By Rabbi Yisroel Ciner
This week's parsha, Miketz, begins with the words: "Va'y'hee miketz
sh'nasayim yamim, u'Pharoah choleim (41:1)" - And it was at the end of
two years and Paroah dreamt. Which two years? Yosef had been
imprisoned based on a slanderous lie. There, he had successfully
interpreted the dreams of both Paroah's butler and his baker. The
butler would be reinstated and the baker hanged. Yosef had asked the
butler to 'remember him' - to bring his case - before Paroah, hoping
to thereby secure his release. For this misplacement of trust, for
turning to the butler for help instead of placing total trust in
Hashem, Yosef had to endure an additional two years in prison. "And it
was at the end of these two years", when the heavenly ordained time
for Yosef's release had arrived, "Paroah dreamt".
The Talmud teaches that "va'y'hee" - and it was - connotes a sorrowful
episode. What was the cause of this sadness? At first glance, the
conclusion of the two years of Yosef's imprisonment should have been a
cause for celebration!
The Ohr HaChaim explains that the stage was now being set for the
Egyptian exile to begin. With the advent of the famine, the family of
Yaakov would soon descend to seek sustenance. The revelation of
Yosef's position in Mitzraim would lead to their coming to live there.
The start of the Egyptian exile clearly calls for the usage of a
Alternatively, he explains that Hashem Himself feels sorrow when the
world is in a state of affliction. The pain that the oncoming famine
would bring, was the grounds for using this sorrowful term. Although
Hashem certainly has the power to prevent any hardship in the world,
when it is necessary for it to occur, He shares in the pain that we
experience. It could be compared to, heaven forbid, a parent's sorrow
over the amputation of a child's limb. Although it clearly is in the
child's best interest, in order to prevent any spreading of the
disease, nevertheless, the parent intimately feels the pain along with
I thought that perhaps a different explanation could be offered. With
the incredibly high level of trust in Hashem that he had reached,
Yosef was held accountable for even turning to the butler for help. He
therefore needed to spend an additional two years in prison. During
these two years, Yosef realized his error, worked on himself and
reached an even higher level. He had internalized the concept that our
actions don't bring the results. He had mistakenly seen his
approaching the butler and asking him to intercede on his behalf to
Paroah as a means toward speeding his release. That was incorrect.
Hashem might utilize our actions to appear as if they brought the
result... but the actions themselves are powerless.
Yosef exhibited this new level he'd reached when he was summoned to
interpret Paroah's dreams. Paroah said to Yosef that he'd heard that
he knew how to interpret dreams. Yosef's response was unequivocal:
"Bil'a'doy! (41:16)" - I've got nothing to do with it! Hashem will
place the answer for you in my mouth.
Yosef had developed and elevated himself tremendously while in prison.
Such growth would not have been possible elsewhere.
I read a true story of a soldier who had spent seven years in solitary
confinement in a Vietnam POW camp. From the outset, he decided to view
this as an opportunity to stay strong, to learn about himself and to
get closer to G-d. He saw everything that happened as a personal
development exercise. He came out of the seven years a totally
transformed person. He said that he wouldn't give up the experience
for a million dollars!
The truth is that our whole stint in this world should be viewed as
such an opportunity. An opportunity to stay strong, to learn about
ourselves and to get closer to Hashem. If all of the difficult
situations which come our way would be viewed in such a way, life
would be a lot easier to handle.
There is a seeming contradiction between two statements made in the
very same Mishna (Avos 4:22). It states that all of the pleasure of
the next world doesn't equal one moment of repentance and good acts in
this world. It also states that all of the pleasures of this world
don't equal one moment of pleasure in the world to come. How can these
two statements be reconciled?
There is the gratification of working hard in order to accomplish
something. I'm not much of a mountain climber but it's very clear that
the true pleasure in conquering Everest is not the view afforded by
reaching the summit. Rather, it is the incredible feeling of knowing
that you've worked so hard for something so difficult and you've
succeeded. It is the pleasure that this world offers and the next
world does not.
On the other hand, there is a deep, real, spiritual pleasure that is
in a totally different realm and world from the physical pleasures. It
is like trying to compare the enjoyment of an ice cream cone to the
pleasure achieved by truly connecting to someone you love. And even
the pleasure of that connection is trivial when compared to the
gratification of the intimate connection to Hashem in the next world.
A lifetime of pleasures in this world, can't equal one moment of that
pleasure in the world to come.
These two statements of chaza"l complement one another. There are two
distinct aspects of pleasures - the striving and the goal - the means
and the end - this world and the next.
Perhaps Yosef's time in prison and his subsequent release was a
microcosm of this cycle. We know of great tzaddikim (very righteous
individuals) who cried when they left this world. Such a world of
opportunity, how can't one be saddened when the opportunities are no
longer there. "Va'y'hee!" - And it was after the two years. Sadness.
Yosef's leaving prison was the closing of an opportunity. An
opportunity that had transformed him. Va'y'hee, the joy of release was
tempered with feelings of sadness.
The Medrash refers to the two years of Yosef's additional imprisonment
as "choshech" - darkness. Interestingly, choshech is also the term
used to describe the galus (exile) of Yavan (the Greeks). Darkness?!
Weren't the Greeks the enlightened nation? Didn't they illuminate the
world with their culture and their beauty? Don't our proud Olympic
games trace back to the ancient Greeks? How could we describe the
galus Yavan as choshech - darkness?
The darkness that the Greeks brought to the world was their
superficiality. Beauty was an exterior attribute. They didn't want to
physically destroy our Temple; they were satisfied to strip it of its
inner beauty and meaning. Let its golden structure remain standing!
Let there be another Taj Mahal in the world! But let it have no
holiness, no connection to Hashem, no inner meaning.
The Mesilas Yeshorim explains that this world is compared to the
darkness of night in two ways. Firstly, one simply doesn't see what is
there. Secondly, and even more dangerous, one mistakes that which he
sees. A pillar appears as a person, a person as a pillar. Crucially
important things are perceived as being extraneous, harmful and
dangerous things are sought after. This was the darkness that the
Yevanim, with their superficiality, brought to the world.
Our Torah is referred to as light. It illuminates the darkness of this
world and the galus we are in to give us perspective and clarity. It
allows us to see through the misleading exterior and to discern the
true essence and meaning of life. It allows us to live our lives in
the manner for which we were created. It allows is to live our lives
One of the blessings that we pronounce while kindling the Chanukah
lights is that Hashem performed for us miracles in those days at this
time (of year). May the lights of the Menorah illuminate our paths of
life, allowing us to penetrate the exterior and to focus on the
essence. May Hashem perform for us too, miracles at this time, with
the coming of Moshiach Tzidkenu, Amein.
Have a good Shabbos and a joyous Chanukah,
Copyright © 1997 by Rabbi Yisroel Ciner
and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author teaches at Neveh Tzion in
Telzstone (near Yerushalayim).