Torah Readings for Saturday, December 31, 2016
(Shabbat Shel Chanukah)First Scroll
The first scroll is for the regular weekly reading. The second scroll is for the Chanukah Reading which is the maftir reading.
Miketz (literally “at the end,” the first distinctive word in the portion) is the tenth sedrah in Bereshit (Genesis) and the second in the Jacob/Joseph cycle. The sedrah divides neatly into two parts. The first part (41:1-56) recounts Joseph’s rise to power as he becomes second most powerful person in Egypt. The second part (42:1-44:17) recounts Joseph’s first two encounters with his brothers.
Joseph’s Rise To Power (41:1-56)
Two years have passed since the end of last week’s sedrah. The cupbearer has been restored to his position, but he has failed to keep his promise and Joseph continues to languish in prison. Miketz opens with one of those famous Bible Stories that we all heard in Sunday School. Pharaoh dreams of seven fat cows rising from the
Nile that are consumed by seven lean
cows. He then dreams of seven ears of
corn that are swallowed up by seven thin ears of corn. When nobody can interpret the dreams in a meaningful
way, the cupbearer remembers Joseph, the interpreter of dreams. Joseph is brought before Pharaoh who tells
Joseph of his dreams. It should be noted
that the dream and what Pharaoh describes as the dreams are slightly
different. Compare 41:1-7 with
41:17-24. In speaking of the cows
Pharaoh adds “never had I seen their likes for ugliness in all the !” In speaking of the ears of corn he adds “but
when they had consumed them, one could not tell that they had consumed them for
they looked just as bad as before.” In
other words, Joseph does not actually interpret Pharaoh’s dreams, he interprets
Pharaoh’s second version of the dream.
The additional comments Pharaoh makes help provide clues as to their
meaning. At any rate, Joseph describes
the dreams as a revelation from God of impending events. What is left to Pharaoh is to find a way to
cope with what is coming. Fortunately,
Joseph has a plan of action that Pharaoh is only too glad to adopt. And since it is obvious to Pharaoh that
Joseph has insight into God’s will, Joseph is the obvious choice to carry out
the plan. The willingness of this
Pharaoh to acknowledge God is far cry from the view of God displayed by the
Pharaoh we see at Pesach. This part of
the sedrah ends with Joseph becoming a full member of the Egyptian
society. The Hebrew slave gets an
Egyptian name and is given a prominent Egyptian woman for his wife. When Joseph was cast into the pit, he lost
his status in the material world. Now,
he has not only regained what he lost, he has reached undreamed of heights in
the material world. In other words, the
first part of the sedrah can be viewed as the Material Redemption of Joseph. land of Egypt
Joseph’s First Two Encounters With His Brothers (42:1-44:17)
The narrative shifts back to Canaan and the house of Jacob. Famine is abroad in the land and Jacob sends ten of his sons down to
to buy supplies. The Torah is silent as
to why he sent ten. Certainly one or two
of them could have made the purchases.
The text is explicit as to why it is ten and not eleven. Benjamin, the remaining son of Rachel, was to
stay with Jacob “Lest disaster befall him.”
Does this mean that Jacob was still so caught up in playing favorites
that he was willing to lose his other sons, but could not bear the thought of
losing the living link with Rachel? Egypt
The brothers arrive in Egypt and when they see Joseph whom they recognize only as a great Egyptian official “they bowed down to him.” Joseph not only recognizes his brothers, he recognizes the fulfillment of his youthful dream in their behavior. Since Joseph knows who the brothers are, the accusations about being spies and the ensuing imprisonment cannot be for the reasons stated. As the second most powerful person in
Joseph had no reason to fear his brothers.
So, is his behavior merely a very human act of revenge or is it, as some
commentators suggest, a test by Joseph to see if his brothers have repented for
what they did to him? Or is it a
combination of both? Regardless, Joseph
withdraws his charges, gives his brothers grain and sends them on their way
back home. But they must leave Simeon
behind as a guarantee that they are not spies and that they will return with
Benjamin. Additionally, the brothers
find that the money with which they paid for the grain has mysteriously been
returned them. Egypt
When they come home, the brothers recount their tale to Jacob who responds in a tone of self-pity reminiscent of his response when he found out what his sons did to avenge Dinah. The self-pitying wail “These things always happen to me!” is hardly the noble voice of a great patriarch. Rueben makes his second, and last, attempt to play the role of the oldest son. Rueben assures his father that that he can kill his sons if anything happens to Benjamin when they take him to
. Jacob spurns the offer. The son who “lay with Bilhah, his father’s
concubine” and who was unable to save Joseph is swept away from the position of
leadership he has failed to fulfill. Be
that as it may, the famine continues and Jacob is forced to send his sons back
to procure more food. Judah now assumes
the role that Rueben had attempted to fill and guarantees the safety of
Jacob, in a move reminiscent of his encounter with Esau, commands his sons to take gifts and double the money so that all will go well when they meet “the man” in Egypt. Joseph still does not seem to have made up his mind about his brothers when he sees them for the second time. In moves worthy of Laban, he tricks them into believing that all is well. But in the end, he concocts an elaborate ruse that threatens the well-being of Benjamin and therefore the very life of Jacob. The story carries echoes of early narratives. The meal that Joseph feeds his brothers reminds us of the meal they ate while Joseph languished in the pit. The “theft” of the cup (a religious object) by Rachel’s son is reminiscent of the theft of Laban’s household gods by Rachel. The important thing, from Joseph’s point of view, is that the brothers do not desert Benjamin. They will not leave him to languish in slavery. They will not treat Rachel’s youngest son as they had her eldest. Not only do the brothers all return to Joseph’s house, but Judah steps up to the plate to plead his brother case. This sedrah is a cliffhanger. We will have to wait until next week for the final outcome.
More than one kind of Smarts
When he finishes interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams, Joseph offers the following solution, “And now shall Pharaoh look for an intelligent and wise man, and set him over the land of Egypt” (41:33). Why use both terms? Why not just say intelligent or just say wise? The sages of the Middle Ages came up with explanations that are surprisingly consistent with modern management theorists. According to Moses Ben Nachman, the 13th century Sephardic Rabbi also known as the Ramban, intelligence refers to human learning and human structures. Wisdom refers to natural phenomena and properties. The knowledgeable person knows the natural sciences as well as the humanities and the social sciences. Another way of looking at this is that the knowledgeable person is conversant with secular and religious matters. This leads logically to the concept that a person should divide his time between earning a living and studying Torah.
Free will versus Predestination
We have been reading about the beginning of the Israelite migration to Egypt. Do the actors in this story really have any choice in the roles they are playing? Remember the words uttered by God to Abraham in Bereshit 15:13, “Know well that your offspring shall be strangers in a land not theirs and they shall be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years.…”
In Miketz, Joseph is still referred to as being a Hebrew. For the first time, our ancestors are referred to as the “Sons of Israel.” The Hebrew term is variously translated as the Children of Israel, as well as the more literal sons of Israel. This is the name that will follow us throughout our history.
FamineThere would appear to be two famines described in Miketz. One takes place in
Dress for Success“Thereupon Pharaoh sent for Joseph and he was rushed from the dungeon. He had his hair cut and changed his clothes, and he appeared before Pharaoh.” (4:14-15). Joseph does not appear before the King of Egypt in his work clothes. He changes his outfit and cuts his hair. If Joseph would take time to attend to his physical appearance before coming before the temporal King of Egypt, it makes you wonder why when people come to services to appear before the King of the Universe they do not at least make an attempt to emulate Joseph’s behavior. Even the poor Jews of Eastern Europe took to heart the words of the Shulchon Oruch when it came to dress and personal hygiene.
Economics 101Much of the current economic misery could have been avoided if people had paid attention to the story about the seven fat cows and the seven lean cows. The Bible provides us with a basic lesson of economics - prosperity does not last forever. People must take action during the good times to ameliorate the pain of privation. Considering the antiquity of the story of Joseph’s interpretation of Pharaoh’s Dreams, you would think that people would have gotten the message by now. Unfortunately, such is not the case.
ChanukahMiketz is usually the sedrah read during Chanukah. In looking for a connection between the two we must be careful since the Torah came long before the holiday. In Miketz, Joseph gives God credit for his ability to explain dreams. In celebrating Chanukah, we give God credit for our ability to overcome the Syrians and for making the oil burn for eight days (yes, the last part is a myth but God still gets the credit). But Chanukah is also a holiday that sparks discussion about assimilation and imitation. The Chanukah fight was, in part, a fight between Jews who wanted to become like the Greeks and those who did not want to adopt their ways. In Miketz, we see Joseph being transformed from a Hebrew slave into an Egyptian official. In name, appearance and practice, he seems to become an Egyptian. Yet, it is obvious that he does not forget his roots or his people. Is enslavement the ultimate punishment for assimilation? Is some form of assimilation the cost of physical survival? These are questions raised in Miketz and that echo through the Chanukah story and down to our own times.
DreamsThe role of dreams and visions which we saw in last week’s Torah portion continues in Miketz. Those who think that dreams are the province of the ancient world or the ignorant and gullible might want to read Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankel for the importance of dreams and visions of the future in helping individuals move forward, and in the case of his experience during the Holocaust, survive in the worst Hell on Earth known to man. Also, as Rabbi Sacks reminds us, two Viennese Jews gained fame for the involvement of dreams. Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic therapy was steeped in the interpretation of dreams. At the same time, Theodor Herzl, the founder of Zionism who dreamed of Jewish state, responded to the mockery of his critics by saying “If you will it, it is no dream.” As Eli Weisel pointed out, it is good thing that the two never met. Who knows, Freud might have “explained” Herzl’s dream and in so doing put an end to his drive for creating a Jewish homeland.
ForeshadowingThere are those who contend that events in Bereshit foreshadow later events in the Jewish experience. In Miketz, Joseph’s brothers do not recognize him. For them, Joseph was a callow youth that they had sold into slavery. Here, they are looking at an Egyptian official - complete with the appropriate clothing of Pharaoh’s ranking minister and an Egyptian name. In fact, they will only realize that this official is their brother when he reveals himself to them in next week’s reading. Fast forward to the Book of Samuel where we read about the selection process for the first two monarchs. Saul looked like a king because “he was head and shoulders above” all others. (1 Samuel 9:2). On the other hand, when it came to choosing his successor David, God tells Samuel not “to consider his appearance or his height…The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7). In the case of Saul, the Jewish people were like Joseph’s brothers. They took appearance at face value. If you look like a government official, then that is what you must be. If you look like a king, you must be the one who gets anointed. In the selection of David the Jewish people finally get it right. It is what is inside a person that is the measure of the person. The trick is to look beyond appearance, beyond the superficial and to look into the deeper nature of the person to understand who and what they are.
Second ScrollSeventh Day Chanukah
The Torah is read on all eight days of Chanukah. The special readings for Chanukah include the entire seventh chapter of Bamidbar and the first four verses from chapter eight. During the year we read chapter seven as part of Naso and chapter eight as part of Beha’alotcha.
HaftarahZechariah 2:12-4:7 (Ashkenazim and Sephardim)
Usually there is a connection between the Weekly Torah Portion and the readings from the prophets. However, since this is a holiday Shabbat, the haftarah usually read with the Torah Portion is replaced by a special reading from the Prophets that is connected to the holiday. There is a special relationship between the concept of the haftarah and Chanukah. According to some, the special reading from the Prophets began during the Syrian persecution when Jews were forbidden to study the Torah. A reading from the Prophets was substituted for the Torah reading. Apparently this practice proved to be so popular that it was modified and adopted as part of our observances. During Chanukah, the haftarah is read only on Shabbat. The special haftarah replaces the one normally paired with the weekly reading. During those years when the first and eighth days of Chanukah fall on Shabbat, there are two different readings from the Prophets. For this special guide, we will only concern ourselves with the special holiday message of the Haftarah. We will discuss the Prophet and his message when we meet him during the annual cycle.
The special Torah readings for Chanukah deal with the dedication of the Tabernacle in the Wilderness and the Menorah. The prophetic portion for Shabbat Chanukah read by the Ashkenazim and the Sephardim envisions a restored
the permanent dwelling that has replaced the Tabernacle. In addition, the Haftarah references the
Menorah and the olive oil. Finally, the
prophet predicts the ultimate triumph with the language “this is the work of
the Lord…. Not by might, nor by power,
but by My spirit - said the Lord of Hosts.” “And Thy word broke their sword, when our own
strength failed us.” In other words, the
victory of the few Jews over the mighty Syrians was a product of our faith in
God. This is the message of Chanukah. This reading from Zechariah is also the Haftarah
for the sedrah of Beha’alotcha, so we will be able to study its other messages
when we come to it as part of the annual cycle. Temple
Chanukah Literature(This is not intended to be an all-inclusive discussion of Chanukah. There are numerous books and websites which approach the story in depth and from all kinds of different points of view.)
The original source for the story of Chanukah comes from the Books of the Maccabees. The first book covers the period from approximately 175 to 135 B.C.E. and describes the events of the revolt. The second book covers a shorter period of time (175 to 160 B.C.E.). It may be a shorter form of a five-volume work by Jason of Cyrene. At any rate, it is a book portraying a war against the pagans and filled with tales of martyrdom. These books are not in the TaNaCh. They are part of the Apocrypha. The Scroll of the Hasmoneans also tells the Chanukah story, but it probably dates back to the tenth century and is more of a compilation of popular legends. At one time it was read in Italian synagogues much as the Scroll of Esther is read on Purim. We can look to the First Book of the Maccabees for the origin of the holiday and why it lasted eight days. “Then Judah and his brothers and the whole congregation of Israel established that the days of the consecration of the altar be celebrated for eight days at this period, namely beginning with the twenty-fifth of the month of Kislev, in joy and happy renewal.” (I Maccabees 4: 36 - 61). The holiday was tied to Sukkoth, which was the holiday associated with the dedications of the First and Second Temples. In fact, the holiday may have been known as the Sukkoth Feast of the Month of Kislev. The Mishnah, which was completed in the third century (almost three hundred years after the revolt) does not mention the holiday. Chanukah and the cruise of oil story appear in the Gemara, the second part of the Talmud, which was finished at the start of the sixth century.
FoodsUnlike with Pesach, there are no required foods. The custom is to eat foods cooked with oil because of the miracle of the oil burning for eight days. Ashkenazim developed the custom of eating Latkes - potato pancakes. Sephardim developed the custom of eating “sufganiyot” (doughnuts). After all doughnuts are just dough cooked in oil. Think of it - Krispy Kremes for Chanukah!
Blessings, Prayers and SongsEverybody knows about the blessings over the Chanukah lights, which are recited after lighting the shamas but before lighting the candles themselves. When lighting the candles, always do Chanukah before Shabbat, but do Chanukah after Havdalah. In the synagogue, Hallel is recited as part of the morning service throughout the holiday. A special prayer called Al haNissim (For the Miracles) is recited during the Shemoneh Esrei during each of the three daily services and during the Grace After Meals. The version of this prayer recited at Chanukah summarizes the story of the Maccabees. There are numerous songs that have been composed over the centuries concerning this holiday. They include “Rock of Ages,” “Who can retell,” and that most ubiquitous one of all, “I Had A Little Dreydel.” This is not meant to be an all-inclusive list and thanks to the wonders of the internet you can find all this and so much more with music included.
Abba Kovner Shabbat"Let us not go as sheep to the slaughter."
Just as they did 75 years ago in 1941, in 2016 Shabbat and New Year’s Eve coincide. How different was that world than the one we know today. On December 31, 1941, in the dark days of the European Night, there was an attempt to strike a match and bring a flicker of hope to the desperate. On this night, Abba Kovner uttered some of the most meaningful lines of the 20th century. On New Year’s Eve, Abba Kovner spoke out at a meeting of Zionist Youth hiding in a convent outside of Vilna. He asserted that Hitler wanted to kill all the Jews and called for armed resistance with his famous words. "Let us not go as sheep to the slaughter." As a result of the meeting and his stirring call to action, the Jews formed the United Partisan Organization. Kovner’s revolt failed and he became part of a partisan unit. Later, he was active in smuggling Jews into Palestine. After fighting in the War for Independence, he settled down on a kibbutz with his wife and pursued a career as a poet. He was one of the witnesses against Eichmann when the Nazi butcher was brought to trial in Jerusalem. It behooves us to remember Kovner’s words - Let us not go as sheep to the slaughter - for so many reasons. In remembering them we remember the resilience of our people in the face of the worst horror known to man. But in remembering them we also remember that Jews must not remain silent and passive. No matter what the demons - political, professional, personal - that we confront, we must fight the fight even if the odds are long and defeat seems to be inevitable. As we prepare this evening to kindle the final light of Chanukah, let us remember the flickering flame that Kovner and his followers brought to life and renew our commitment to bring light to darkness - to fight the good fight no matter what the odds!
Copyright; December, 2016; Mitchell A. Levin