2022 Hanukkah Forever postage stamp
2022 Hanukkah Forever postage stampUSPS

As happens in the vast majority of years, Parashat Miketz falls during Hanukkah: in this entire century (5700-5799 or 1941-2040), there are only 11 years in which Parashat Miketz does not fall during Hanukkah.

This year 5783, as happens in about one-third of years, Shabbat Parashat Miketz falls on Rosh Chodesh Tevet.

This leads us to ask: What connexion is there between Parashat Miketz, Hanukkah, and Rosh Chodesh Tevet?

Parashat Miketz opens with Pharaoh’s dream:

וַיְהִי מִקֵּץ שְׁנָתַיִם יָמִים – “And it happened at the end of two years to the day that Pharaoh was dreaming that – behold! – he was standing over the River Nile...” (Genesis 41:1). He dreamed his two dreams of the seven well-fed cows followed by the seven thin and undernourished cows, and then of the seven fat ears of grain followed by the seven thin and scorched ears of grain.

In this second dream, Pharaoh saw “seven ears of grain sprouting on a single stalk, healthy and good” (Genesis 41:5), followed by another seven ears of grain “thin and scorched by the east-wind sprouting after them” (v. 6).

The Ba’al ha-Turim (Rabbi Ya’akov ben Asher, Germany and Spain, c.1275-1343) notes that the phrase בְּקָנֶה אֶחָד (“on one stalk”) occurs only three times in the entire Tanach: the first two times are in this verse and in verse 22, when Pharaoh relates his dreams to Joseph.

The third time is in the description of how Betzalel constructed the Menorah for the Mishkan:

“He made the Menorah of pure gold...six branches emerging from its sides, three branches of the Menorah on its one side and three branches of the Menorah on its other side, three cups engraved like almonds בְּקָנֶה אֶחָד, on one branch” (Exodus 37:17-19).

And the Ba’al ha-Turim expounds, “This is because the satiety brings light to the world; therefore he saw the good ears of grain [which symbolise plenty] בְּקָנֶה אֶחָד, ‘on one branch’, whereas the scorched ears of grain he did not see on one branch”.

Just as the plentiful harvest gives light to the world, so too does the Menorah in the Mishkan, later in the Beit Hamikdash (the Holy Temple) – the Menorah whose restoration we celebrate in these days of Hanukkah.

When did Pharaoh dream his dreams of the fourteen cows and the fourteen ears of grain?

– The Talmud (Rosh Hashanah 10b) records that “Joseph left prison on Rosh Hashanah”.

So Parashat Miketz, which almost always coincides with the Shabbat of Hanukkah, opens with an event which happened on Rosh Hashanah. And this is particularly significant, because Kabbalah and Chassidism see an intimate connexion between Rosh Hashanah and Hanukkah.

The book Ta’amei ha-Minhagim (The Reasons for the Customs), in the section on Hanukkah, cites the B’nei Binyamin by Rabbi Yosef Binyamin Reich, who cites a long-established tradition that until Hanukkah the Heavens are as an outstretched hand to accept all true penitents who for whatever reason failed to repent during the Ten Days of Repentance from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur: their repentance is accepted until Hanukkah.

And the Ta’amei ha-Minhagim then cites from the section on Hanukkah in the Toldot Aharon, a Kabbalistic homiletic commentary on the Chumash written by Rebbe Aharon of Zhitomir (c. 1750-c. 1820):

“The bounty and the clarity which the Creator sends down to Israel begin with Hanukkah, because until Hanukkah it is still Hoshanah Rabbah, which is the final sealing [of G-d’s decrees from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur], hence Hanukkah-eve is the final sealing [of G-d’s decrees from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur]. And on Hanukkah, the new bounty and clarity begin to descend upon Israel’s soul; and this is why we light the candles on Hanukkah – they are light, and allude to the lights of clarity which begin in these days”.

So Parashat Miketz (which, as we noted above, is almost always read on the Shabbat of Hanukkah), opens on Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of the period of repentance which concludes with Hanukkah. And Pharaoh’s dream in which he saw the seven goodly ears of corn בְּקָנֶה אֶחָד, “on one stalk”, alludes to the Menorah which we celebrate on Hanukkah.

And I add here an additional observation, of another aspect of Hanukkah which complements Rosh Hashanah:

On Rosh Chodesh of 10 months of the year (11 in a leap year) we recite Hallel (Psalms 113-118) – but specifically, half-Hallel, omitting Psalms 115:1-11 and 116:1-11.

On two months we do not recite half-Hallel on Rosh Chodesh.

The first is Rosh Chodesh Tishrei, which is of course Rosh Hashanah, on which we do not say Hallel at all.

As the Rambam says, “We do not say Hallel on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur because these are days of prayer and submission to G-d, fear and awe of Him, repentance and pleading and request for forgiveness; and it is not appropriate under these circumstances to rejoice and celebrate” (Commentary to the Mishnah, Rosh Hashanah 4:7; and compare Mishneh Torah, Laws of Megillah and Hanukkah 3:6, also Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, Laws of Rosh Hashanah 584:1).

But by omitting Hallel entirely on Rosh Chodesh Tishrei there is a missing Hallel from our annual liturgy – and it is restored on Hanukkah. Because this Shabbat is also Rosh Chodesh Tevet, and on Rosh Chodesh Tevet (as on every day of Hanukkah) we say not a half-Hallel (as on a typical Rosh Chodesh), but the complete Hallel.

Let us return to the opening words of Parashat Miketz:

וַיְהִי מִקֵּץ שְׁנָתַיִם יָמִים..., “And it happened at the end of two years to the day...”. The Midrash picks up on the word מִקֵּץ, Miketz (“at the end of”), and expounds:

“‘And it happened at the end of two years to the day...’ – ‘G-d has put a קֵּץ, keitz (“end”) to darkness’ (Job 28:3). He allowed the world a fixed number of years of darkness. What is the meaning of ‘He [G-d] has put a קֵּץ (end) to darkness’? – That…He decreed how many years Joseph would remain in darkness in prison. As soon as the קֵּץ (end) of that period came, Pharaoh dreamed” (Bereishit Rabbah 89:1, and compare Tanchuma, Miketz 1).

Is it just coincidence that חֹשֶׁך (darkness) is the appellation that the Rabbis used over and over again to represent the Greek Empire’s subjugation of Israel?

Let us go back to when G-d was about to make His first promise to and covenant with our father Abram, in the Covenant between the Parts: “It happened as the sun was about to set, that a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold – a dread! A great darkness was falling upon him” (Genesis 15:12).

The Midrash (Mechilta de-Rabbi Yishmael, Yitro, Masechet Ba-Chodesh 9) explains:

“‘Fell’ – refers to Babylon…; ‘great’ – refers to Media [meaning Persia-Media]…; ‘darkness’ – refers to Greece which made the eyes of Israel go dark from fasting; ‘dread’ – is the fourth kingdom”.

Elsewhere in the Midrash (Bereishit Rabbah 2:4), Reish Lakish (Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish) interprets the Creation narrative (Genesis 1:2-3) as a paradigm for our future exiles:

“‘…The earth was without form’ – is the Babylonian exile…; ‘and void’ – is the Median exile…; ‘darkness’ – is the Greek exile, which made the eyes of Israel go dark with their evil decrees…; ‘on the face of the deep’ – is the exile of the kingdom whose evil cannot be fathomed, just like the deep… ‘And the Spirit of G-d was hovering’ – is the spirit of the King Mashiach”

But G-d put a קֵּץ, an end to our national darkness, put an end to the darkness of Seleucid Hellenist domination of our Land and our people, at the time of Hanukkah, the time when the Maccabees took up arms against the darkness of the Greeks’ harsh and evil decrees and restored light to the nation and the Land.

It is entirely appropriate, then, that the parashah which opens with G-d rescuing Joseph from darkness to great light is almost always read during the Festival which celebrates the end of the darkness of Hellenist domination over our Land.

Just as it is entirely appropriate that the parashah which opens with an event that occurred on Rosh Hashanah is almost always read on Hanukkah; and this year even more appropriately, on Shabbat Hanukkah which is also Rosh Chodesh, and on which we recite the complete Hallel to make up for the Hallel that we didn’t recite on Rosh Hashanah.

This is the Festival whose entire theme, whose very essence, is light, and which complements and completes Rosh Hashanah.