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Parashat Miketz/Chanukah 5777 — 12/31/2016

Parashat Miketz/Chanukah 5777 — 12/31/2016

Bereishit 41:1-44:17

Pharaoh said to Yosef, ‘Since Gd has informed you of all this, there is no one so discerning and wise as you.’ (41:39)

The verse appears to state that Hashem having enlightened Yosef with this interpretation is indication that he is indeed wise and understanding. There are two reasons for this – first, Hashem only provides wisdom to the wise … He [Yosef] merited this, for he possessed wisdom beforehand, both from his spiritual root and from what he had learned at his father’s house…

The second and main reason for Pharaoh’s declaration is that Pharaoh felt that Yosef possessed Divine unity alluded to in the words “all of this” (kol zot) – for “all” (kol) is the aspect through which chochmah, wisdom, emerges, while “this” (zot) is the aspect through which binah, understanding, emerges. This Divine Unity is comprised of these two aspects: male/kol, and female/zot respectively. This is why our Sages teach us that women were granted greater binah than men (see Nidah 45b), for they are more intimately connected to that attribute. Men, on the other hand, are more intimately connected to chochmah. Yosef possessed the unity of both of these aspects and therefore merited both wisdom and understanding [discernment in the verse].

I’d like to consider each of these two reasons separately, as each teaches us something about the way Gd interacts with creation, and with human beings.

There is a tradition that one leaves the crumbs on the table when saying Birkat haMazon after a meal. Why is this? The Rabbis explain that “a blessing cannot take hold on nothing.” Certainly Gd can, and did, create the universe ex nihilo, but it seems that since that time, blessings need something to work with to get started, and certainly those blessings mediated by human beings. Thus, when Elisha wanted to help the widow (II Kings, Chapter 4) he first asked her what she had in the house. When she replied, “a cruse of oil,” he told her to gather many vessels and fill them all from the cruse. Apparently he could make the oil increase miraculously, but he couldn’t make oil appear out of the blue.

In the case of Gd’s giving wisdom to the wise we can see the mechanism clearly – someone who is already wise can appreciate new wisdom and integrate that wisdom into his perspective much more easily than someone who is less wise. I’ve already learned a lot of physics, so when I read about a new discovery I’m able to see it in a broader context of the history and development of the science, and sometimes evaluate some of the claims in the light of the basic principles of physics, or see where this line of research might lead. When I explain the discovery to someone else, they may have trouble grasping that due to their lack of background.

In Yosef’s case, we are not talking about any kind of scientific knowledge, but knowledge of Gd. Having been reared in a household where Gd was a living presence, and having studied at his father’s feet, he would have had intellectual understanding to go along with his experience. Yosef was fully prepared to receive Gd’s Wisdom. Those who are not as well prepared can only gain at a slower pace.

I might add that we know from the Revelation at Mt. Sinai that experiencing Gd is an overwhelming experience, and most people’s bodies and minds are not equipped to handle it. The Torah tells us that the people asked Moshe to be an intermediary for them so that they not die from the experience, and the Midrash tells us that the people actually did die and had to be revived by a cohort of angels. So part of the preparation to receive wisdom is physiological. The body has to adapt over the course of time, through repeated experiences of the transcendent reality, to be able to support the experience of Gd. To paraphrase Pasteur: Experience of infinity favors the prepared mind and body.

Yosef’s preparedness is also described in the phrase in our second quote: kol zot. As Ramchal points out, kol represents the aspect through which chochmah emerges. Chochmah is described in Kabbalah as a kind of lightning-flash of intuition that brilliantly, although briefly, illuminates reality, leaving an indelible mark on our awareness. Zot, on the other hand, represents binah. Binah is also the word for intellect, that which distinguishes (from the root bein = between) – and zot means this, i.e. this and not that. The association with male and female is that chochmah is the raw, seed idea, while binah is that which gives the seed form.

Perhaps we can take another angle on kol zot. Kol is “all” and the transcendent is that which can truly be called “all.” When Ya’akov and Esav meet, Esav declines Ya’akov’s gifts, saying I have a lot. Ya’akov replies that Esav should take them, saying I have “all.” Ya’akov was connected to the infinite. Esav was not. Esav was therefore left always wanting more.

The word zot, “this,” as we have just pointed out, is in the realm of boundaries. This is the creation, which in some sense is opposite to the transcendent, boundless basis of life. By saying that Yosef knows kol zot we are describing a state of consciousness where boundaries and the boundless coexist. We know ourselves to be boundless, and we interact productively with the boundaries, integrating them into ever higher levels of structure that can better display or reflect the totally integrated state of the transcendent. Yosef possessed the unity of both of these aspects and therefore merited both wisdom and understanding. This was his patrimony, and it is ours as well.

Happy Chanukah and Happy New Year to all!


Marci Freeman sent this passage from Shlomo Carlebach.  (NB: I put my drash first in the interests of (a petty?) consistency, not because I think it is better than what R. Carlebach wrote!)

By Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach on December 21, 1992 – כ”ו כסלו תשנ”ג

You can be the richest man in the world, you can have everything between heaven and earth, you can be in the same room with the one thing you have been looking for, but if there is no light to show you where it is, then you do not have it.

Chanukah is the holiday of the inside light, the hidden light, the light which is burning amidst the deepest darkness. At Chanukah we celebrate the light which gave the Maccabees the strength in the darkest period to believe that they can drive out the Greeks in the Holy Land.

You see, my best friends, when we are born, Gd gives us everything, every day Gd gives us everything; only sometimes we turn off the light by our mistakes. Sometines we blow out our own candles, so on Chanukah HaShem gives us back the light we need the most. Chanukah is the holiday when the Talmud says, “Chanukah is a man and his house,” meaning that the whole family has to come together.

Because between husband and wife, parents and children, you can stand next to each other for a thousand years and be as far away as two million eternities. Chanukah is the great light when we see each other again; according to the Kabbalistic tradition it is deeper than Yom Kippur. It is the holy of holiest, but not in the temple, in my own house. We kindle the light by the door to tell the people – the outside people – who have not yet found their own house, who have not yet found their own soul, who have not yet found even their own friend. And we share our light with them.

All the hatred in the world is only because people don’t see each other. Chanukah is the holiday that we are closest to the Messiah and, gevalt, do we need the world to see us one time! And gevalt, do we need all the Jews one time to see the holiness of being Jewish! Let it be this year. Amen.

Moshav Meor Modiin. Hanuka, 5752.