Commentary for Miketz, Shabbat Chanukah

29 Nov

This week’s parshah begins with Pharaoh having a dream. In his dream seven fat, well-fed cows are devoured by seven gaunt, skinny, sickly-looking cows, but despite eating the fat cows, the skinny cows do get any fatter and remain sickly-looking. Pharaoh asks his advisors to interpret this dream, but none of them is able to do so. Finally, Pharaoh’s cupbearer remembers Joseph, who is sitting in prison and suggests that Pharaoh see if Joseph can interpret the dream.
When Pharaoh repeats his dream to Joseph, the healthy cows are simply described as “of healthy meat and well-formed, (Gen. 41:18)” while the skinny cows are described as looking so skinny and sickly-looking “so bad they were that I had never seen their like in the land of Egypt (Gen. 41:20).” Pharaoh places this emphasis on how out of place the skinny cows were because the human mind remembers the abnormal much more than it does the normal. To Pharaoh, these cows were abnormal, so they stuck out in his mind more.
Similarly, when the cupbearer is describing Joseph to Pharaoh in 41:12, the first thing that comes to his mind is that Joseph is a Hebrew, member of a strange clan from a far away land that only worships one God as opposed to the standard polytheism. Only after he describes Joseph as such does he give the relevant information of whose custody Joseph was being held under and why he might be able to interpret Pharaoh’s dream.
Throughout time people have always tried to hide the abnormal aspects of themselves, and in many cases this has meant Jews needing to hide their Jewishness. Despite the fact that his Judaism appears to be an open secret in Pharaoh’s court, Joseph, the second most powerful man in all of Egypt and the man who now only interpreted Pharaoh’s dream when no one else could, but also developed the plan that saved Egypt from famine, feels the need to hide his Jewishness from everyone. In next week’s parshah, he first sends all of the servants out of the room before revealing his true identity to his brothers in an attempt to hide the fact that he is part of this foreign tribe from the Egyptians, despite the fact that that the Egyptians seem to already be well aware of it.
This parshah is almost always read on Chanukah, which provides a very sharp contrast to Joseph’s behavior. At a time when Jews were forbidden from practicing Judaism and when many Jews were abandoning the religion and assimilating into Hellenistic culture, the Maccabees stood up and declared their Judaism proudly. Because of them, on Chanukah, we too display our Judaism proudly by placing our Chanukiyot in places where they are clearly visible to all passers-by to declare “A JEW LIVES HERE!” We have no need to hide who we are from our society. Our religion might be the minority in almost every place on Earth. We might me the odd ones out who don’t eat the food everyone else does and who don’t celebrate the holidays you see on TV, but it is ours and we are proud of it.

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