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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 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 it says, "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"? The Midrash Rabbah (89:1) explains that "the end of the two years" refers to the end of Joseph's time in prison. G'd had decided that Joseph should stay in prison for another two years. As the two-year term ended, then Pharaoh had a dream.

Real cause and effect

On the surface, it appears that it was Pharaoh's dream and his desire to have it interpreted that brought about the butler remembering Joseph's ability to interpret dreams. This in turn seemed to be the cause 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. When the time was ripe for Joseph to leave the prison, G'd brought about that Pharaoh had his dream. When the Torah refers to "the end of two years", it is to teach that Pharaoh's dream was Divinely arranged just in time for Joseph's release from prison.

Beyond human sight

This applies to everything. What seems to us to be the cause might be the effect, and what seems to be the effect may really be the cause.

The whistle blower

We often wonder why things happen the way they do. The Chofetz Chaim compares this to someone that comes for the first time to the train station. He hears the whistle summoning passengers to the train and sees how the passengers board the train. The newcomer is in awe of the whistle blower who appears to be in charge. He respectfully approaches him and asks all sorts of questions about the operations of the train station. The whistle blower looks at him amused and says, "I can't answer these questions. You have to ask the stationmaster." The newcomer responds, "I thought you were in charge." "No my friend", says the whistle blower, "I am just a low ranking employee who takes instruction from the stationmaster. 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." Many people make this mistake, says the Chofetz Chaim, when they see people around them who appear 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. Pharaoh and the butler were merely "whistleblowers" guided by the hand of the Almighty to release Joseph from prison. In the same way, we all have a host of "whistleblowers" around us all the time. We often see how people who used to be very important and influential members of society suddenly lose everything and have nothing more than anybody else, if that.

Purim and Hanukkah

With this in mind we can gain a better understanding of the words of the Bach, in his commentary to Tour Shulchan Aruch (Chapter 670, he asks, why do we celebrate Hanukkah and Purim in such different ways? Both commemorate events when the Jewish people were in mortal danger and were miraculously saved from our enemies. However, Purim is a time of merriment, with emphasis on eating and drinking, whereas Hanukkah is a spiritual celebration, with candle lighting (symbolizing the Jewish soul and the wisdom of Torah) and extra prayers. The Bach answers that we have to look at the underlying cause. The truth is that, at the time of Purim, we were not in danger because of Haman and his cohorts. Nor was the Greek-Syrian army the real danger at the time of Hanukkah. Our sages explain that the real problem was our own shortcomings. Our enemies were just the whistleblowers through whom G'd called upon us.


The Talmud (Megillah 12A, see also Midrash Rabbah Ester 7:18) points out that Jews in Shushan participated in King Ahashvairus' banquets, although Mordechai warned them not to attend. The food served to the Jews was under kosher supervision; however, the celebration was immoral and the entertainment was unsuitable for a holy nation. Since 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. Since the sin was performed by the body, subsequently, the body was in danger. That is why 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. At that time the Temple service had been slacking. That is why G'd enabled the Hellenists to contaminate the Temple and to stop the Jews from bringing offerings and lighting the Menorah. They introduced the worship of Greek idols and the idolization of the human body. Greek sports 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, they would leave them in peace, as long as they went along with the ideas and ideals of those in power. 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 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 person who threw the stone. We have been warned that before Mashiach comes, our enemies will rise against us. Whenever they can, they will strike out. The recent escalation of attacks all over Israel is very frightening. However, we must 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. Every terrorist attack is a wake-up call to identify the real cause. We must stop focusing on the whistle blowers and direct our attention to the One above, so that we, like our ancestors, may be saved from our enemies to serve G'd in peace. And then the lights of the Menorah will again burn bright in the Temple in Jerusalem.

These words were based on notes of 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
Jerusalem, Israel