Miketz/Chanukah- Lighting Up Our Leadership

Throughout the story of Yosef- of his abduction, his rise to power, and his testing of his brothers- the prevailing theme is dreams. Yosef’s dreams cause his brothers’ envy and lead to his kidnapping, but then others’ dreams cause him to become the viceroy of Egypt, leading to a fulfillment of his own dreams. But, Yosef’s involvement in the dreams is particularly interesting-  his own dreams could not come true without his ability to interpret others’.

Rav Mordechai Cooperman, programming director of Jerusalem College for women/מכללה, made a very interesting observation on Yosef’s interpretive powers last Friday night. He said that, even though in last week’s סדרה the שר המשקים and שר האופים had similar dreams on the same night, the nature of their dreams was quite different. The chief cupbearer dreamed that he would be serving Pharaoh again, a vision with obvious interpretation. On the other hand, the chief baker’s dream was less obvious- it took much more ingenuity to connect birds eating bread to birds pecking at a hanged corpse.

From here, Rav Cooperman said that we can see there are two types of dreams- the more obvious ones, which anyone, even the חרטומים of Pharaoh, could interpret. However, for the less obvious ones, such as the שר האופים‘s dream, it takes more than a minimal level of intelligence to interpret- the interpreter must be very smart and know a lot about explaining dreams, and G-dly inspiration is necessary as well.

When Pharaoh has his dreams at the beginning of our סדרה, he becomes frightened because he cannot contemplate the meaning of his visions. He calls to his חרטומים, who are also stymied, because their leader’s dreams were of the more difficult type (like the שר האופים‘s)- but, without the G-dly inspiration that Yosef possessed, they were lost in trying to explain the dreams.

At this point, the שר המשקים speaks up. Having undoubtedly been impressed with Yosef’s interpretation skills in jail, he reluctantly brings up his past misdeeds to tell Pharaoh of the young Hebrew with the ability to explain even the most complicated dreams. Pharaoh calls for Yosef, and, after hearing his explanation, appoints him viceroy over Egypt- why do this to a recently incarcerated foreigner? Because Yosef had shown that he was very smart, and also an “

אִישׁ אֲשֶׁר רוּחַ אֱלֹקים בּוֹman with whom Divine inspiration rests.” In Pharaoh’s eyes, the very same skills that enabled Yosef to interpret dreams also made him an ideal leader, and as we see, Egypt flourished under his leadership even during a difficult famine.

We can learn from here a very important message. Last week, we explored the importance of keeping an open mind about unlikely dreams, and the importance of believing in them. Now, we see that it is crucial to have a proper interpreter for these dreams- someone who will take the theoretical vision and turn it into a reality, a ruler who can make sure the dreams come true. Our סדרה shows us some criteria for this ruler- he must be very effective and intelligent, and must also possess some Divine inspiration, as well. Without this, without a proper interpreter, the dream can never true.

The Haftara that is paired with Parshat Miketz is a reading from מלכים א‘ which truly demonstrates this idea. Shlomo is appointed as the king of Israel at the tender age of 12.  Shlomo prays to G-d for guidance as he ascends the throne, and G-d appears to him in a dream, offering to grant the young king one request before he begins to rule the people. Shlomo simply replies:

וְנָֽתַתָּ לְעַבְדְּךָ לֵב שֹׁמֵעַ לִשְׁפֹּט אֶת־עַמְּךָ לְהָבִין בֵּין־טוֹב לְרָע…

Please grant your servant a “listening heart” to judge the people, to understand between good and bad… (מלכים א ג:ט)

Hashem, so impressed by the selflessness of Shlomo’s request, grants this along with long years, riches, peace, and many other good things.

The actual Haftara reading picks up after this, as Shlomo awakes from this dream and finds out that it was true as his new G-d-given skills are put to the test. Two women approach Shlomo with a baby they each claim to be theirs. The Jewish king dispatches them quickly with a very smart strategy to reveal the true mother, showing that G-d did truly grant him a “לֵב חָכָם וְנָבוֹן.” Furthermore, we see from the following פרקים that Shlomo was a very great and insightful king- he truly lived up to G-d’s claim that “אֲשֶׁר כָּמוֹךָ לֹא-הָיָה לְפָנֶיךָ, וְאַחֲרֶיךָ לֹא-יָקוּם כָּמוֹךָ.” I believe that this is because of his “לֵב חָכָם וְנָבוֹן,” and because of his connection to G-d, something which the פסוקים explain were important to him even before he received his divine gift.

It is interesting to note that almost every year, פרשת מקץ coincides with our celebration of Chanukah, so the aforementioned Haftara reading, which fits so nicely with our סדרה, is replaced with a slightly less connected reading from ספר זכריה. In it, we read about Zecharia’s dream, where he sees Yehoshua, the כהן גדול, standing in dirty garments with the Satan sitting on his shoulder (which most interpret as being symbolic of the גלות– Yehoshua was the first כהן גדול of the Second Bet Hamikdash following גלות בבל). A מלאך comes down and “cleans up” the priest, putting him in fresh clothing and removing the bad influence of the exile. But, this tidying comes with a warning:

כֹּה-אָמַר ה’ צְבָאוֹת, אִם-בִּדְרָכַי תֵּלֵךְ וְאִם אֶת-מִשְׁמַרְתִּי תִשְׁמֹר, וְגַם-אַתָּה תָּדִין אֶת-בֵּיתִי, וְגַם תִּשְׁמֹר אֶת-חֲצֵרָי–וְנָתַתִּי לְךָ מַהְלְכִים, בֵּין הָעֹמְדִים הָאֵלֶּה.

So says G-d: If you will go in my ways and if you will keep my charge, and if you will also judge my house and guard my courts, then I will give you free access among those standing by (זכריה ג:ז)

Yehoshua is warned that in order to keep Israel and Jerusalem in control of the Jews in a time when Bavel controlled the entire area, he would need to lead the Jewish people in two ways- by ensuring that they follow the מצות (divinely) and also judging them properly (insightfully). Without both of these, he would force the Jews to return to the dirt of גלות בבל, and lose the chance to rebuild from the dust of the destruction of the First Bet Hamikdash.

The reading continues to describe another vision of Zecharia, one involving the מנורה, which could explain why this portion is read on שבת חנוכה, but I do not believe it is a coincidence that this נבואה is read as well. On חנוכה, we commemorate the pain felt mere decades after Zecharia received this prophecy, when the Jews fell and the Greeks forced evil decrees upon them. Through their spiritual תשובה and military effort, the חשמונאי-led army fended off our enemies and took back the Temple, but we know that this was only short-lived as the Jews were once again exiled from our land.

In our times, as we return home from the two thousand year exile that started not long after חנוכה, we confront the same challenges that were faced in the times of Zecharia and Yehoshua- we need leaders for Israel who can remove the dirt of the גלות from them, and rule with the divine inspiration and intelligence and insight that characterized both Yosef and Shlomo’s reigns. Unfortunately, in our times, the leaders of Israel seem polarized in opposite extremes- many make their decisions only based on divine needs, putting aside practical considerations to govern as they believe is religiously necessary. Many even refuse to make decisions based on the assumption that they are currently in Israel, embracing the “dirt” of the גלות and refusing to accept the significance of the אתחלתא דגאולה even as recent history has shown miracles that may have even surpassed those of Chanukah. On the other hand, others decide and govern based on practicality alone, failing to take into account any religious or Jewish implications of their policy.

In these times, especially with the upcoming primary and general elections in Israel, our elected and soon-to-be elected officials need to learn the dual lessons of our סדרה. Firstly, they need to remove the “dirty garments” of the exile and accept that we are now in Israel, in the אתחלתא דגאולה. After this basic requirement has been fulfilled, we can begin to discuss the more difficult balance of ruling with intelligence and ruling with religion, something which needs to be addressed as well if we can ever hope to rebuild the temple which was first constructed by Shlomo, and re-inaugurated by Yehoshua.

On Chanukah, we celebrate the miraculous victory of the חשמונאים over the Greeks, and the miracle of the oil lasting eight nights in the בית המקדש. In our times, where we’ve seen victories almost as miraculous as that of the מכבים, we need a very different type of miracle. With Hashem’s help, we will see our elected officials embrace our religious and practical ideals, so by next Chanukah, we will be lighting candles in the rebuilt בית שלישי. Shabbat Shalom and Chanukah Sameach.

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