Miketz 5763 – Gilayon #267

Shabbat Shalom The weekly parsha commentary – parshat

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Parashat Miketz





Said Rabbi Yochanan: The wicked exist by their gods, "Pharaoh
dreamt and behold, he stood over the Nile",
but the righteous,
their God exists by them, as is written "And behold, God stood above
him and said I am the Lord, God of Avraham

Rabba 69)


On first thought it would seem that both Pharaoh and Yaakov, who
represent the wicked person (rasha) and the righteous man (tzaddik),
are cognizant of man's standing before God; both worship Him. But there is a
world of difference between the religiosity of the rasha and that of the

In Pharaoh's view, God is the tool, the means, the instrument for the
advancement of his – Pharaoh's- interests, his status, and his existence. The
meaning of this belief is that his god is the basis of existence, i.e., God for
the sake of man; translated into real terms, the mythological concept of
"the gods of Egypt" means the Nile, which provides life and support
for Egypt; therefore Pharaoh dreams of himself as "standing over the
." Why does he bow to Nile as his god? Because this god of his is
the supplier of all his needs, he serves him as befits the ruler of the great
Egyptian empire, guaranteeing its existence. Thus we see that Pharaoh, King of
Egypt, serves his gods because his gods serve him. Pharaoh's religious
faith is expressed by his rising in the morning and thanking his gods for all
that they do for him, hoping that they will continue to act on his behalf.

The opposite is true of the tzaddik. He does not ask that his God
bear him and supply his needs. He takes it upon himself to serve his God. In
this sense, it may be said that he carries his God. Thus, his God is sustained
by him… Say, then, this is faith in terms of the mission that this standing
before God imposes upon him, or, in the terminology of the Midrash, "to be
tzadikkim, bearers of the Lord."

(Y. Leibowitz, " Seven Years of Discussions of
the Weekly Parasha, pp. 156-157)




Mordechai Beck


The story is told of a hasid who entered
his Rebbe's court one day and heard the Rebbe sing the most elevating, wordless
tune , a niggun. Everyone who heard it was enraptured. The Rebbe himself was
clearly in ecstasy. When he finished the niggun, the Rebbe's disciple
approached him in awe and trepidation and said: "Holy Rebbe, that was such
a beautiful melody. But tell me, doesn't it come from the opera La Traviata?
The Rebbe fixed his blazing eyes on the trembling hasid and said: "I heard
it from the Holy One Blessed be He. But where did you hear it from, you
apikoros (heretic)!
This apocryphal tale is a trenchant example of the interplay between Jewish and
non-Jewish cultures. On a more abstract level, it suggests the larger question
that lays behind the festival of Chanucah. Is there any such thing as a 'pure'
culture? Is there any way in which Judaism – or, for that matter, any other
civilization – can ever remain 'uncontaminated' by its surroundings and by
other civilizations? Does this desire for exclusivity not carry with it
potential dangers of its own, extreme examples of which have been only too
apparent in our own fragile times? And if it is, practically speaking,
impossible to close off the outside world, what remains of the meaning of
Chanucah, whose celebration is rooted in the clash of Jewish and Hellenistic
values? We have already raised the question as to why the Rabbis do not recall
in much detail the actual historical events that gave us the festival.

In the historical record, the main villain in
the Chanucah story is Antiochus Epiphenes IV, the ruler of the Greek-influenced
Seleucid Empire, who cruelly suppressed Jewish religious practice – including
the Sabbath, temple worship and circumcision – and who backed up his religious
persecution with the slaughter of thousands of pious Jews. Yet hundreds of
years later, when the sages of the Talmud came to record the events, none of
these cruelties are mentioned. Instead, it is the Hellenistic culture that the
Seleucid Greeks tried to impose on the Jews that is considered as the main
reason for the Hasmonean uprising, perhaps marking the first real cultural war,
led by the priestly family of Mattathias (Mattitayahu) the High Priest. In this
view, the Jews, living in their own territory, with their own Temple, waged a
war not over physical survival but over principle. Their fear was that their
Syrian-Hellenistic overlords would plant a cultural Trojan horse in their midst
and thus undermine their values from within. Ironically, as the Hasmoneans'
control of the country continued, they gave themselves the title of kings – a
nomenclature that had disappeared with the destruction of the first temple and
subsequent exile to Babylon – thus shifting the focus of their leadership from
spiritual to political. Slowly, too, their regime came to resemble that of the
Hellenistic Greeks and thus raised the ire of the contemporary sages.
Hellenistic culture had penetrated deeply into the Hebraic consciousness.
Hundreds of Hebraized Greek terms and words appear in the Talmud. Some of the
greatest sages rejoiced in Hellenistic names. One of the first sages mentioned
in that most philosophical of tractates, Pirkei Avot, is Antigonus of Socho, a
pure Greek name (1:3). Before he became a Talmudic sage, Resh Lakish was a
gladiator. Is this borrowing of others' cultural baggage forbidden, or
impossible if the Jewish people is to keep its uniqueness? On a broader level
what did the Hasmoneans (or some of the later sages, let alone many
contemporary ones) fear in these foreign intrusions? Was knowledge of any sort
foreign to Judaism? Not according to some of our most respectful sources. The
great poet and philosopher of Medieval Spain's Golden Age, Yehuda Halevi, wrote
"The Kuzari": "The members of the Sanhedrin were bound not to
let any science – real, fictitious or conventional – escape their knowledge,
magic and language included. How was it possible at all times to find seventy
scholars unless learning was common among the people? If one elder dies another
of the same stamp succeeded him. This could not be otherwise, as all branches
of science were required for the practice of the divine law." Halevi, in
the guise of the book's Rabbinical presenter, list various disciplines such as
agriculture, husbandry, astronomy and music, which were necessary to possess in
order to understand the Torah. For Halevi – considered to be the most 'purely
Jewish' of medieval philosophers – the source of all these disciplines may be
traced to Solomon to whom "all the inhabitants of the earth traveled in
order to carry forth his learning even as far as India." Then this process
took off on its own track: "Now the roots and principles of all sciences
were handed down from us first to the Chaldeans, then to the Persians and
Medians, then to Greece, and finally to the Romans. On account of the length of
this period..it was forgotten that they had originated with the Hebrews, and so
they were ascribed to the Greeks and the Romans." (Kuzari part 2: 64-66, emphasis mine).

Similarly, Maimonides, the temperamental
opposite of Halevi, observed: "that many branches of science…were once
cultivated by our forefathers but were in the course of time neglected…the
natural effect of this was that our nation lost the knowledge of those
important disciplines." (The Guide to the
Perplexed, 1:71)
. Interestingly, both Halevi and Maimonides were
practicing medical doctors, and presumably benefited from a secular scientific
training, while the latter also based much of his philosophical writing on

In his recently published study "Athens
in Jerusalem," Tel Aviv historian Ya'acov Shavit analyzes the history of
Hellenistic-Jewish tensions from earliest times to our own day. Of course, the
framework changes with each period and what was once a specific cultural
configuration has, over the generations become a more general notion identified
with un-Jewish ideas and concepts. Often, too, Hellenism and its Jewish
counterpart became the battle ground for warring factions of all sorts of
groups. In the nineteenth century, for example, Professor Shavit writes:
"Religious and 'free-thinking' Jews alike used it as a battle cry to be
frequently hurled at their adversaries; the 'freethinking' nationalists used it
against the anti-nationalist secular (Reform) Jews; the ultra-Orthodox, against
their freethinking nationalist opponents. One of the inevitable results of the
double use of this sign was to kindle the debate on the essence of the festival
of Chanucah that flared up in the 1880's between different camps in the Hibbat
Zion (Love of Zion) movement. "The free-thinking members of this movement
claimed that the Orthodox were treating Chanucah as a part of Diaspora folklore
and obscuring its national dimension; the Orthodox argued that the
free-thinkers were totally disregarding the religious aspect of the holiday and
turning it into a popular national festival. How absurd it is, religious
writings repeatedly claimed, that the 'freethinking' Jew should celebrate
Chanucah which symbolizes victory over Hellenism, when he himself lived like an
out- and-out Hellenist. A secular Jew, therefore, is not allowed to view
himself as a 'descendant of the Maccabees.'" (P. 312)

This debate continues right into our own day,
as Professor Shavit, an avid secularist, is wont to point out. In Israel, the
Chanucah debate merely highlights the extreme tendencies that underpin the
on-going debate as to what constitutes a Jewish state. Shavit quotes the former
Chief Rabbi Avraham Shapira regarding the attempt to separate religion and
state, whose proponents he characterized as "following in the path of the
Hellenizers and trying to adopt as their slogan revolt against the people and
the unity of the nation."

The most extreme critic of secular Zionism
was, of course, the late and generally unlamented Rabbi Meir Kahane who equated
Zionism with "Hellenism" and warned that it would place all Jews in
danger of collective divine punishment. Others have pointed out that the Hellenistic/Jewish
debate is a very complex one, encompassing as it does both high and low
culture, rank paganism and sophisticated philosophy.

Shavit observes that in the period of the
Second Temple, and thus of the historical Chanucah, "the unceasing
spiritual ferment, resulted from the encounter and confrontation with
Hellenism. when Judaism was a strong, organic culture of life and so sure of
itself and its superiority that Hellenism did not exert a strong influence on
it. " This 'Golden Age' became a model for modern Zionists who felt that a
revival of a modern Jewish culture in its own land would enable an organic
Judaism to emerge which would be "once again receptive to stimulating and
enriching influences," as it had once been in the Second Temple period
(pp. 334 and 350).

Professor Shavit's analysis, though not
lacking in flaws, does suggest two paradoxical positions: on the one hand, it
is the conservative elements of Judaism that have generally speaking preserved
the tradition over the generations and flourished, whilst many heterodox
off-shoots have disappeared through assimilation or internal entropy. On the
other hand, as Jerusalem Rabbi and psychotherapist.

Haim Lifschitz has pointed out, Orthodox
Jewry has singularly failed to address the challenge of the modern, open,
democratic society. The tension between these two positions informs much of the
ever vital debate on the nature of Judaism in the framework of contemporary
civilization, both in Israel and in the diaspora. Given the ferocity of the
debate, and the seemingly endless permutations of the possibilities it
suggests, perhaps the real miracle of Chanucah is that there are still Jews
around to celebrate it.

Mordechai Beck is a Jerusalem based
writer and artist.


Readers write:

(Reactions to Jonathan Chipman's article
of Parashat Lech Lecha)

It would seem that the
"Deny the Occupation" industry has succeeded to the point where
Jonathan Chipman can refer to the Palestinians as "people living under
what they feel to be occupation." Let's be accurate. Not only do the
Palestinians feel that are
living under occupation; they are living under occupation.

The occupation is expressed in large part by the fact that there are two
unequal systems of justice in the territories – civil law for the settlers and
other Israeli citizens, and military law for the Palestinians. So, for example,
IDF soldiers keep the residents of Hebron imprisoned in their homes in a
extended curfew, and do nothing to prevent Hebron settlers from breaking into
stores of the Palestinians and vandalizing them.

Daniel Rorlich, Yerushalayim


It is obvious that the election
of Avraham and his seed is not just a biological election; this is proven by
the possibility of conversion. Many Jewish scholars were converts and the
Rambam used their teachings in giving us the "Yad Hachazakah".

years after I (as a child) and my parents saw the gentile who grew on the laps
of Schiller's poetry, of Kant's philosophy, etc., – that gentile who so
attracted us – employed by Hitler – damn his memory – for transport of
6,000,000 to the crematoria; or he remained silent at the sight of the
atrocities he witnessed. It is difficult to be impressed by their
"universal culture and its morality."

The universal tendencies which
you identify in Judaism are important only inasmuch as they are part of
Judaism, and not as hypocritical false morality of those who support the
murderers from Jenin and Ramallah. Whoever thinks that the murders on the roads
of Yehuda and Shomron are a result of "a normal social-national struggle,"
sees only half of the history. Whoever still thinks that there exists the
possibility of a solution based on compromise has no understanding of the basic
difference us and them. There were many attempts in Zionist history to reach
accommodation. Nine years ago, the late Yitzhak Rabin was lured into making
another attempt to reach a compromise with the base murderer from Ramalla, at
the cost of a severe confrontation with part of the Israeli nation, only to
pursue a doubtful peace.

When we are unwilling to learn
from history, locked into a faulted conception, we are drawn to philosophies
which caused the murder of a Jew by a mentally disturbed student seven years
ago. Perhaps we shall merit that your publication be more genuine, walking in
the path of the Jewish people throughout its generations.

Zilberstein Kfar Sava


Rabbi Jonathan Chipman replies:

Both letters deal with marginal
points of my article.

Mr. Rorlich relates to the
phrase "people who live under what they feel is occupation". My
intent was not to deny the existence of the occupation. It was to avoid a
political statement on a controversial issue by employing an agreed upon term
which emphasizes how things are perceived by the Palestinians, without passing
objective judgement on the accuracy of the conception.

Regarding Mr. Zilberstein's
letter which plays up the admixture of the Nazis' murderous character with
their love for the finest of European music and culture. Of course, I am aware
of this, but the fact remains that just as people's faces differ, so do their
feelings and approaches to life. My generation, born in post-Shoah America, had
experiences quite different from those experienced by European Jewry. For me,
and for most of my friends, anti-Semitism was a not a formative experience in
our lives and in the fabric of our relations with the non-Jewish world around
us. I felt that I was an integral part of the social, cultural, and general
political life; I participated in the great protest against the Vietnam War
shoulder to shoulder with non-Jews. My motive for coming on Aliya to Israel was
the desire to participate in the Jewish culture evolving in our land, and not
to escape from insufferable reality; love for Mordecai, not hatred of Haman.
(It can, of course, be argued that sooner or later the anti-Semitic demon will
raise his head even there. But it is interesting to note that even a highly
conservative (small 'C'), personage, in the mold of "Yisrael Sabba",
the Lubavitcher Rebbe, of blessed memory, catagorized America as "a kingdom
of hessed – of goodness" – i.e., as something different and unique
in Jewish history.)

Regarding the Palestinian
question – beyond what I already wrote – I will only add a revised formulation
of my basic assumption, and that is: the Palestinians, too, are human beings
created in the Image, and therefore we must understand their motives in terms
of human psychology: anger, frustration, revenge over suffering and the loss of
dear ones, the feeling of "no way out" of a difficult situation, etc.
– and not as vicious two-legged beasts. Only thus can we begin to find – for
ourselves and for them – some way out of this horrible condition which exists
here for over two years, which is destroying every positive accomplishment.


Editor's note:

There is no question that ideological and political
positions are influenced in no small part by formative personal experiences,
and in this sense, "there is nothing new under the sun." Rabeinu
Hameiri's conception, for example, in no way resembles the view which claims
that "It is known that Esav hates Yaakov". The objective of
"Shabbat Shalom" is not political statements, but clarification of
the Torah value position which believes in the basic Torah principle that all
men are created in the Image – with all its ramifications.


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