Chanukah/Parshat Mikeitz 5779: The Two Front War vs the Greeks and Hellenists and Yosef’s Miraculous Rise to Viceroy of Mitzrayim

Shalom Friends;

This week, our Chanukah/Parshat Mikeitz vort is being sponsored by Avraham and Miriam Deutsch and family of Efrat lilui nishmas for the yarhtzeit of Avraham’s Mother Sarah Reitza bat Tzion bat Avram Yaakov and to wish Kol Am Yisrael Chanukah Same’ach! To the Deutsch family, many thanks for your sponsorship and your continued kindnesses.

Friends, you can celebrate a Simcha — a birth, a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, a Chassuna or other Simcha event in your life, or commemorate a Yahrtzeit of a loved one, or for whatever other reason by sponsoring a Parshat HaShevua.

Please forward to your relatives and friends and encourage them to sponsor a Parshat HaShevua. And please be in contact with me with any questions, or for further details.

Best Regards,

Moshe Burt
skype: mark.burt3

Chanukah/Parshat Mikeitz 5779: The Two Front War vs the Greeks and Hellenists and Yosef’s Miraculous Rise to Viceroy of Mitzrayim

by Moshe Burt

An piece written several years ago by Rabbi Ken Spiro relates the Revolt of the Maccabees in this way:

The year is 167 BCE and the horrible persecution of Judaism by the Greeks is in full swing. The Greek troops show up in the town of Modi’in (a site west of Jerusalem which you can visit today off the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway) and demand that the Jews there sacrifice a pig to the Greek gods. The elder of the town, Mattisyahu (Mattathias), who is a Kohen, that is of the priestly class, refuses.

“Even if all the nations that live under the rule of the king obey him, and have chosen to do his commandments, departing each one from the religion of his fathers, yet I and my sons and my brothers will live by the covenant of our fathers…We will not obey the king’s word by turning aside from our religion to the right hand or to the left.” (1-Maccabees 2:19-22)

In the historical context of the miracles of Chanukah, Shem Mishmuel (Sefer Shem Mishmuel, Rabbi Shmuel Bornstein, translated to English by Rabbi Zvi Belovski, page 78) provides this description of the Greeks:

The Greeks were known for their outstanding wisdom; their philosophers and their ideas have been tremendously influential. Thus, when they oppressed Yisrael, they were even able to reach the wisdom of Torah and enslave it to their own ends.

Rabbi Spiro’s article continues:

But there is a Hellenized Jew in the town who is willing to do what is unspeakable in Jewish eyes. As he’s about to sacrifice the pig, Mattisyahu stabs him, also killing the Greek official present. He then turns to the crowd and announces: “Follow me, all of you who are for G’d’s Law and stand by the covenant.” (1-Maccabees 2:27)

Those who join Mattisyahu and his five sons – named Yohanan, Shimon, Judah, Eleazar, Yonaton – head for the hills, expecting that the Greeks are going to come back and wipe out the whole village as a reprisal. In the hills, they organize a guerilla army, led primarily by the oldest of the sons named Judah, nicknamed Maccabee, which means “the Hammer.” Maccabee is also an acronym for mi komocho ba’alim Hashem, “who is like you among the powers O G’d,” – the battle cry of the Jewish people.

We don’t know exactly how large this Maccabee army was, but even the most optimistic estimates put the number at no more than 12,000 men. This tiny force takes on the fighting Greek army of up to 40,000 men.

It’s not just a numerical superiority the Greeks have. The Greeks are professional soldiers – they have equipment, they have training, and they have a herd of war elephants, which were the tanks of the ancient world. The Jews are vastly outnumbered, poorly trained, and poorly equipped (not to mention, they have no elephants), but what they lack in training and equipment they make up in spirit.

Most of the battles take place in the foothills leading from the coastal plain area (Tel Aviv) to Jerusalem. The Greeks are trying to march their armies up the natural canyons that lead into the mountain areas, the stronghold of the Jewish army. There’s only a few places where the Greeks can ascend and this is where the Maccabees choose to take them on.

Rabbi Spiro writes, near the top of his piece and then continues:

…It is not just a war against the Greeks, it is also a civil war – Jews, who were loyal to Judaism, fighting other Jews, who had become Hellenized and who were siding with the Greeks.

…When we read the story of the Maccabees it seems like it’s something that takes place over a few weeks – the battles take place, the Jews win, and the Greeks go home. But, in fact, it takes 25 years of fighting and a great many casualties on both sides until the Selucid Greeks finally reach a peace agreement with the Jews.

After the first three years, the Jews are able to re-conquer Jerusalem. They find the Temple defiled and turned into a pagan sanctuary, where pigs are sacrificed on the altar. When they re-enter the Temple, the first thing they do is try to light a make-shift menorah (as the real gold one had been melted down by the Greeks) but only one vial of pure lamp oil with the special seal is discovered. They use this vial to light the menorah and miraculously it stays lit for eight days, by which time fresh pure oil has been pressed and delivered to the Temple.

The Maccabees then purify the Temple and rededicate it on the 25th of Kislev, which is the date on the Hebrew calendar when we begin to celebrate the eight days of Chanukah. (The Hebrew word Chanukah means “dedication” or “inauguration.”)

Early in the morning of the 25th day of the ninth month which is the month of Kislev…they [the Kohanim] rose and offered sacrifices [korbonot], as the law directs, on the new altar [Mizbeiyach] of burnt offerings which they had built…it was dedicated with songs and harps and lutes [flutes?] and cymbals…So they celebrated the dedication of the altar for eight days…(I Maccabees 4:52-56)

The miracle of the oil lasting for eight days (which is not mentioned in the Book of the Maccabees) is described in the Talmud:

…and when the royal Hasmonean House gained the upper hand and vanquished them [the Greeks], [the Hasmoneans] searched and found only one flask of oil…with the Kohen Gadol’s [High Priest] seal, and it contained only [enough oil] to burn for one day. A miracle occurred and it burned for eight days. (Talmud, Shabbat 21b)

Chanukah – one of two holidays added to the Jewish calendar by the rabbis – celebrates two kinds of miracles: 1) the military victory of the vastly outnumbered Jews against the Greeks; and 2) the spiritual victory of Jewish values over those of the Greek. It is this spiritual victory which is symbolized by the lights of Chanukah.

And so, the story above about the Hellenized Jew who obeyed the Greek king and was stabbed, along with a Greek official, by Mattisyahu as the Jew was about to sacrifice a pig, as well as the Jews’ expectations of reprisals, and formation of an army to fight the Greeks began the larger story Chanukah, with it’s miracles: the victory over vast Greek military forces and finding that one flask of oil with the seal of the Kohan Godol upon it (Shabbos 21a as cited in Sefer “Shem Mishmuel, page 78) which burned for eight days.

In last week’s parshat Vayeishev, we learn that Yosef was thrown in a bor (pit) seething with snakes and scorpions — and the miracle of his emerging unscathed. This author has written in the past venturing that there were seven subsequent miracles that played a role in Yosef’s life and in his becoming Viceroy, including who he was sold to and what was carried in their caravan, his ensuing journey to Mitzrayim and conditions of his slavery, his imprisonment on false charges and his liberation and, as Torah relates in our Parshat Mikeitz, Yosef’s ascendency to the position of Viceroy, second only to Pharaoh.

So, once again, this author will harken back to a vort said over quite a few years ago at a Shabbos Chanukah Oneg about Yosef in Mitzrayim (Egypt) based in part on Jay Shapiro’s book of fictional short stories entitled “Almost Midrash.” Shapiro has for many years done podcast commentaries about Israel, the conflict with our Arab adversaries and more for Israel National News. This story is of a fictitious second to Yosef in a tale from Shapiro’s book entitled “Duaf of Memphis”.

As Shapiro’s yarn goes, Duaf, a former Barber, relating his memoirs about his service and his time with Yosef to an Egyptian scribe. The sometimes humorous fiction depicted how Duaf was drafted, out of his previous job as a barber and into Pharaoh’s military. He fought bravely in Pharaoh’s army during a war in which Pharaoh and his remaining forces rallied to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Duaf’s role in rallying Pharaoh’s forces earned him a meteoric rise through the ranks of Pharaoh’s army, as well as a number of important missions on behalf of Pharaoh, culminating in his being appointed as the Viceroy’s right-hand man. In one humorous sideline of the tale, during one of Duaf’s missions, he came to become acquainted with the Habiru people in Cana’an.

This vort expressed Yosef’s talent for interpretation of dreams and his ingenuity as Viceroy, second only to Pharaoh, in saving Egypt from famine.

Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, in his sefer “Unlocking the Torah Text” (Sefer Breish’t, Parshat Mikeitz, pages 230-231) provides some insight as to why Pharaoh was impressed and believed Yosef’s interpretation of his (Pharaoh’s) dreams:

…Classical sources [offer] two approaches first found in Midrash:

Pharaoh actually witnessed, in his vision, both dream and interpretation. Upon awakening, Pharaoh deliberately withheld the true interpretation from his advisors in order to test them by determining the veracity of their explanatios. He therefore rejected all of the interpretations until he recognized that Yosef’s was correct. (Citing Midrash Hagadol, Breish’t 41:37) Alternatively, Pharaoh forgot the meaning of his dream upon awakening. Subliminally, however, he remembered the the truth and recognize[d] it when he heard it. (Citing Midrash Sechel Tov Breish’t 41:37)

Pharaoh gravitated towards an explanation that offered positive, concrete suggestions for the future. (Citing Midrash Hagadol, Breish’t 41:37) The Midrash maintains that each interpretation… offered by Pharaoh’s advisors was extremely bleak in tone.

We can only imagine Pharaoh’s relief, therefore, when Yosef presented him with a scenario which could be controlled.

Many later scholars build upon these original Midrashic proposals… [or] offer their own explanations for Pharaoh’s unhesitating acceptance of Yosef’s words…. These explanations may be unnecessary. The text of the Torah actually offers a solution of its own. A consistent pattern in the narrative reveals a… possibility: Pharaoh believed Yosef because only Yosef was willing to validate Pharaoh’s conviction that his two dreams were really one. Consider the text…: “….And Pharaoh awoke and behold it was a dream.” (Sefer Breish’t, Perek 41, posuk 7)

What a stunner! Big-time transitional meetings goin’ on in Pharaoh’s Palace. No Trump hotels here! This guy Yosef who interprets dreams soo impresses Pharaoh with seeing from his (Pharaoh’s) dreams the onset of drought and famine that he’s made Viceroy, second only to Pharaoh in ruling over Egypt.

Here’s this Jewish guy Yosef who makes all the right moves insuring that there is no starvation in Egypt during the famine, and yet, rather than “go down in the annals” as having saved Mitzrayim, there seems to be no record in all recorded history, other than in our Torah, of Yosef or this period in Egypt. If there were “annals of history” and if Yosef was in fact recorded, such records surely must have subsequently been expunged.

There is a stark contrast between Yosef’s rise to the position of Viceroy; the steps he mandated to save Egypt from the coming famine, and the dialogue of Page [daf] 13 A & B of Gemora Megillah Esther (the dialogue between Achashveirosh and Haman resulting in the evil decree against the Jews). The point of the Torah Vort was that just as with their longevity in Shushan and throughout Achashveirosh’s Empire brought them disdain and fostered Haman’s dehumanizing propaganda pitch to Achashveirosh, their longevity and assimilation into Mitzri society, after the deaths of Yosef and the brothers, brought the Jews disdain and disparagement by the Mitzriyim as either being useless or too powerful, such as to ally with Egypt’s enemies. In both cases, the antagonists conveniently forgot about Yosef, in direct contrast to the fictional Duaf who concluded his recitation to the scribe by recounting that “Yosef saved Mitzrayim and will go down in the annals of history.” But we see how quickly Pharaoh and the Mitzriyim subsequently forgot Yosef, despite his ingenuity in saving the Egyptian people from massive famine and starvation, amidst what appeared as a massive integration and assimilation of the descendants of Yosef and the brothers into Egyptian society.

As Parshat Mikeitz always coincides with Shabbos Chanukah, Yosef’s experience in the pit brings this author back in time to Philadelphia, in “the “old country” and to a point made by Rav Yehoshua Kaganoff which bears repeating:

As we learned about the Neisim of Chanukah, i.e., the one flask of oil found in the Beit HaMikdash which seemingly had enough oil to burn for one day, yet burned continuously for 8 days, Rav Kaganoff spoke about a neice which happened when the brothers cast Yosef into the pit which contained snakes and scorpions. Although this pit was habitat to snakes and scorpions, Hashem held them back, restrained them within the pit. Therefore, when the brothers removed Yosef and sold him into bondage, he emerged unscathed from the danger within the pit.

But it seems to this author that Yosef’s emergence from the pit unharmed was one of at least eight miracles which Yosef experienced from the moment the other 10 brothers acted against him. Our Parsha tells of what could be seen as a second neice:

“…And behold, a company of Yishmaelim came from Gilad with their camels carrying aromatic gum (for censing), balm and landanum, …to carry it down to Egypt.” (Breish’t Perek 37, posuk 25 as rendered in Growth Through Torah, by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin).

Rav Pliskin (Growth Through Torah, Parsha Vayeishev page 109), then cites Rashi;

Why did the Torah mention what the camels were carrying? To tell us the reward of the righteous. Those caravans usually carried kerosene and resin (used for fuel) which had an unpleasant odor. But the caravan that carried Yosef to Egypt had pleasant spices.

Pliskin then cites Rabbi Mordechai Pragamantsky of Telz, who heard from Rabbi Chayim Stein:

…It was a message to Yosef that all was not lost. Appreciate the Hand of the Almighty that is guiding your life and supplies you with minor pleasures to enhance your life. This is a sign that all the Almighty does is to enhance your life. This is a sign that all the Almighty Does is for your ultimate benefit.

It occurs to this author that other such miracles occurred to Yosef which would seem to include; (3) his enslavement brought about his landing in the House of Pontiphar as his head servant and caretaker of all that was his (Pontiphar’s), (4) his escaping a judgement of death regarding Pontiphar’s wife’s false accusations and his sojourn in the dungeon where he emerged as assistant to the warden, (5) his being remembered, albeit after two years, by the wine steward for his translation of dreams resulting in his interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams and being appointed Viceroy, 2nd only in power to Pharaoh, (6) Asnat bat Dina, born out of wedlock (Dina and Shechem) and later banished from Yaakov’s house under death-threat from the brothers, and who landed in the House of Pontiphar and who was said to have witnessed Yosef’s actions on the day of Pontiphar’s wife’s false accusations, (7) that when the women all threw down their jewelry to entice Yosef, he was won over by Asnat, with her metal foil engraved by Yaakov testifying to her holiness. And finally, like the flask of oil found by the Macabees in the Beit HaMikdash which by natural means would maybe burn one day, but burned 8 days; the final miracle would seem to be the fortune amassed by Yosef as Viceroy which would later be found by the Jews during the plague (mako) of darkness and which would be carted out of Mitzrayim upon the Yetziyat Mitzrayim.

Jews keep having to re-learn and absorb the message of Chanukah and of the miracles done to Yosef. Time and again throughout our history, the lessons are forgotten by Am Yisrael, including here and now in our times of successive weak-spined, indecisive, ineffectual, disunited, politicized and iron-fisted cruel (to the righteous) corrupt ruling Israeli regimes as well as an ongoing judicial dictatorship both promoted by the swamp pundits as free and democratic while dividing and conquering the people they “govern” and “judge.” They stand gainst the righteous and the merciful, just as the Hellenists of the time of the Macabees. They desecrate the name of Hashem and diminish and discredit our Divine Right to Eretz Yisrael both in Shemayim, as well as in the eyes and perceptions of the nations.

And so, may our brethren from Gush Katif and the Shomron, as well as our Observant brethren, together with all intellectually honest and enlightened Jews, including new olim, rise up to do battle for the Jewish mind and soul, just as the Maccabees did in doing battle against the Greeks.

May it be in this year and in all future years, that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif – many still seeking their permanent places, our brethren in the South — S’derot and the other towns bordering Gaza who live under constant threats of rockets and tunnels and fiery kites, those of Amona still awaiting their government-rebuilt homes, those in the North who still live under threat of Katushyas and Hezbollah, as well as our dear brother, Jonathan Pollard be central in our thoughts, prayers, chassadim and actions.

May we, the B’nei Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them and that the twice expelled families of Amona be restored to their rebuilt homes, at government expense; both due to alt-leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized Yassamnik gunpoint. May our dear brother Jonathan Pollard be liberated and truly free — only upon his return home to Israel, and that the MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem, as should the remains of the two chayalim from the Gaza War of four plus years ago. May we have the courage and strength to stand up and physically prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and prevent Chas V’Challila the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nai Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem Al’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bimhayrah b’yamainu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

Good Shabbos,Chanukah Same’ach and Chodesh Tov!
Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.