Interactions Between Parshat Miketz and Hanukkah

How we can mature into a nation worthy of its Fathers.

Rabbi Dr. Aryeh Hirsch

Judaism Aryeh Hirsch
Aryeh Hirsch

“For Shakespeare, the act of creation was inseparable from the act of connection” (Imagine: How Creativity Works, by Jonathan Lehrer, page 221).

“One’s fixed gaze to one’s roots must be so strong and pure as to give life to the most far-flung details of Life, connected to and nourishing from the מגמה כללית של דבר ה' , the universal(“kol”) aim of the word of G-d whose expansion and productivity has brought and will bring ultimate Good to the world”( Rav A.Y. Kook, as explained by Rav Tzvi Tau in Emunat Iteinu, vol.7, pages 93-96).

“Yosef’s contribution is essential to Malchus, for without the connection provided by his foundation (יסוד) there can be no creation of system from details” (Rav Matis Weinberg, Frameworks, Chanuka, page 201) .

Rav Weinberg sees the thread of the Gid Hanashe ( the sciatic nerve story) running throughout the Parshot (Torah portions) of Vayishlach, Vayeshev, Miketz and Vayigash(see my “Three’s Redux”, this Judaism site, Dec.17, 2006). The nerve damage to Jacob’s leg symbolized two areas in which he and his descendants would be vulnerable to injury -in money matters, and in reproduction/ children:

The first damage is in the ability to use money; money is literally what gives a person two good legs to stand upon. Without money, one is bankrupt; in Hebrew, that’s poshet regel, to “amputate a leg”. Jacob minimized this Gid Hanashe damage when he arrived in Shechem, by setting up a monetary system and markets for the Shechemites (Talmud Shabbos 33a,on Genesis,33;18); but the damage is still there because, despite the lies of the anti-Semites, the economic production of the world is not in the hands of the Jews.

Reproduction and family matters: this aspect of the Gid Hanashe damage is obvious. Jews comprise less than .06% of the world’s population. Even worse, the “family relations” between the few Jews that do exist are often dysfunctional, argumentative, factious and fractious. Of course, no better examples could be cited than the family of Jacob in Parshiot Vayeshev and Miketz - and modern Israel’s fractious society.

These two issues, and two differing approaches to them, are seen in two of Jacob’s sons, Yehuda and Yosef. Yehuda goes into the sheep business (i.e., money) with an Adulemite named Chira(Genesis 38;1,12). Later, he reveals his attitude towards brotherly relations and ethics by saying "Ma Betza"- what can we get out of this relationship, what profit, what money. This is why Yosef accuses the brothers of being “spies” (Genesis 42; 9).

Yehuda is all “Tachlis, Man”, all bottom-line in the most money-grubbing sense, as he messes up one relationship after another: doesn’t show up when his wife gives birth (verse 5); then has sex with a woman that he thinks is a prostitute (verses 15-24); and finally is about to have the “prostitute” burnt at the stake, and only her quick-witted actions save her life at the last moment.

Yosef in Parshat Vayeshev is an immature dreamer, and if he hadn’t grown up before the opening of Parshat Miketz, he might have lived out the rest of his life in an Egyptian prison. This brother is all connection: את אחי אנוכי מבקש - my very essence is that I seek brotherhood/relationships in all human interactions (Genesis 37; 16 ).

Unfortunately, he does this in an infuriatingly immature way, constantly pouring oil on the fires of his brothers’ jealousy, fanning their hatred: ”I just gotta’ tell you about this new dream of mine”. The one time that he tries to manipulate relationship for Betza, for personal gain, he interprets the Minister of Booze’s dream but adds a request to get himself out of jail - and as punishmnent, Heaven lengthens Yosef’s jail term by two years. G-d has zero tolerance for manipulators and “spies” who seek personal advantage in all their human contacts (see my article Chanukah: Imagination, Dec 16, 2009).

Yosef, however, is no spy. Yosef and money are obviously intertwined: he leads Egypt into becoming the leading economic power on earth, and he plays with the brother’s money (again, see The Rule of Threes). But the money issue is totally connected to relationships in Yosef’s worldview: it all stems from “chein”, from each individual’s innate, unique potential and charm. Money is only potential, being fungible, and it can be turned into any other item on earth. And when Yosef connects to another person, he is relating to that aspect of the other fellow that is in harmony with some aspect of Yosef himself (although present in himself in only the potential). This is, of course, the source of “Maot Chanukah”, the gift of money on Chanukah, literally “money of chein”.

Rav Weinberg sees this last item as crucial to Yosef’s ability to heal the Gid Hanashe. Yosef was the link between the three Avot(  Abraham, Isaac and Jacob), who are represented by the word “Kol, universality”, and his brothers. This universal aspect of his character is what made Yosef the one who was capable of providing life to the whole planet.

The Torah says “ויכלכל “, Yosef fed the world (Genesis 47; 12)- but the Hebrew for the word “fed” here is very unusual, and is made up of a doubling of the word “kol”. In modern usage, it comes to us as the word for economics, i.e. money. Thus, amazingly, Yosef’s relationships and chein form the basics of his economic power and money; this very idea was what his brothers found absurd, “dream-like” and dangerous  (interaction will lead to assimilation,they believed). Yet by developing the potential in each individual (see Genesis 41; 56-Yosef developed the “kol” in every man), Yosef achieved unprecedented economic might, while his brothers were starving.

The very manner of interaction that Yosef used when he sold food is enlightening. The Midrash says that he spoke to each buyer in his native language, and people of “the seventy languages of the known world” came to Egypt to buy food.

In "Imagine",  Jonathan Lehrer says that one factor that made Shakespeare such a creative writer was that England was at the center of world trade, and that all languages of the world were spoken in London. Shakespeare, in fact, uses more different words than any other writer in the English language (25,000, which is more than twice his nearest competitor, John Milton); ”the richness of the Bard’s art is inseparable from the richness of his language, which itself depended on all those immigrants around him”.

Lehrer himself quotes the works of urban scientists West, Bettencourt and Jane Jacobs, in that cities are productive and creative because of the interactions and connections of those living there. Yosef, who is Kabbalistically symbolized by Brit Mila and creativity, is the one who “ moved the people into cities”(Genesis 47;21) . This was a calculated move by the “Man of Chein and connections”, to increase creativity, and to show mankind how to heal the damage of the Gid Hanashe. Rav Tau (Emunat Iteinu 10,page141-2) says that the change required then, and now, in the children of Jacob, איו די   בשנוי ההתנהגות החיצונית בדיבור יפה - is not merely a change in outer behaviors,  talking nicely and patiently ( although they would be nice starters), but radical changes in character which will require time and slow evolution.

An evolution from a spy-Ma Betza- mentality to one in which each Jew hold the chein of another Jew precious, and finds his own happiness in the furthering the potential (chein) of each member of the brotherhood. This was what moved a matured Yehuda to offer to protect brother Benjamin, and only thus can we mature into the Nation dreamed of by those who formed our roots: Abraham, Isaac and Yisrael, our Fathers.