Torah Weekly

For the week ending 7 December 2002 / 2 Tevet 5763

Parshat Mikeitz

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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It is two years later. Pharaoh has a dream. He is unsatisfied with all attempts to interpret it. Pharaoh's wine chamberlain remembers that Yosef accurately interpreted his dream while in prison. Yosef is released from prison and brought before Pharaoh. He interprets that soon will begin seven years of abundance followed by seven years of severe famine. He tells Pharaoh to appoint a wise person to store grain in preparation for the famine. Pharaoh appoints him as viceroy to oversee the project. Pharaoh gives Yosef an Egyptian name, Tsafnat Panayach, and selects Osnat, Yosef's ex-master's daughter, as Yosef's wife. Egypt becomes the granary of the world. Yosef has two sons, Menashe and Ephraim. Yaakov sends his sons to Egypt to buy food. The brothers come before Yosef and bow to him. Yosef recognizes them but they do not recognize him. Mindful of his dreams, Yosef plays the part of an Egyptian overlord and acts harshly, accusing them of being spies. Yosef sells them food, but keeps Shimon hostage until they bring their brother Binyamin to him as proof of their honesty. Yosef commands his servants to replace the purchase-money in their sacks. On the return journey, they discover the money and their hearts sink. They return to Yaakov and retell everything. Yaakov refuses to let Binyamin go to Egypt, but when the famine grows unbearable, he accedes. Yehuda guarantees Binyamin's safety, and the brothers go to Egypt. Yosef welcomes the brothers lavishly as honored guests. When he sees Binyamin he rushes from the room and weeps. Yosef instructs his servants to replace the money in the sacks, and to put his goblet inside Binyamin's sack. When the goblet is discovered, Yosef demands Binyamin become his slave as punishment. Yehuda interposes and offers himself instead, but Yosef refuses.


Sevens and Eights

"Out of the river there emerged seven cows...." (41:2)

The Torah portion Miketz almost always falls during the week of Chanuka. This year it is read on the last day of the festival. There is obviously a very strong link between the portion of Miketz and Chanuka.

At the beginning of this week's reading, Pharaoh has a dream about seven cows coming up from the river. These cows were healthy looking, robust, full of flesh. After them emerged seven other cows. These cows were gaunt and ugly. The gaunt ugly cows ate the fleshy cows and left no trace of them.

Egyptian life was dominated by the Nile. To the extent that the Nile overflowed its banks, to that same degree would there be prosperity and food in Egypt. For this reason, the Egyptians worshipped the Nile. On its vagaries depended life and death.

Seven cows emerged from the Nile. Seven is the number which connotes this-worldliness. There are seven colors in the rainbow; seven notes in the diatonic scale; seven days in the week.

Chanuka is the festival where we celebrate eight; when we connect to that which is beyond this world. Chanuka is where we take one step beyond. The one flask of pure oil that is found in the Holy Temple can only burn for one day, but it burns for eight whole days. It is not just a miracle -- but a miracle of eight.

The idolatry of Egypt was to take the natural world, the Nile, the world of seven, and worship it. To take nature and make into a god. As Pharaoh said to Moshe: "Who is Hashem? I do not know Hashem..." (Shmot 5:2) Pharaoh recognized that there was a "god" in the world, but he only recognized a god of nature. In Hebrew the word "Elokim" G-d has the same gematria (numerical equivalent) as hateva which means "nature." When we make nature a supernatural force, we take the world of seven and make that into eight.

In a year when Miketz occurs during Chanuka, the haftara read is Zechariah 2:14-4:7. Zechariah is shown a vision of a menorah made entirely of gold, complete with a reservoir, tubes to bring it oil and two olive trees to bear olives.

A complete self-supporting system.

The symbolism is that G-d provides a system which supports us continuously. However, we have to open our eyes to see where that support is coming from.

To remind ourselves that Mother Nature has a Father.


Raiders of the Lost Ark

"Yet the chamberlain of the cup bearers did not remember Yosef, but forgot him." (40:23)

"Raiders Of The Lost Ark" was one of the biggest box-office hits of all-time. As the title suggests, the story centers on the Lost Ark, which is none other than the Holy Ark that Moshe constructed to house the original Torah and the tablets of the Ten Commandments. During the movies climax, the villain garbs himself in the vestments of the Kohen Gadol High Priest as he battles with the movies hero, Indiana Jones.

Truth, as they say, is stranger than fiction, for there is fascinating real-life connection between the Jewish People and Indiana Jones.

In 1911, Hiram Bingham III discovered the legendary Inca city of Macchu Picchu in Peru. Indiana Jones, the hero of "Raiders of the Lost Ark" was patterned after Hiram Bingham. Hiram had a son called, not very imaginatively, Hiram Bingham IV.

A few months ago, the Secretary of State, Colin Powell, gave a posthumous award for "constructive dissent" to Hiram (or Harry) Bingham IV. For over fifty years, the State Department resisted any attempt to honor Bingham. To them, he was an insubordinate member of the U.S. diplomatic service, a dangerous maverick who was eventually demoted. Now, after his death, he has been officially recognized as a hero.

In 1939, Bingham was posted to Marseille, France as American Vice-Consul. The U.S.A. was then neutral and, not wishing to annoy Marshal Petain's puppet Vichy regime, Roosevelt's government ordered its representatives in Marseille not to grant visas to Jews. Bingham decided this was immoral and, putting his conscience before his career, did everything in his power toundermine the official US foreign policy.

In defiance of his bosses in Washington, he granted over 2,500 U.S. visas to Jewish and other refugees, including the artists Marc Chagall and Max Ernst, and the family of the writer Thomas Mann. He sheltered Jews in his Marseille home and obtained forged identity papers to help others in their dangerous journeys across Europe.

He worked with the French underground to smuggle Jews out of France into Franco's Spain or across the Mediterranean. He even contributed to their expenses out of his own pocket.

By 1941 Washington had lost patience with Bingham. He was sent to Argentina. After the war, to the continued annoyance of his superiors, he reported on the movements of Nazi war criminals.

Not unsurprisingly, eventually he was forced out of the American diplomatic service completely.

Bingham died almost penniless in 1988. Little was known of his extraordinary activities until his son found a series of letters in his fathers belongings after his death.

Subsequently many groups and organizations, including the United Nations and the State of Israel, honored Bingham.

Bingham is like a candle in the dark.

Many are the stories from the Spanish Inquisition onward of Jews who gave away their fortunes to sea captains on the promise of safety, only to find themselves robbed and betrayed by those whom they trusted. Change the year to 1940, and the same story could be repeated with equally chilling results in Nazi Europe.

"Yet the Chamberlain of the Cup bearers did not remember Yosef, but forgot him."

If the chamberlain "did not remember" Yosef, why did the Torah also write "but forgot him"? Rashi comments that the chamberlain "did not remember" him that same day, and subsequently he also "forgot him."

One could perhaps forgive the chamberlain for forgetting Yosef on the day of his release. Its human nature to be so overjoyed at escaping the purgatory of prison that you forget your benefactor. However, when the excitement had died down, why didnt the chamberlain keep his promise to Yosef?

This classic ingratitude echoes to us down the ages; in Spain, in Europe, in Russia, in the Arab lands.

When we find a Hiram Bingham, we should proclaim his kindness to the hills.

Jill Sinclair

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