Monday, December 06, 2010

Pharoah's dream and the message of Chanukah

R’ Tzadok haKohen points out that the yeshu’a of Chanukah is very different from that of Purim. Haman plotted the destruction of Klal Yisrael, but before he could accomplish anything, his plan was thwarted and no one came to harm. Not so in the case of Chanukah, where the Hellenists plotted against Klal Yisrael and did enjoy a measure of success. The walls of the Mikdash were breached, the Mikdrash was defiled, there were persecutions and lives lost, shmad had an effect. True, in the end there was a victory, there was a miracle of the pach shemen, but what of the pain in getting to there? Should we be celebrating or crying?

The Rishonim point out that Parshas Mikeitz always coincides with Chanukah. There are various remazim in the parsha that connect to the holiday, but I think there is perhaps a thematic connection as well.

I don’t think it’s only with the benefit of hindsight that we can say that interpreting the meaning of Pharoah's dream – seven fat cows and seven skinny cows, seven full bundles of wheat and seven skinny bundles – does not seem to be rocket science. Associating livestock and grain with the GDP of Egypt does not require that great an imaginative leap. Why did the wise men of Egypt have such a problem with this dream?

Meforshim (e.g. see Meshech Chochma, Yismach Moshe) explain that had Pharoah’s dream consisted of seven fat cows followed by seven skinny cows, its meaning would have been clear. What threw the wise men off was the fact the in the dream the seven skinny cows stood next to the seven fat cows – they both were on stage, in Pharoah's mind, at the same time, simultaneously. The Egyptians knew that G-d can intervene in their world. They knew the story of the flood, the story of the tower of Babel. Had Pharoah seen seven fat cows, they would have gotten the message that G-d was going to deliver prosperity to their country. Had Pharoah seen seven skinny cows, they would have gotten the message that a famine was coming. What they could not understand was how seven fat cows and seven skinny cows could appear simultaneously – was this a sign of good tidings or bad? How can it be both?

The Ishbitzer teaches (it’s actually a Zohar) that, “VaYiritzuhu min habor,” comes from the word, “Ratzon,” desire. Yosef realized that Hashem’s plan, his dreams, were not meant to unfold by his leaping to leadership in spectacular fashion. Those years in the dungeon were not obstacles to his goal, but were part of Hashem’s ratzon, part of the plan. And as my wife noted, it’s not just the “bor” of the Egyptian dungeon which Yosef now understood in that context, but also the “bor” into which his brothers threw him.

Sheva yipol tzadik v’kam – it’s not that there are seven obstacles which unfortunately get in the way of achieving the real goal, but rather, those seven failures are necessary steps, without which reaching the end goal would be impossible.

Only Yosef understood that the ratzon Hashem is not either/or, either punishment or blessing; it can be both simultaneously. Every nefilah creates the potential to achieve greater heights; every rise to new heights must come to an end for the process of growth to renew itself. The seven cows, both fat and skinny, do indeed go hand in hand.

R’ Tzadok explains that this is the unique message of Chanukah. Seven nefilos plus one = the eight days of Chanukah (my wife gets credit for that one). Just because the plans of our enemies were not completely thwarted does not mean the ratzon Hashem was stifled. It simply means that the ratzon Hashem required a difficult journey to come to fruition. And in the end, our appreciation for the light that emerges after such a journey is that much greater and more special.

1 comment:

  1. He was nismaleh ratzon on the bor (that's the ishbitzer's vort). He knew gam zu letovah - but he was not nismaleh ratzon.

    This is the same middah as atem chashavtem lera'ah, elokim chashavah letovah

    pc :-)