Hannukah Vision

Joseph is compared to the Kennedy's.

Rabbi Dr. Aryeh Hirsch

Judaism Aryeh Hirsch
Aryeh Hirsch

And it was that at the end of two years, Pharoah dreamed. And behold, he was standing by the Nile. And behold! From the Nile arose seven beautiful cows “(Genesis 41; 1, 2).

“Fortunate is the man who makes the Lord his trust, and turns not to rely on those with false pride” (Psalms 40; 5).

“A new leadership will not risk more lives, Americans and Vietnamese alike, in the name of false pride” (Robert F. Kennedy, June, 1968).

“A dream that we all had, and had worked for so hard, was not going to happen. It was one of the saddest days of my life” (Rafer Johnson, Olympic Gold Medalist and Robert Kennedy aide, on RFK’s assassination).

It is no accident that the portions of Vayeshev, Miketz and Vayigash are always read before, during and after Hannukah; they are the story of dreamer Yosef’s  battles with his “practical” brothers (see “The Rule of Threes “ and “Imagining Chanukah”,Dec. 23,2005 and Dec 21,2008) .

It also is no accident of the calendar that this year Hannukah falls earlier in the secular year than it has for 150 years, just in time to coincide with the dates of the 50 year anniversaries of the assassination and funeral of US President John F. Kennedy. For as we shall see, both Joseph (hereafter called Yosef) and JFK shared the chein , charisma, of dreamers; yet they were, specifically because of their vision, capable of  leading the mightiest nation on earth in their respective eras, through the most perilous of troubles.

As I’ve written before, Yosef the dreamer is youthful (opening of Vayeshev)l, beautiful and full of potential. Everywhere that he goes, his outgoing personality finds favor (“chein”) in the eyes of others. Yet, the opening of Miketz finds him languishing in an Egyptian prison, for years. He seems to have reached the end of the line that his staid, practical brothers had predicted for him: that they would find him in a house of prostitution (Breishit Rabbah, 91, 6).

Moreover, just as all “mah betzah” (“where is the profit?”, Genesis 37; 26)-types predict for charismatic dreamers, Yosef has no practical way to get himself out of life’s predicaments. Even when he tries the practical, mechanical, “meragel” approach- by asking the King’s Butler to remember Yosef to the King- it backfires, and only lengthens Yosef’s stay in jail.

This prompted the Rabbis to apply the above quote from Psalms( 40; 5) to Yosef’s situation. As the Jewish paradigm of chein, of beauty and charisma, Yosef was not allowed, to any extent, to play what we would consider a perfectly acceptable card- the Butler advantage (“protektzia”, in modern Israeli parlance). Seeking advantages is what spies, “meraglim” do, and that mechanistic  game is for the brothers. Indeed, Yosef will hurl that accusation at them: “YOU are spies” (Genesis 42; 9). A Yosef, in order to keep his chein and beauty unsullied, is to trust only in G-d, not in Royal Butlers and others of false pride; Yosef is no spy.

Then, the Pharoah has a dream, a message from Heaven. “Seven beautiful cows rise up from the Nile”.  Rav Matis Weinberg notes that the ears of corn of the next dream are not described as beautiful, nor is their location pinpointed – as are the cows. This was the clue to both Yosef, and Pharoah, of the solution to the famine problem. The solution was not simply in growing more crops and storing them better; Egypt’s problem, the two men knew, was deeper:

Egypt had no identity, no self-image, and no vision. Sure, the Nile was the essence of Egypt, but the average Egyptian didn’t feel it, and could not be motivated to work for Egypt; he didn’t buy into any national vision. As Rav Matis points out, when the Egyptians say:”Give us food! Why should we die in front of you”(Genesis 47;15)- they are actually turning John Kennedy’s words on end: “Ask what your country can do for you”. That is a sure sign of a dying land, going nowhere.

So how did the Hebrew “Master of Egypt” change their tune, so that a year later they were saying: What can we do for our country, “so that we will live and not die, AND THE LAND WILL NOT BE DESOLATE” (ibid.,verse 19)? Thousands of years before JFK, Yosef and Pharoah decided to take advantage of Yosef’s beauty and chein, and make them the cornerstone of Egyptian identity. Just as with JFK, the “charming son, whose charm impresses the eye, had the (Egyptian) girls climbing the walls” (Genesis 49;22) to catch a glimpse of Mr. Egypt the Beautiful. The beautiful Bull became the symbol of the Viceroy of Egypt and of Joseph for all time (“bechor shoro”,Devarim 33;17).

Yosef goes even further: he develops others' full potential (Genesis 41; 56), their full  “chein”- as opposed to the brothers “sinat cheinam”, hate of Yosef’s chein. Thus, for example, the Midrash relates how Yosef interviewed food-buyers from every country, speaking to each in his own language. Even more than JFK, this personal touch is reminiscient of Robert Kennedy, whose supporters spanned everyone from inner city blacks to Latino farm workers to white college kids.

Moreover, like Yosef, a Kennedy didn’t need their money. Just as Yosef constantly returned his brothers’ money, as he wasn’t interested in the mechanics of the food market, but only in his brothers’ showing a personal response, RFK really was interested in people. He was the last great American dream.

When that “chalom” (dream) burst (in a hail of bullets from a “Palestinian” Arab terrorist), it really was the end for America. Imagine if all that energy and manpower had been poured into something positive, like the Peace Corps and international food relief, instead of Viet Nam. But with a failure of national vision, what America got was the national depression and nihilism, from which it has never recovered.

The story of the Hannukah miracle is not ancient history, but the still ongoing tale of Jewish infighting. As I’ve written (“The Rule of Threes”), Hannukah Gelt (“Maot Hannukah”) is a very modern counterpart of the money that played so prominent a role in these Parshiyot, and in the battle of “dreamers vs. mah betzah”- types.

Rav Kook, however, points out an additional, vital aspect of Jewish vision:

“ הנם, the phenomenon of Miracle, does not merely show the presence and power of G-d  in the world. It is much broader and deeper than that: Miracles have the purpose of giving Man ‘mabat shel kedushah, shel Nevuah’, vision from a Divine, holy, prophetic standpoint. A miracle comes to remove the mask of physicality and mechanics from the everyday workings of this world, to show that this physical world has a ‘toch pnimi’, an inner essence,  and a goal - and that holy essence is fueling movement of the world in a slow, but sure, evolution toward a heavenly purpose.

‘This mabat shel kodesh, this vision of the holy, allows man to meet the Universe from the aspect of its true, deep Being, which is moving a historic process toward the ‘shleimut acharon and tikkun’(fulfillment and repair) of all (a very Yosef-like activity, as we saw in Genesis 41;56). To the limited vision of his human senses, of his past and present, is added a view of the Universe’s future, so with the miracle, Man now sees this mighty, Heavenly process that is ‘הולך ואור’, continuously giving Light, as it says in Proverbs: ‘The path of the righteous is like the glow of sunlight, growing until high noon’ (Rav Tzvi Tau, Emunat Iteinu vol. 11, pages 32-37). Similarly, the Haftorah of Shabbat Hannukah” (So too in the spiritual world) I, the Lord, will permit you to stride forward from among those who are standing still”(Zechariah 3:7)

It is not merely that without vision we Jews lack identity. And it is not only that without vision a people cannot be motivated, although that is certainly true. Rather, in stealing Israel’s vision as Yisrael, the “mah betza “- types have cheated this nation of its true vision, this “mabat shel kodesh”, of the holy. Thus we have a Minister of Justice who would rob us of our vision of the past, saying that Naftali Bennett’s historical sense is trumped by Livni’s narrow-minded view that can’t see beyond the present, and today’s political polls (not to mention the tragic absurdity of a Justice Minister who denies the personal histories of murderers, and frees them; is not all Justice the history of who owned what, when - and who did what, when?). For Rav Kook’s vision is another Rule of Threes: present, past and future, all together forming our vision by the Lights of Hannukah.