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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

Parshas Miketz

Now let Pharaoh seek out a discerning and wise man and set him over the land of Egypt. (41:33)

Pharaoh asked Yosef to interpret his dreams. Yosef interpreted the dreams to Pharaoh’s satisfaction. He then proceeded to offer unsolicited advice. Is that not going beyond the scope of what he was asked to do? What compelled Yosef to step forward, to propel himself for the position? Horav Tzvi Hirsch Ferber, zl, offers a practical response. He analogizes this to two officers who had a penchant for glory. They were so wrapped up in themselves that they assumed that everyone admired and adored them. They once came to the train station and found a band playing. Each one thought that the band was playing in his honor. Each one absolutely refused to be swayed from believing that he was the focus of attention. They decided they would go seek out a Jew who was known for his wisdom and ask him to render his opinion in order to solve their "dispute."

It so happened that right around the corner from the station, this wise Jew lived in abject poverty. In fact, he had no money for the holiday of Pesach which was quickly approaching. Suddenly, these two officers burst through his door with their request that he solve their dispute. He agreed to arbitrate their case, providing they pay him fifty rubles for his time. After they paid their money, he told them, "The band was not there for either one of you, but for me, so that I could have money to purchase provisions for Pesach!"

The same idea may be applied to Yosef. He understood that Pharaoh’s dreams were not for him or for his magicians. Hashem can send a famine without dreams. The dreams were there for one purpose--Yosef. Yosef was released from prison through the medium of the dreams. Consequently, Yosef told Pharaoh, "I am the underlying reason for your dreams. Therefore, seek out for yourself an astute and wise person and transfer authority to him." Pharaoh understood Yosef’s implied message and responded, "There is no one more wise than you. Therefore, you will supervise over my home."

We all should open our eyes, so that we might perceive the various messages Hashem sends us. It is regrettable that we somehow always think that He is communicating to someone else.

Then Pharaoh said to Yosef, since Hashem has informed you of all this, there can be no one so discerning and wise as you. (41:39)

Pharaoh sounds like a believer! A man whose entire life is devoted to idol-worship, who considers himself a deity, reverts to believing in Hashem’s Word. His successor, the Pharaoh with whom Moshe dealt, was not as compliant. He exclaimed to Moshe, "Who is Hashem that I should listen to Him?" Indeed, all the miracles and wonders that transformed Egypt, seemed to have left no impression on him. What was the difference between these two Pharaohs? Is it possible that "Yosef’s" Pharaoh was a kinder, gentler and more committed pagan than his successor?

Horav Yaakov Neiman, zl, comments that actually both Pharaohs had the same level of commitment; the situations differed. Neither pagan had a penchant for believing in Hashem. Indeed, if the situation would have been different, Yosef’s Pharaoh would have shown his real personality. Imagine, Yosef declared to Pharaoh that his dream foretold incredible wealth and property for him and his country. Even though this period of abundance was to be foreshadowed by years of hunger, it would not affect Pharaoh. In fact, Pharaoh would become even wealthier during the years of famine, when everybody would turn to him for food. Pharaoh had no problem believing in such a G-d. Pharaoh wanted to believe and support a G-d that made him rich and powerful. Conversely, the Pharaoh with whom Moshe communicated did not hear such positive news. He was told to let the Jews go free, to release the slaves that had been subjected to his cruel torture. This would produce enormous monetary loss. Is it any wonder that such news did not evoke a cooperative response? The Pharaohs and their cohorts of each generation are all the same. They are supportive and committed as long as things go their way, as long as their evil way of life is positively reinforced. A Jew’s emunah, on the other hand, is quite different. Our belief transcends the vicissitudes that have challenged us throughout history. Our faith in Hashem is indomitable. It has been tested and affirmed thousand upon thousands of times as Jews have confronted persecution, fear, sickness, and even death with the words of Ani Maamin - I Believe - on their lips. No, we do not believe in Hashem only when it directly benefits us.

Many stories demonstrate the faith and conviction evinced by our brothers and sisters who had been led through the valley of death during the Holocaust. There is a poignant story of a great chassidic rebbe who taught his chassidim how to sanctify Hashem’s Name in preparation for their eternal reward.

The incident took place in the notorious Treblinka death camp, where the courtyard was filled with thousands of Jews about to be led to their deaths. They turned to the Rebbe of Gradzysk, Horav Yisrael Shapiro, zl, for words of comfort and inspiration. The Rebbe looked at the hapless Jews and spoke, "We must view ourselves as being fortunate to have been chosen to prepare the path for Moshiach Tzidkeinu, by sanctifying ourselves to die Al Kiddush Hashem. We must accept our self-sacrifice with love and joy. I command you neither to falter nor cry as you approach your deaths. Rather, rejoice and sing the melody of Ani Maamin, and, like the great Tanna, Rabbi Akiva, let your souls expire with the words Shema Yisrael."

After the Rebbe finished his words, the entire assembly began to sing Ani Maamin. With the cry of Shema Yisrael, they went to their deaths sanctifying Hashem’s Name. While some view this to be as a nice, moving story, it is much more than that. It demonstrates the fiber of a Jew. It shows that our belief in the Almighty remains firm even when our lot in life is tragic. That is why He chose us to be His nation.

And to Yosef were born two sons....and Yosef named the firstborn Menashe, for Hashem has made me forget all my toil and all my father’s house. (41:50,51)

It would be terribly wrong to think for a moment that Yosef sought to "forget" all of his past, his family, his troubles. Although he certainly would not have wanted to spend too much time remembering his bitter childhood and his strained relationship with his brothers, how could he have sought to forget about his aged father and the Torah environment in which he grew up? Walking out onto the streets of Egypt should have evoked pangs of homesickness for his family and the community of which he was no longer a part. Why then does he give his child a name that implies forgetting his past?

We suggest that Yosef had good reason for expressing his gratitude over "forgetting" the past. Regrettably, remembering the traumatic events of one’s past can have a devastating effect upon a person. In many cases it can effect a tragic "turn off" from one’s religious observance. One must be able to transcend his past, literally to forget it, so that it does not continue to haunt him. Yosef was grateful that he was able to "forget" his suffering and look beyond his pain to the future rebuilding of his family. He realized that he had survived for a reason. He was saved by design, to have a family that he could raise in the Torah way. He was to be a beacon of salvation to his father and brothers as they entered into the Egyptian exile. Yosef remembered what was important for the future. He only forgot that which would hinder his spiritual growth.

When one of them opened his sack...he saw his money and behold--it was in the mouth of his sack. (42:27)

Rashi comments that the "echad," the individual who opened his sack and found the money, was Levi. Abarbanel says that it was by design that Levi found the money first. Yosef had Levi’s money placed by the top of his sack, so that he would be the first to discover the money. Since he was the one most responsible for Yosef's sale into slavery, the distress he experienced would provide atonement for his sin. In any event, the one who found the money first would be the one to impose a feeling of fear and remorse upon the rest of the brothers. Horav Shlomo Carlebach, Shlita, remarks that it was necessary for Levi to be that one to engender fear of Hashem and fear of sin among the brothers. Why? What made Levi more suitable for this position of leadership?

Horav Carlebach suggests that the person who found the money first should be someone who possessed such qualities that he would not interpret finding the money as mere coincidence. It should be someone who distinguished himself from his brothers in his acute ability to pierce through the ambiguity and see the workings of Hashem. It should be someone who, after recognizing the truth, could also teach and transmit it to others. This individual would carry the responsibility to inspire his brothers to see the Hand of Hashem, weaving a tapestry of events whose focus it was to educate and imbue them with the truth.

Levi was the talmid chacham, Torah scholar, who was acutely aware of Hashem’s methods. He would be able to inspire his brothers to comprehend the truth. This is why Yaakov Avinu singled out Levi to be the one to fight the Greeks. It was Levi’s descendants, the Chashmonaim, who rose up against their oppressors and miraculously overwhelmed them. Indeed, the Midrash says that by their very nature, Shevet Levi were to be the nemesis of the Yevanim, Greeks. They are the third tribe in birth; Yavan is third of the four exiles to whom we are to be subjected. Each one has three letters to their name. Yavan is great in number, while Levi’s population is insignificant in comparison. Yaakov blessed the "few" to triumph over the "many." This Midrash begs elucidation. One would think that the tribe whose goal it is to study in the Bais Hamedrash would not be singled out to battle Yavan. Second, what is the significance of "rabim b’yad me’atim," "many in the hands of few?" It seems that this concept is an inherent component in the triumph over Yavan.

Horav Carlebach cites the Maharal who explains the pasuk in Yirmiyah 5, where the Navi compares each of the four nations that will persecute us to a specific animal. Yavan is compared to a na'mer, a tiger/leopard. The tiger symbolizes chutzpah, brazenness and daring. With audacity, the Greeks sought to destroy our Torah and crush our pride in being Jewish. They denied anything which they could not rationalize. The concept of a nation created in the tzelem Elokim, image of G-d, was ludicrous to them because they could not understand it. The eternity of Am Yisrael, Torah min Hashomayim, a Torah that comes from Heaven, were concepts which they looked down upon with disdain and derision. This is chachmas Yevanis, the philosophy and wisdom of Greece. Everything is in the mind, everything must be analyzed and understood. There is no room for faith. They denied everything which was not rationally comprehensible. They had no place for the spirit. Is there greater chutzpah than that represented by such a philosophy?

The only way to fight chutzpah is with chutzpah. Yehudah ben Teimah says, "Be bold as a leopard to carry out the will of your Father in Heaven." There are times when we refrain from performing a mitzvah properly, when we regress in our mitzvah observance, out of fear of what "others" might say. This type of behavior bespeaks weakness. We must be "brazen" in our observance, proud of our Jewishness, enthusiastic to serve the Almighty.

Shevet Levi are the ones who devoted themselves to Torah study. They are the ones whose commitment to Hashem, His Torah and mitzvos, was exemplary. They symbolize pride, they personify strength; they are the truly bold ones. Their conviction is above rationale; their commitment is without embellishment. They do what must be done. They do not answer to anyone, but to Hashem. Yaakov Avinu knew that in order to fight Yavan, one does not need physical prowess, horses and weaponry. Inner strength will triumph over the Greeks. Numbers will not succeed in battle. A committed group of even a "few" Jews will overwhelm the "many." Shevet Levi does not battle according to the laws of nature. They employ the power vested in them by the Almighty. They fear no man, no philosophy, and no religion. They are armed with the truth--a weapon which renders their antagonists powerless. Yosef understood what Yaakov had long before perceived: If anyone could evoke the boldness and courage it would take to repent, it was -- and has always been--Shevet Levi--the guardians of the Torah.


1. The sar ha’mashkim used the following terms to describe Yosef. To what do they allude? a) na’ar b) eved c) Ivri?

2. To whom did Yosef attribute his remarkable ability to interpret dreams?

3. Why did Yaakov encourage his sons to go to Egypt in search of food? Was he that affected by the hunger?

4. What was there about the way that the brothers entered Egypt that gave Yosef justification to call them spies?

5. Why did Yosef imprison Shimon more so than any of the other brothers?

6. What aspect of the conversation between Yosef and Binyamin provoked Yosef to cry?


1. a) na’ar: Young and not very bright.
b)Ivri: Hebrew who doesn’t know the Egyptian language.
c) eved: A slave who, according to Egyptian law, can never ascend to be a ruler and wear the clothes of nobility.

2. Hashem

3. Actually, Yaakov and his family had food. It just did not look proper for their neighbors that the "Jews" had food to eat, while the surrounding Yishmaelim did not.

4. They each entered through a separate gate.

5. He was the one that threw Yosef into the pit. He was the one who said to Levi in an inciteful manner, "Here comes the dreamer." Yosef sought to separate Shimon from Levi. Together they might have planned to kill him.

6. In recounting the names of his sons, Binyamin told Yosef how each one had been given a name alluding to his lost brother.


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