body. Subsequently, the Jewish body was in danger. Therefore, we celebrate Purim the way the body celebrates, with eating and drinking.


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 G'd enabled the Hellenists to come and forbid bringing offerings, 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. This is how a handful of Kohanim was victorious over the most powerful army in the world. As we say in Al HaNissim, "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." 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. That is why Hanukkah is celebrated totally different than Purim. The sin of Hanukkah was spiritual. Consequently, the danger faced by the Jews was spiritual annihilation. And the victory only came when the Jewish people stood up to serve G'd in the way of their forefathers. Therefore, we celebrate Hanukkah the way the soul celebrates, with candle lighting and prayer.

Dog attacks the stone

We find a strange statement in the Talmud (Sanhedrin 97A). The Talmud says that in the time before Mashiach the generation will be in some way comparable to a dog. The Chofetz Chaim explains this comparison in the following way: If someone throws a stone at a dog, the reflex action of the dog will be to attack the stone. The dog does not realize 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. Every now and again they strike out, most recently with the horrific attacks in Mumbai. However, we should be aware that those who rise against us are not the real danger. They are just the stones. The power behind the stones is our own shortcomings. These are the ones that 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. And then the lights of the Menorah will burn bright 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.

Shalom. Michael Deverett

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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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