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Parshat Miketz - Chanuka

And behold, out of the Nile came up seven cows,

of handsome appearance and robust flesh,

and they grazed in the reed grass.

(Bereishit 41:2)


A Bountiful Economy Makes Possible Social Justice, Equality, and Peace

of handsome appearance: This was a symbol of the days of plenty, when creatures appear handsome to one another, for no one envies his fellow.

(Rashi ad loc, Judaica Press translation)


Out of the Nile: In good years, people become brothers to each other. And they grazed ba'ahu [in the reed grass]: [In the days of the fat cows there is] love and ahva [brotherhood, similar spelling to ba'ahu] in the world. And so it says, Your livestock, in that day, shall graze in broad kar [pastures] (Isaiah 30: 23). Kiri [means] slave [and is equivalent to] qiri [which means] master. And so, it says: Let the mountains bear shalom [alternatively well-being or peace] (Psalms 72). Rav Aha said: Do mountains carry peace? Rather that which they bear is peace; when fruits are plentiful, there is peace in the world.

(Based upon Bereishit Rabbah 89 and Yalkut Tehillim)


And behold, out of the Nile came up seven cows, etc. The robustness of the cows depends on the robustness of humans, for humans and cows share the same pasture, and when the field is empty for the animal it is also emptied for the human, since [it is written in the Torah] first that and I shall give…to your animals and only afterwards and you shall eat and be sated. Furthermore, if the animals are not good and robust, how will you plow with cattle? Of handsome appearance may refer to the cows' eyes, meaning that they had goodly eyes, and that is a sign to humans that they should have "good eyes" [not be envious] towards each other, for when people envy each other it can be seen in their eyes, i.e., if one looks at his fellow with happy eyes or with angry eyes, that is - with evil-looking eyes.

(Kli Yakar ad loc)


Your Other Brother, In another Year, Another Place

Pinchas Leiser

In memory of my dear parents
Natan Ben Yisrael Ya'akov and Shoshanah Leiser z"l
and Miriam Bat Pinchas and Chanah Leiser z"l,

who dreamed of Zion but did have the good fortune to be buried in its dust.

Despite his hesitation and qualms, at the end of the day our Father Jacob had to send his son Benjamin with his brothers to Egypt. Jacob hoped that all his sons, Simeon included, would return safely home. However, Jacob did not mention the captive Simeon by name: That he may send away your brother, the other one, and Benjamin (43:14). RaMBaN on that verse explains:

In line with the literal interpretation of Scripture, it would seem that Simeon was not a favorite of his father because of the Shechem affair. This was why he did not say, My son Simeon, and Benjamin, as he would not mention him by name, and as he left him in Egypt for a long time. Indeed, had there been food in his house, he would not yet have sent Benjamin, and he would have left him [Simeon] in Egypt.

Now Rashi wrote, "the other one: the spirit of prophecy was enkindled within Jacob so as to include Joseph." In Bereishit Rabbah they also said: "That he may send away your brother: this refers to Joseph; the other one: this refers to Simeon." This is correct, for at the moment of prayer, Jacob directed his heart to pray in a general manner for the other one [Joseph] also, for perhaps he is still alive. (Chavel translation)

There are many aspects to the "other." The meaning considered literal by RaMBaN relates to the "other" in a negative light. This is reminiscent of Rabbi Meir's teacher, the Tanah Elisha Ben Avuyah, who turned bad, and became Aher the "Other," a name given him by "another" woman (Hagiga 15a). Simeon is an "other" because his father disfavored him. Simeon had adopted the ways of Esau (instruments of violence are their swords) and so Jacob declared at the end of his life, my soul, come not you into their secret deliberation, unto their assembly, my glory, be not you united. By his actions, he excluded himself from the congregation of Israel and became "other." This otherness is reminiscent of an interesting comment on the expression "other gods" that appears in the Tannaitic Midrash Sifri on parashat Ekev (chapter 43): "And why were they called "other gods"? That they make their worshippers become other." Other gods change their worshippers into "others". "Otherness" here means ‘alien-ness'. The midrashic meaning of other chosen by Rashi to explain the word aher relates to a hidden, unconscious level of communication between Jacob and his sons. The mysterious, and hidden other is Joseph, who Jacob desired to see alive. Joseph was also other (And the boy was with the sons of Bilhah, and with the sons of Zilpah), the other, hidden brother, which reminds us of Mordecai's words to Esther in the Book of Esther: Relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place. Balak suggests that Balaam go to another place where he might succeed in cursing Israel (Bamidbar 23). The other place is hidden and mysterious like the hidden and mysterious other brother who exists in Jacob's secret hopes (Rashi brings the midrashic dictum in his comments on Bereishit 37:35: "But he refused to comfort himself - A person does not accept consolation for one still living whom he believes to be dead").

The Holy One, Blessed be He, announced to Abraham that in another year Sarah will give birth to Isaac. When Adam (Avodah Zara 8a) understood that the world continues in its way, and that there exist cycles in the world of nature, he instituted festivals "in another year." The holiday of Hanukkah was proclaimed to be observed as a festival of thanksgiving "in another year" (Shabbat 21b), a year after the miracle took place. The "other" year is a year for maturation, for gaining perspective, and for fulfilling the potential which leaves room for faith. The potential of "otherness" can sometimes be missed and the "other" year allows us to test the meaning of processes for the long run, together with faith in "another place" that recognizes the possibility of change. Simeon is an "other" because his actions changed him into another, Joseph is an "other" because he was made so by his brothers and also because he represents yearning and the hope for a different world that is unseen of yet. His dreams changed him to an "other" and his ability to adduce the meaning of dreams, to listen to the dreams of others, brought him to the high office he reached in Egypt for the good of Egypt, of his family, and of the entire region.

The holiday of Hanukkah enjoys great popularity in the Zionist myth because the "New Hebrew" (the "other"?) saw himself as heir to the Maccabaeus. The strong and fighting Israeli stands in contrast to the Galut Jew; he identifies with the Maccabeans. Generations of Israelis have been inculcated with the ethos of "the few against many." This extreme glorification of military power may haves served a necessary motivational and functional role in the first years of Israeli sovereignty. However, the unchanging focus on force and on the holiday's military aspects turns Hannukah into a festival that glorifies Simeon, the "other," instead of turning our attention to the other, more exalted significance of the return to Zion.

The extreme opponents of Zionism in the Haredi world from the school of the Satmar Rebbe, saw in it a rebellion against the nations of the world that could not contain the aggressive elements of Jewish society because it contradicts the four oaths that the Holy One Blessed be He made Israel swear to (Ketuvot 111a). The Zionist movement wanted to return the Jewish People to history and was willing to play according to the accepted rules of every movement of national freedom. The danger of glorifying "Simeon," the "other" brother, and turning the Zionist dream into "other" gods, who make their worshippers other, by "cutting down the saplings" (kitzutz ba'nitiyot - heresy, as was committed by Aher, who presumed to understand the ways of Heaven) is a real danger and must not be disregarded.

The needed "otherness" is an "otherness" which leaves room for the realistic faith that accompanies hope with doubts and fear. True, the Halakhah rules according to Beit Hillel and we are commanded to add light and hope, but we should not forget the Gemara's explanation of why Halakhah rules according to Beit Hillel (Eruvin 13b): "Why was Beit Hillel worthy of having the Halakhah set according to them? Because they are easygoing and modest and recite their dicta together with the words of Beit Shammai, and even recite the dicta of Beit Shammai before their own." In a beit midrash run in accordance with Beit Hillel, room is given to Beit Shammai to say that "fewer and fewer" lamps are lit with each new Hanukkah eve. Such a beit midrash is prepared to accept and respect the other.

Joseph's realistic take on the vision of the future allows him (the "other" brother according to the midrash) to dream, to listen to the dreams of others, and to understand them - but also to translate them into action (and now let Pharaoh find an understanding and wise man).

I feel that we are still in "the other year" in which we can hope for a better world, in which we can overcome the dangers of "Simeonian otherness," in which we can learn to treat others (minorities, aliens, converts, other peoples) with respect.

And in Ehud Manor's phrasing:

I have no other country, even if my land is ablaze.

Only a Hebrew word can penetrate my veins, my soul

In a pained body and hungry heart

This is my home.

I will not be silent when my country changes face

I will not concede to her,

I shall remind her, and here I will sing into her ears

Until she opens her eyes.

Pinchas Leiser, the editor of Shabbat Shalom, is a psychologist.


Worship of God for its Own Sake vs. Utilitarian Faith

Rabbi Yohanan said: The wicked are sustained by their gods, [as it is written]: Pharaoh dreamed that he was standing on the Nile (Bereishit 41: 1). But the God of the righteous is sustained by them: And the Lord was standing on it [literally: on him] and He said, "I am the Lord, the God of Abraham" (Bereishit 28: 13).

(Bereishit Rabbah 69) the plain sense, the word "on" here means "upon the ladder," but according to the midrash it means "on Jacob". What is the meaning of this profound idea? Both cases related to men of faith - people who are aware that humans stand before God. Pharaoh the idolater is also a believer, but he views his god as a means towards the satisfaction of his needs. He is "sustained by his god"; he has a god who carries him about, a god who is there for his sake, for his benefit and sustenance. Jacob takes it upon himself to sustain faith in God. His God is not an instrument for the realization of human interests. Rather, he views humanity and the entire world as instruments for the preservation of the fear of God. That is the difference between true religious faith and idolatry, or - in the terminology of the Sages - between lishma [for its own sake] and shelo lishma [not for its own sake], between the great dreaming Patriarch, and the dreaming king of Egypt.

(Yeshayahu Leibowitz z"l, He'arot le'Parshiyot Ha'Shavua, pg. 34)


Libel, Test, and Repentance

Then Joseph commanded that they fill their vessels with grain and return their silver-pieces into each man's sack, and give them victuals for the journey. They did so for them. Then they loaded their rations onto their donkeys and went from there. But as one opened his sack to give his donkey fodder at the night camp, he saw his silver - there it was in the mouth of his pack! He said to his brothers: My silver has been returned - yes, here in my pack! Their hearts gave way, and the trembled to one another, saying: "What is this that God has done to us?"

(Bereishit 42:25-28)


Despite his testing of his brothers with the "You are spies!" libel, Joseph still had doubts as to whether they loved Benjamin, or if they still scorned the sons of his mother, Rachel. Therefore, he wanted to involve Benjamin in the test of the goblet, to see whether they would make efforts to save him. At the same time, however, he feared that the brothers might think that he really did steal the goblet - just as Rachel had stolen her father's gods. Because of this they may say "The one who sins shall die," and not plead for him with all their strength - not because of hatred for him, but because of their shame at the act. Because of this, Joseph commanded to place, along with the silver goblet, Benjamin's payment and all their payments, so that they realize that all this was not the fault of Benjamin and his wickedness, but rather the scheme of the master. If, knowing this, they have compassion upon him and take pains to save him from servitude, he would then know that they love him; he will consider them to be fully repentant and will reveal himself to them and do good for them - as, in fact, he did.

(Abarbanel on Bereishit 44:1,2)


Midrashei Tzafon

From the pen of our member, Ronen Ahituv

The man asked about us and about our homeland, saying, 'Is your father still alive? Do you have a brother?" (43:7)

In this way he tested us, and so it is throughout the generations; there are people whose homeland exists while their Father in Heaven does not live. And then there are those whose Father lives but they do not posses their homeland. There are those whose Father lives, and their homeland exists, but they have no brother, for they do not act like brothers. You need only ask a person about these three matters.


Hanukkah Lamps: "Steadily decreasing" or "Steadily increasing"?

The Rabbis taught: The commandment is for each man and his household to light a Hanukah lamp. Those who adorn the commandment with additional beauty have each person light his own lamp. As for those who excel in adornment of the commandment; the House of Shammai says: They light eight lamps on the first night and from thence steadily decrease the number of lamps [each night]. The House of Hillel says: They light one lamp the first night, and steadily increase [the number of lamps through the subsequent nights].

(Shabbat 21b)


The House of Shammai is strict; they want to completely consume evil, even the "barely evil," even the evil that is hardly uncovered and recognized. That is also the secret of their disagreement over whether the heavens were created first, as the House of Shammai thought, or the earth was created first, as the House of Hillel claimed (J. Hagiga 10a). Heaven and earth relate to thought and action, respectively. The House of Shammai was not satisfied when a person's actions were proper; they also wanted his thoughts to be free of any hint of evil. The House of Hillel found actions sufficient, if a person's deeds are straight and pure.

(R. Shemuel Yosef Zevin, z"l, Or HaHalakhah)


Another ancient tradition, ascribed to the stubborn and uncompromising Shammai, is the pietistic tradition of one who sees the victory and also the waning light in its wake. After political sovereignty was gained, the Sages witnessed the deification of the regime, the growing assimilation, how the sacrifices made earlier were being wasted.

That is why in my kibbutz, as in most kibbutzim and state schools and in the other public celebrations of Hanukkah, a full Hanukkiya of eight candles plus the shamash is lit on the first day of the festival, as was ruled by Beit Shammai. Later I remove one candle each day in order to warn myself and to recall what happened then and what might happen again.

Political Zionism's great victory was supposed to lead to the next stage of exaltation, rejuvenation, and unification towards the creation of an original Jewish civilization. Now we have reached a dead end: nationalistic zealotry or assimilation on the one hand, Haredi extremism on the other. The light in our lives really does seem to me to be waning. According to Zionism, Judaism cannot survive under the conditions of the 21st century without a state. I agree, but I also think that the existence of a Jewish State without Jewish content is unnecessary and hopeless.

As long as Jews light candles in commemoration of the revolt and warn themselves that the light is not guaranteed, that it is waning and may be extinguished, it can continue to generate light. Such is the power of freedom.

(Eli Ben Gal Keshe'okhlim im Hasatan [When Dining with the Devil] Am Oved, Ofakim 1989)



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