Torah Weekly

For the week ending 31 December 2016 / 2 Tevet 5777

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 emerged seven cows...." (41:2)

The Torah portion Miketzalmost always falls during the week of Chanuka. This year it is read on the next-to-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 that connotes this-worldliness. There are seven colors in the rainbow, seven notes in the diatonic scale and seven days in the week.

Chanuka is the festival where we celebrate eight. It is a time 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 was found in the Holy Temple could only burn for one day, but it burned for eight whole days. It was 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. Pharaoh said to Moshe, “Who is Hashem? I do not know Hashem..." (Ex. 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" (a Name of G-d) has the same gematria (numerical equivalent) as the word “hateva”, which means "nature." When we make nature into 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.

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