Almost every year on the week of Chanukah, Parshas Miketz is read. It contains the story of Yoseph, the viceroy of Egypt, who greet his brothers and accuses them of spying,. This story is read annually on Chanukah. There must be a connection between the story of Miketz and the Chanukah story. What is it?
This week the Torah relates how a famine plagued the entire Middle East. Yaakov’s children elected to go to the only country that was spared from hunger, Egypt. Through the brilliant vision, organization, and planning of a young Hebrew slave known to Egyptians as Tzafnat Paneach, that country fed both itself and the world. The brothers were ushered into the prodigal viceroy’s chambers. He acted towards them like a total meshuganah. He accused them of a heinous plot to spy on Egypt. He incarcerated Shimon, and forced them to bring their youngest brother, the orphaned child of an aged father, to him. Yoseph surely wanted to teach a lesson to the brothers who sold him. But if Yoseph wanted to castigate or punish his brothers for selling him, why didn’t he do so openly and directly? Why the senseless charade?
Chanukah is symbolized by the Menorah. It represents a miracle. A small amount of oil, enough for one day, lasted for eight. But there were greater miracles. A small army of Kohanim, priests who were previously involved in only spirituality and had very little experience in battle, defeated the Greek army. Why don’t we make a parade or a feast to celebrate a major victory? Why is the main commemoration over a little oil?
In a small village lived a poor groom. Unable to afford a proper tailor to make a wedding suit, he brought material to a second-rate one. The poor boy was shocked to see the results.
“But this sleeve is six inches too short,” he cried. “So pull in your arm,” smiled the tailor. “But the other sleeve is a half a foot too long!” “So extend it,” beamed the so-called craftsmen. “And the pants,” screamed the groom, “the left leg is twisted!” “Oh that’s nothing. Just hop down the aisle with your knee slightly bent!”
At the wedding, the assembled reeled in horror as the poor groom hobbled down to the canopy in the poor excuse for a suit. “What a grotesquely disfigured young man,” gasped one guest. “Oy! Ah rachmunis (pity) on his poor bride,” sighed another. The spectators looked once again at the pathetic sight and noticed how well the suit appeared to fit. In unison they all exclaimed. “But his tailor — what an extraordinary genius!”
My grandfather, Reb Yaakov Kamenetzky of blessed memory, explained to me that Yoseph had a very important message to send his brothers. “More than a decade ago you sat in judgment. You thought you made a brilliant decision and were smarter than anyone else, including your father. You decided to sell me as a slave. Now you meet the most brilliant saviour of the generation, the man who saved the world from starvation, and he is acting like a paranoid maniac. He is accusing you of something that is so hallucinatory that you think he is a madman. Is it not possible to think that perhaps you also made a gross error in judgment? Is it not possible that you saw a situation in a twisted light? Is it the boy or is it the suit that is actually grotesque?” Yoseph showed his brothers that even the best and brightest can misinterpret any situation.
Chanukah delivers a very similar message. The sages were not interested in commemorating a battlefield victory. They had a more powerful message for us. Nothing in this world can be judged at face value. A bit of oil that decidedly can only last one day — may last much longer. They want us to remember that outward appearances, as the opinions of pundits, have no bearing on reality. When that message is understood, it is easy to understand that a small army of Kohanim (priests) can topple a mighty force. We can understand that what we view as weak may be strong and what we thought was insufficient is actually plenty. And that a little bit of oil, like a pesky younger brother, both of whom you thought would not amount to anything, can really light the way. Good Shabbos and a Freilichin Chanukah!
Dedicated In memory of Philip Dicker — 28 Kislev 1944
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Text Copyright © 1996 Rabbi M. Kamenetzky and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is the Dean of the Yeshiva of South Shore.