The Light of Torah
Rabbi Yosef Kalatsky
1. Measure for Measure
The parsha begins,"It happened at the end (Mikeitz) of two years to the
day; Pharaoh was dreaming..." Pharaoh was dissatisfied with the way his
dreams were being interpreted so he summoned Yosef from prison to interpret
his dreams. Yosef was taken from prison and went on to make his meteoric
ascent to the position as Viceroy of Egypt.
The Siphoro comments that we see the salvation of Hashem "comes about as
quickly as a blink of an eye." Yosef was in prison for twelve years and
because Pharaoh had dreams he needed to be interpreted, Yosef was removed
from prison and instantly rose to great power. The Torah however makes a
point to say that Yosef was taken from prison, "at the end of two years (to
the day)." Meaning that Yosef was not to be released from prison a moment
before his additional two year imprisonment was completed.
As we said previously, Chazal explain that Yosef asked the wine steward to
"remember" him and "mention" him to Pharaoh in order to expedite his
release. Hashem punished Yosef with an additional two-year imprisonment for
the two words that he had spoken to the heathen (see commentary on Parsha
Vayeishev). Yosef demonstrated a lack of faith by asking the Egyptian for
help rather than relying on Hashem directly. However, at the end of these
two additional years of imprisonment, Yosef was ready to become the Viceroy
The Gemara teaches us that Hashem punishes and rewards based on the
principle of "measure for measure." How are we to understand the "measure
for measure" regarding Yosef's prison sentence? Why was Yosef in prison
for ten years? Why did he receive an additional two years in prison
because of the two words he spoke to the wine steward?
Firstly, we need to understand what the punishment of imprisonment
means. A prisoner is a person that has no control of his physical
condition. The jailor controls the prisoner completely and his life is
limited and defined by the will of the jailor.
The Gemara tells us that the wife of Potiphar tried to seduce Yosef and
though he resisted her advances, he lost ten droplets of semen because of
this incitement. For each droplet of semen that was lost, Yosef spent a
year in prison. This combined with the two additional years for speaking
the two words to the wine steward resulted in a twelve-year prison term for
Yosef. What is the "measure for measure?"
The Maharal explains that the Jews were in Egypt for 209 years before Moshe
came to lead the people to freedom. In the 210th year, Moshe performed a
number of miracles in Egypt to establish himself as Hashem's agent and the
Jewish people asserted their belief that "Moshe was Hashem's agent!" The
Maharal cites the Midrash that at the moment the Jews believed, their
enslavement ended immediately. The Egyptians were no longer able to
subject the Jews to bondage.
The Maharal asks - what is the connection between the Jews believing and
the halt of their enslavement by the Egyptians? The Maharal explains that a
slave is a person who is completely affected and controlled by his master's
wishes; while in contrast, a spiritual person is unaffected by physical
forces. A spiritual person goes against the grain of physical reality and
thus is unaffected by outside influences.
From this, we can understand that the moment the Jews proclaimed their
belief in Moshe as the agent of Hashem; they were proclaiming their belief
in an all-powerful G-d despite the pagan belief of the Egyptians. Because
of their spiritual character, which was unaffected, the Jewish slaves were
able to rise above the physical constraints imposed upon them by their
masters. Their enslavement ended instantly since the Jews were no longer
being influenced by the pagan beliefs.
At the time of Moshe's death, the Torah tells us that his eyesight was
perfect and his physical health was excellent. He was 120 years old yet did
not manifest the physical infirmities or deterioration typical of one who
was about to die. Moshe did not decompose even after he was interred in his
grave. The Maharal asks - why is it important for us to know about Moshe's
physical condition at the time of his death? How are we to understand the
fact that Moshe's body retained its freshness even in the grave?
The answer is that the aging process and decay are manifestations of being
influenced by the physical world and normal physical life. Moshe, however,
was at such a spiritual level that the physical world did not have any
effect or influence on him. He was therefore not subject to the
limitations of aging and decay. Moshe was a being that was completely
uninfluenced by the physical world. Therefore, we can understand why he
was like a young man in perfect physical health at the time of his death at
Yosef was a spiritual being who had the dimension of his father Yaakov
(Yisroel) as the spiritual heir to lead the Jewish people. Even though
Yosef did not succumb to Potiphar's wife's seduction, he was affected to
the degree of losing ten droplets of semen. Because Yosef was subjugated by
the physical (demonstrated by the loss of ten droplets of semen), Hashem
punished him to ten years of subjugation in prison. This is the measure
for measure. Since Yosef was influenced by his physical existence to the
degree of ten droplets, he was affected by ten years of imprisonment.
After spending ten years in jail atoning for his failing with Potiphar's
wife, Yosef would have been released. However, he made another mistake.
Yosef allowed himself to be affected by his physical surroundings and as a
result asked the wine steward to help him out of jail by "remembering" him
and "mentioning" him to Pharaoh. These two words demonstrated the degree
to which Yosef was affected by the physical condition. As the spiritual
being that he was, Yosef should have asked Hashem for help, yet he asked
the heathen, which was considered a lack of faith. For this, Hashem decreed
that Yosef should remain under physical enslavement for two more years.
It was only at the end of these two years that Yosef was able to transcend
the physical and regain his status as an unaffected spiritual being. After
regaining that level of spirituality, he was no longer bound by the
limitations of the physical world and was able to become the Viceroy of
Egypt at the speed of a "blink of and eye." He was able to control
existence and become the sustainer of the world.
2. Speaking Negatively About Others
Pharaoh needed someone to interpret his dreams. The wine steward informed
Pharaoh that Yosef had the ability to interpret dreams since he had
interpreted his dreams and the baker's dreams correctly while they were
together in prison.
"My transgressions do I mention today... We dreamt a dream on the same
night, I and he; each according to the interpretation of his dream did we
dream. And there with us, was a youth, a Hebrew, a slave of the
chamberlain of the butchers; we related it to him, and he interpreted our
dreams for us... and it was that just as he interpreted for us so did it
When the wine steward told Pharaoh about Yosef, he did not refer to Yosef
by name but rather he provided Pharaoh a rather lengthy description- "a
youth, a Hebrew, a slave of the chamberlain of the butchers." Rashi cites
the Chazal to explain, "Cursed are the wicked for their good deeds are
incomplete." The wine steward mentions Yosef in demeaning terms "a youth,"
by this the wine steward meant that Yosef was a fool and not fit for a
position of greatness. "A Hebrew" meant that Yosef was not even familiar
with the Egyptian language. And "slave" as it is written in "...the
protocols of Egypt that a slave may not rule and may not even wear princely
The wine steward tried to disqualify Yosef at every level. He claimed that
Yosef was a fool, ignorant of their language, and a slave unfit to ever
reach greatness in Egypt. The fact is that Yosef performed a good deed for
the wine steward -Yosef interpreted his dream. However, when the wine
steward ultimately did mention Yosef to Pharaoh (as requested) it was in a
highly diminutive manner. Why did the wine behave in this manner? The
answer is as Rashi explains," Cursed are the wicked for their good deeds
are incomplete." The wicked person is so evil that even when he has a
chance to do good deeds he performs them in a disgraceful and limited manner.
The wine steward was a minister in the court of Pharaoh and he understood
that if Yosef interpreted Pharaoh's dreams correctly he would find favor in
his eyes - thus causing Yosef to rise to power. If this were the case Yosef
may exact revenge on the wine steward for his evil actions. Therefore, the
wine steward referred to Yosef in the most degrading manner possible in
order to negatively taint Pharaoh's impression of him.
We know that first impressions have the greatest impact on a person. Since
the wine steward described Yosef as incompetent, ignorant of the Egyptian
language, and a slave, before Pharaoh met Yosef, he would have already
formulated a negative impression of him. Even if Yosef were to interpret
Pharaoh's dreams correctly, the wine steward knew that his image was
already sufficiently diminished so Yosef could not be appreciated for who
he actually was.
We see from this that when one is asked about another person, we should be
especially careful not to relay negative information about that
person. The way we describe another person will greatly impact his
image. In fact, if we relay negative information about someone he may
never be able to recover from that negative depiction. We must understand
the consequences of the way we speak about others and know that it may
cause irreparable damage.
3. The Torah Sustains Judaism
We say every day during Chanukah in the Shemona Esrei the Al Haneesim (on
the miracles), "When the wicked Greek kingdom rose up against Your people
Israel to make them forget Your Torah and compel them to stray from the
statutes of Your Will." The order of the prayer mentions that first the
Greeks wanted the Jews to forget Torah and secondly to stray from Hashem's
The Greeks understood exactly how to undermine Judaism and expedite
assimilation. How was this done? The Gemara in Hureous states that a
father has an obligation to teach his son Torah from the moment he is old
enough to speak. The first pasuk of Torah that a father teaches his child
is,"Moshe commanded us with the Torah and this is the heritage of the
congregation of Yaakov." The second pasuk a father is obligated to teach
his child is the Shema - "Hear, O Israel: Hashem is our G-d, Hashem, the
One and Only." - Which asserts our belief in the unity of G-d.
One would think that since monotheism is the most fundamental aspect of
Judaism, the Shema would be the first pasuk a father teaches his child
followed by the pasuk which states how Moshe commanded us with the
Torah. Yet the Gemara says the opposite. The Rambam also rules in Hilchos
Talmid Torah (The Laws of Learning Torah) that a father is obligated to
teach his child the psukim in the order as explained in the Gemara. Why are
the psukim in this order?
The Shema states the fact of reality that Hashem is One. Chukim (Torah
Statutes), such as the prohibitions of wearing a combination of wool and
linen or eating milk with meat, are facts that cannot be deduced from
rational thinking. The combination of wool and linen or eating meat and
milk have a negative effect on a Jew's spirituality and are Mizvos that we
cannot even begin to comprehend. These are among the various Statutes in
the Torah that Jews follow without having any intellectual rationale. How
can one relate to these Statutes?
If appreciate that Hashem is the One G-d and He commanded us to follow His
Statutes then we would simply obey Him without question. However, since we
do not comprehend and appreciate who Hashem is, we could easily try to
argue with the reasonability of His Laws. How can we become more familiar
with Hashem and grow to appreciate His ways? How can we understand
Hashem's "mind" (so to speak)? If we are able to understand G-d perhaps
we will begin to appreciate His Statutes. The only way to achieve this
understanding is through the study of Torah.
If one studies Torah and is able to internalize the concepts and grow
spiritually, then one can have a better sense of Hashem. If one has a
sense of Hashem then he will realize that Statutes do not need to be
rational for our thinking. Hashem is King of all kings! The person who
learns Torah gains a spiritual orientation, which enables him to be in awe
of G-d. Therefore we can understand why the Gemara states that a father is
obligated to first teach his child the pasuk," Moshe commanded us with the
Torah..." because it is only through the study of Torah that we can
appreciate the unity and greatness of Hashem which is asserted in the Shema.
With this, we can understand the Al Haneesim we insert in the Shemona
Esrei. The Greeks understood how to undermine Judaism and ultimately
eradicate it. They tried to make the Jews forget the Torah by prohibiting
its study. If the Jews, G-d forbid, were to forget the Torah then they
would lose their spiritual sensitivity to appreciating G-d. Jews would no
longer risk their lives to observe Shabbos or to become circumcised. The
Jew would no longer die for the sanctification of the month. However, if a
Jew lives and breathes the Torah then a Jew would die for the Torah. The
Greeks understood this and if it were not for the uprising of the
Chasmanoyim, who were steadfast in their study of Torah, then the Greeks
would have achieved their goal.
The catastrophe of assimilation in our own time is because the vast
majority of Jews are not studying Torah. Even though Hashem promised that
the Jewish people would never forget the Torah, the question is how many
Jews are involved? Most Jews are disconnected and it is only a matter of
time that they will fade out of existence because Torah is not present in
The Greeks understood how to eliminate the Jews - through the elimination
of Torah. As we celebrate Chanukah and remember how we were able to defeat
the Greeks, we should reflect on how we need to continue to defeat the
influences that would have the Jews forget Torah.
4. No Good Can Come From Evil
We read in the parsha that Pharaoh's wine steward depicted Yosef in the
most negative terms as we explained earlier (Commentary #2) in order to
taint him in the eyes of Pharaoh. We explained that it was done in order
to discourage Pharaoh from being impressed with Yosef, thus promoting him
to a position in which he could take revenge against the wine
steward. Rashi explains," Cursed are the wicked for their good deeds are
not complete." The question to ask is why was the wine steward wicked? He
was trying only to defend himself against the potential revenge from Yosef
and his life was in jeopardy. Why do the Chazal depict him in such a
negative way? How are we to understand this?
There is a negative commandment in the Torah that prohibits a Jew from
taking revenge. The Gemara gives the example of revenge - If a person were
to ask for a loan and was turned down by the potential lender and that
lender were to later ask that same person for a loan, he is not permitted
to deny him based on not receiving the originally requested loan. The
saying is, "If you do not do for me I will not do for you." Even if a
person may be undeserving because he does not help anyone but himself, the
law is that one must not reject helping him on the basis of his behavior if
he is in need. Why is this the case?
The Chinuch explains that the reason why a person is denied help from
another person has nothing to do with him. It has to do with Hashem's not
wanting the requester to benefit. That is why the person did not
help. The Gemara tells us that G-d has many agents to carry out his
dictates. Moreover, if Hashem wishes to send help to someone it can come
from a variety of sources and is not dependent on a single individual.
When Yosef was not released from prison after ten years and remained for an
additional two, it had nothing to do with the wine steward not helping him
as requested. Yosef was not released after ten years because of his own
spiritual failing and breach of faith in Hashem by asking the wine steward
to "mention" and "remember" him when speaking with Pharaoh. This
understanding of Yosef's situation is only evident to a person who has
relevance to spirituality. A wicked person (a rasha) could not evaluate
Yosef's situation in this spiritual manner because he can only process
information through his own corrupted value system and evil mindset.
If the wine steward had been able to understand Yosef's situation through a
spiritual context, he would have understood that he was not responsible for
Yosef's imprisonment. He would have understood that it was through Yosef's
own breach of faith that he remained in prison. If the wine steward
understood this, he would not have needed to describe Yosef in pejorative
terms to Pharaoh because he would have known that there was no revenge to
fear. However since he was a rasha, the wine steward processed the
information in a manner consistent with a rasha. If an evil person had
been in Yosef's position, he would have taken revenge upon release from
prison. Therefore, the wine steward believed he needed to protect himself.
Everything a rasha does is tainted by his evil mindset and value
system. The Gemara tells us that Bilaam wanted to curse the Jews and then
he wanted to bless the Jews. Hashem told him to neither curse nor bless
the Jewish people. The Chazal explain just as one says to a bee, Hashem
said to Bilaam- "not your sting and not your honey!" But if Bilaam wanted
to bless the Jews why did Hashem stop him?
The reason is that for whatever reason Bilaam wanted to bless the Jews it
must have emanated from his evil because an evil person can only function
within his own evil system. Hashem told Lavan, who was the epitome of
evil that He did not want him to speak to Yaakov, "not good words and not
bad words." This is because only evil could emanate from an evil person.
We can now understand why the Chazal referred to the wine steward as
-"Cursed are the wicked for their good deeds are incomplete." A rasha's
actions can never be complete because all of their actions are based on
their own evil agenda and their own corrupt perspective of reality.
5. The Miracle of Illumination
We say every day during Chanukah in the Shemona Esrei the Al Haneesim (on
the miracles) which recounts how the Jews were able to defeat the Greeks
even though the Jews were few in number. We mention how Hashem delivered
the wanton into the hands of the diligent students of Torah, the strong
into the hands of the weak, etc. The Maharal of Prague asks, why do we not
mention the miracle of the lights of Chanukah? The fact that the Jews had
found undefiled oil that was only enough to burn one day and it burned for
eight days is not mentioned. Why?
The Maharal answers that the essence of the Chanukah miracle was the
victory over the Greeks. The miracle of Chanukah is how the Jews were able
to defeat the mighty Greeks even though they were greatly outnumbered. In
order for us to appreciate the miracle of our victory and not to
misinterpret it as a natural event (such as attributing it to guerrilla
warfare), Hashem needed to bring about a revealed miracle that was the
miracle of the oil which in could not be misunderstood as anything but a
miracle outside of nature. Through the miracle of the lights, Hashem
marked that all of the events that had transpired were miraculous and that
He brought about the victory of the Jews. The lights of Chanukah provide us
with the clarity to be able to understand the incident of Chanukah
correctly. The essence of the Holiday is that the Jews were able to
vanquish their enemies and reestablish Judaism. This is why we do not
mention the miracle of the lights in the Al Hanessim.
The question is why did the revelation of the victory over the Greeks need
to be manifested through the lights? Hashem could have easily created any
number of revealed miracles in order to make known his involvement - why
the miracle of lights? Hashem could have simply made the Greeks vanish!
We learn that at Sinai, Hashem held a mountain over the heads of the Jewish
people and gave them an ultimatum - either you observe the Torah or you
will be buried under the mountain. The Midrash Tanchuma asks why did
Hashem need to give the Jews an ultimatum? They had already said naaseh
V'nishma "We shall do and we shall listen" - a level of dedication that
even astounded the angels. The Jews were willing to accept Hashem's laws
without even knowing the extent of the obligation. So why did Hashem have
to give them seemingly an unnecessary ultimatum?
The Midrash Tanchuma explains that naaseh V'nishma was referring to the
Written Law. This did not include the Oral Law. The Written Law is
limited without the Oral Law. Commandments prohibiting murder, theft, etc.
are tantamount to living as a civilized human being and seemingly easy to
follow; however, the commentaries and explanations contained in the Oral
Law lead to a life long pursuit of understanding and observance. By
dedicating one's life to this pursuit, he is sacrificing his entire life
for the Oral Law. The Jews at Sinai were not willing to invest their
entire lives in the understanding and observance of the Oral Law.
Hashem put a mountain over the Jews and gave them an ultimatum because He
demanded that level of sacrifice. If the Jews were not willing to devote
their lives to the Oral Law then the world would have come to an end.
The Gemara tells us that the Menorah in the Temple represents the Oral
Law. The Holy Ark, which contained the tablets and the Torah (the Written
Law), was located in the Holy of Holies in the Temple. On the other side
of the curtain in the Temple, the Menorah was placed to illuminate the
area. Similarly Oral Law is needed to elucidate the Written Law.
The miracle of Chanukah was revealed through the lighting of the
Menorah. And as we said earlier, the Menorah represents the Oral Law,
which is synonymous with self-sacrifice. The lighting of the Menorah
represents the Mesiras Nefesh (self-sacrifice) needed to understand and
uphold the Oral Law, which illuminates the Written Law. Without this
self-sacrifice, people cannot develop themselves spiritually. Spirituality
only comes through sacrifice. Since we are physical beings, we need to
suppress the physical in order to bring about the spiritual, which in
itself is a sacrifice.
It is true that the Jews were victorious over the Greeks and were able to
defeat the many with only a few, but why did we merit this miracle? It is
only because there was a handful of Chashmanoyim who were willing to die if
they could not live as Jews. This was the self-sacrifice and this was the
reason for the victory. How do we know that the Mesiras Nefesh was
what brought about the miracle of Chanukah? The answer is the
Menorah. Hashem chose to reveal the miracle of Chanukah through the
lighting of the Menorah and not through any other revealed miracle.
Copyright © 2002 by Rabbi Yosef Kalatsky and Project Genesis, Inc.
Rabbi Kalatsky is the founder of the Yad Avraham Institute, a New York-based learning center whose mission is to disseminate Torah to Jews of all backgrounds and walks of life.