Menorah at the end of the museum's Return Section, symbolizing the return to Zion.
Menorah at the end of the museum's Return Section, symbolizing the return to Zion. Courtesy of Beit Hatfutsot/JTA Photo Service

Ever since the yearly cycle of Torah readings was standardised towards the end of the Second Temple era, and the fixed calendar as calculated by Hillel II (Hillel ben Yehudah, Nasi or head of the Sanhedrin) was adopted in 4119 (359 C.E.), Parashat Mikkeitz which has the double dreams of Pharaoh almost always falls during Hannukah. Last year it didn’t, for the first time in 20 years; the next time Parashat Mikkeitz won’t fall during Hannukah will be in another two years, and the time after that will be in 5801 (2040).

So is there any connexion between Parashat Mikkeitz and Hannukah?

In his second dream, Pharaoh saw “seven ears of grain coming up בְּקָנֶה אֶחָד, on one stalk, healthy and good; and behold! – seven ears of grain, thin and blasted by the east-wind, sprouted after them. And the seven thin ears of grain swallowed the seven healthy and full ears of grain” (Genesis 41:5-7).

The Ba’al ha-Turim (Rabbi Ya’akov ben Asher, Germany and Spain, c.1275-1343) notes that the phrase בְּקָנֶה אֶחָד (which we have translated here “on one stalk”) occurs only three times throughout the Tanach. Two of these are in our Parashah – when Pharaoh dreams of seven ears of grain on a single branch (verse 5), and again when he relates his dream to Joseph (verse 22).

The only other occurrence is in the description of the golden Menorah in the Mishkan (the Tabernacle), later in the Holy Temple:

He [Bezalel] made the Menorah of pure gold…with six branches protruding from its sides, three branches of the Menorah on one side, and three branches of the Menorah on its other side; three cups with almond-like engravings בְּקָנֶה אֶחָד, on a single branch…” (Exodus 37:19).

Thus the Ba’al ha-Turim connects the ears of healthy grain in Pharaoh’s dream with the golden Menorah:

“The Menorah radiates light to the entire world; therefore, [Pharaoh] saw the good [ears of grain] בְּקָנֶה אֶחָד, ‘on a single branch’, but the thin and blasted [ears] he did not see בְּקָנֶה אֶחָד, ‘on a single branch’”.

Just as the Menorah radiates light to the entire world, so the healthy grains in Pharaoh’s dream represented the grain which Egypt stored up over seven years, and which eventually nourished the entire world.

More than a millennium later, the Prophet Zechariah would record his prophetic vision in which the golden Menorah would feature, a prophetic message which the Rabbis would select as the Haftarah for Hannukah (Zechariah 2:14-4:7).

“The angel who was speaking to me returned; he woke me, like a man that is awakened from his sleep. And he said to me: What do you see? And I said: I saw – behold! – a pure gold Menorah, its bowl on its top, and its seven lamps on it; there are seven tubes for the seven lamps that are on its top. And two olive-trees by it, one to the right of the bowl and one to its left” (Zechariah 4:1-3).

Due to the confluence of Parashat Mikkeitz with Hannukah in most years, Zechariah’s prophetic vision is almost always the Haftarah for Parashat Mikkeitz.

Zechariah was one of the last of the prophets. He lived and prophesied at the end of the Babylonian exile, and castigated the Jews of his generation for not rebuilding the Holy Temple, even though they had returned to the Land of Israel and the Temple Mount was in their hands.

His vision, which the Rabbis instituted as the Haftarah for the Shabbat of Hannukah, looks forward to the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Holy Temple, when “Jerusalem will be settled outside of her walls because there will be so many people and animals” (Zechariah 2:8). It is obvious that rebuilding and resettling Jerusalem entails rebuilding the Holy Temple, and this is the theme both of Hannukah as a whole and of the Haftarah.

This Haftarah opens with the prophet’s ecstatic exhortation, “Sing and rejoice, O Daughter of Zion, because behold! – I am coming and I will dwell in your midst, says Hashem” (Zechariah 2:14).

This prophetic vision begins with the Prophet recording that “Hashem showed me four craftsmen. I said: What are these coming to do? And He said: These horns which dispersed Judah such that no man would raise his head – these craftsmen have come to terrify them, to throw [away] the horns of the nations who raise a horn against the Land of Judah, to disperse it” (2:3-4).

These four “craftsmen” are the four redeemers of Israel: Mashiach, son of King David; Mashiach, son of Joseph; Eliyahu (Elijah) the Prophet; and the Righteous Kohen (Talmud, Sukkah 52b; Midrash, Eliyahu Rabbah 18 and Midrash ha-Gadol, Exodus 6:7).

The question מָה אַתָּה רֹאֶה -“What do you see?”- occurs only seven times throughout the Tanakh, and is addressed to only three men, all of them prophets (Jeremiah, Amos, and Zechariah):

-“The word of Hashem came to me saying: What do you see, Jeremiah? And I said: I see a staff of a שָׁקֵד, shakked, (‘almond-tree’). And Hashem said to me: You have seen well, because I will שֹׁקֵד, shokked (‘hasten’) to fulfil My word” (Jeremiah 1:11-12).

-“The word of Hashem came to me a second time, saying: What do you see? And I said: I see a bubbling pot facing northwards. And Hashem said to me: From the north will the evil open up upon all the inhabitants of the Land” (ibid. 13-14).

-“And Hashem said to me: What do you see, Jeremiah? And I said: Figs – the good figs are very good, and the bad ones are so very bad that they are inedible. And the word of Hashem came to me saying: Thus said Hashem, G-d of Israel: Like these good figs, so will I recall the exile of Judah, which I drove away from this place” (ibid. 24:3-5).

-“Thus did He show me: Behold! The Lord was standing on a straight vertical wall, with a plumb-line in His hand. And Hashem said to me: What do you see, Amos? And I said: A plumb-line. And the Lord said: I hereby place a plumb-line in the midst of My nation Israel; I will no longer continue to pardon them” (Amos 7:7-8).

-“Thus did Hashem G-d show me: Behold! A basket of קָיִץ, kayitz (‘summer’) fruits. And he said: What do you see, Amos? And I said: A basket of קָיִץ, kayitz (‘summer’) fruits. And Hashem said to me: The קֵץ, keitz, (‘end’) of My nation Israel has come; I will no longer pardon them” (Amos 8:1-2).

-“The angel who was speaking to me returned; he woke me, like a man that is awakened from his sleep. And he said to me: What do you see? And I said: I saw – behold! – a pure gold Menorah, its bowl on its top, and its seven lamps on it; there are seven tubes for the seven lamps that are on its top. And two olive-trees by it, one to the right of the bowl and one to its left” (Zechariah 4:1-3; from our Haftarah).

-“I raised my eyes again and saw and behold! A flying scroll. And [the angel] said to me: What do you see? And I said: I see a flying scroll – its length is twenty cubits, and its width is ten cubits. And He said to me: This is the curse that is going out over the face of all the Land. Because though everyone who stole has [previously] been absolved of a similar curse, and every perjurer has [previously] been absolved of a similar curse, I have brought out [this curse], says Hashem, Master of Legions, and it will come unto the thief’s house and the perjurer’s house” (Zechariah 5:2-4).

In each case, the question מָה אַתָּה רֹאֶה? (“What do you see?”) heralds a prophetic vision. The first five visions – granted to Jeremiah and Amos, towards the end of the First Temple period – prophesied the impending destruction of the Holy Temple, the destruction of the Jewish state, and the exile of the nation.

The final two visions – granted to Zechariah – prophesied the imminent restoration of the Holy Temple, and impending justice against sinners.

In the midst of the vision of this Haftarah, G-d showed Zechariah Joshua the High Priest (Zechariah 3:1). Joshua was the son of Jehozadak (Haggai 1:1, Zechariah 6:11), who was the brother of Ezra (see 1 Chronicles 5:40 and Ezra 7:1); so Joshua the High Priest, the subject of Zechariah’s prophetic vision, was the nephew of Ezra who led the Jews out of exile, from Babylon back to Israel, and later directed the re-building of the Second Temple in its earliest stages.

Apparently, it was the restoration of Israel to its Land and the rebuilding of the Holy Temple that transformed the vision of מָה אַתָּה רֹאֶה?, “What do you see?” from a prophecy of destruction and gloom to a prophecy of joy and hope.

This encapsulates the lesson of Hannukah: our own efforts, subsequently blessed by G-d, are what transform the Land of Israel from a barren wasteland into a blooming garden; transform the nation of Israel from a collection of communities scattered throughout the world into a united nation living securely on its Land; transform the Temple Mount from a site of destruction and desecration into the sanctity of the restored Holy Temple.

In the Maccabees’ wars against the Syrian-Greek Empire and the Hellenists, there were no open, revealed miracles. The only clearly supernatural miracle was that of the jar of oil – and that miracle happened within the confines of the inner courtyard of the Holy Temple, witnessed only by a handful of Kohanim.

But the overall course of the war – the defeat of the world’s mightiest superpower by a small band of Jewish guerrilla fighters – was clearly miraculous. This is the kind of miracle that we have witnessed in our generations: our strength, our ability to change the world by our actions, comes from G-d, not from our physical prowess – just as the oil’s ability to illuminate depends not on its physical volume but on the will of G-d.

As the prophet says, in the closing verses of our Haftarah: “Not by military might, and not by strength; but with My spirit, says Hashem, Lord of Legions” (Zechariah 4:6).

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