“Unexpected Parallels between Mikeitz and the Story of Chanukah”

by Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald

This week’s parasha, parashat Mikeitz, is almost always read on Shabbat Chanukah. Could there be a special relationship between the story of Joseph and the festival of Chanukah?

The most direct connection to Chanukah is often seen in Joseph’s attempt to give up his Jewish identity and assimilate into the Egyptian culture, just as the Hellinists of old sought to lose their Jewish identities. Joseph, however, eventually asserts his identity boldly, crying out “Anee Yosef, ha’ohd avee Chai,” I am Joseph! Is my father still alive? In essence, Joseph asks: Is my father still alive in me, or have I lost the Jewish connection? The answer that Joseph gives is a resounding, “Yes!” “Ani Yosef, I am Joseph your brother, Jacob’s son, and I am loyal to G-d and to Jewish tradition!”

The famed homilist and scholar, the late Rabbi Ben-Zion Firer, in his collection of Sabbath sermons entitled “Heg’yonah Shel Torah” on the book of Genesis, uncovers several unexpected parallels between parashat Mikeitz and the festival of Chanukah.

Rabbi Firer points to a number of themes that have bearing on our parasha. The Al Ha’nissim prayer, recited on Chanukah, expresses thanks to G-d for standing by His people with abundant compassion at the time of their distress. In it we praise G-d for championing our cause, defending our rights and avenging the wrongs done to His people. You [G-d], we say, delivered the strong into the hands of the weak and the many into the hands of the few.

Rabbi Firer notes that normally the weak are delivered into the hands of the strong, and the few into the hands of the many. Only in the most unusual of circumstances, such as miracles or divine intervention, are the powerful delivered into the hands of the weak and the many into the hands of the few. Making an insightful distinction, Rabbi Firer states that the occurrence of the powerful being delivered into the hands of the weak is far more unusual than the many succumbing to the few. Where the few are very powerful, it is not so unusual for them to overcome the many who are extremely weak. However, for the powerful to be overwhelmed by the weak is almost always a miracle and highly unnatural. When the powerful are delivered into the hands of the weak, it is usually due to the righteousness of the weak, which, of course, falls into the category of a miracle.

That is why the statement in the “Al Ha Nissim” prayer that G-d has given the powerful into the hands of the weak precedes the statement about the many who are delivered into the hands of the few, underscoring the true miracle of the victory in the times of the Hasmoneans.

Rabbi Firer discovers these exact themes in the story of Joseph and Pharaoh. Joseph dreams (Genesis 37:9) “Ha’shemesh v’hah’yah’ray’ach v’achad assar ko’chaveem mish’ta’cha’veem lee,” the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me! Clearly, in this dream, the many [Joseph’s family members] are delivered into the hands of the few-–that is Joseph.

Pharaoh also dreams of seven ugly cows, gaunt of flesh, who devour seven beautiful and robust cows (Genesis 41:4): “Va’toh’chal’nah ha’pah’roht rah’oht ha’mar’eh v’dah’koht ha’basar ayt sheva ha’pah’roht y’foht ha’mar’eh v’ha’b’ree’oht,” This dream is followed by a second dream (Genesis 41:7) in which seven thin ears of corn swallow up seven healthy and full ears, once again repeating the theme of the powerful being delivered into the hands of the weak.

Both Joseph’s and Pharaoh’s dreams were fulfilled and became reality. Joseph’s dream was clearly realized when his brothers came down to Egypt and bowed down before him. In fact, he becomes the ruler over not only his own family, but the whole of Egypt. Pharaoh’s dream, although not as obvious, also became reality in a future generation, when the new Pharaoh’s entire army sank into the depths of the Reed Sea like a stone (Exodus 15:4-5). Once again, the powerful are delivered into the hands of the weak.

In effect, the victory of the Jews and the miracle of Chanukah, is practically predicted in the dreams of Pharaoh.

Even the future reaction of the Jews to their salvation is conveyed in yet another, rather unpleasant, lesson to be found in Pharaoh’s dreams. How often we find that those who live through miraculous times, especially in contemporary times, frequently fail to acknowledge the extent of the glorious miracles that the Al-mighty performs for them, or to recognize G-d’s active hand in their salvation. This too is predicted in Pharaoh’s dream. In Genesis, 41:21, when Pharaoh recalls his dream, he states, “Va’tah’voh’nah el kir’beh’nah, v’lo no’dah kee va’ooh el kir’beh’nah,” that [the fat cows] came inside them [the thin cows] but it was not apparent that they had come inside them. How tragic it is that the Jewish people often seem to be unaware of the fact that they defeated the powerful and numerous enemy only through the help of G-d. Just like those who beheld the thin cows, it seems as if nothing ever occurred.

Chanukah should be a time for all of us to acknowledge the miracle. Let’s do it!

May you be blessed and Happy Chanukah to all.

The festival of Chanukah begins on Tuesday night, December 4, 2007 and continues for eight days, through Wednesday, December 12, 2007.