Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Mikaitz 5775, December 2014: Memory and Dedication

I had a little dreidel, with a "gimmel" for "Gilad."
Forgetting, remembering, dedications, rededications; it can be hard to make sense of this parsha other than as a narrative. Almost every year as well, parshat Mikaitz is read on the Shabbos of Chanukah, which naturally can't be a coincidence. How do we reconcile these disparate parts of history?

We have a repeated motif of men who forget what they should remember in the seemingly simple story. First Pharaoh's butler has forgotten to tell Pharaoh about Yosaif, whom he met in prison; Pharaoh himself forgets his dreams yet remembers that he had the dreams and can remember the details when prompted by Yosaif. In fact Pharaoh grants Yosaif the name, "Tzafnas Pane'ach," meaning "he who reveals the hidden/forgotten." When Yaakov's ten oldest sons encounter Yosaif for the first time in Egypt, they don't recognize him; Rashi says this is because they physically couldn't recognize him as an adult having not seen him since his youth; Chizkuni says the new name and his Egyptian dress confused them; but Ramban writes that it is the expectation, the memory, the though that makes the difference, and Yosaif expected his brothers to show up eventually to make use of Egypt's grain stores, while the brothers had no expectation of discovering their young brother sold into slavery to appear in the guise of the most senior civil servant in all of Egypt. Finally in one of the most poignant memory lapses in all of Torah, when they are brought back to Egypt after their second visit and accused of having stolen  the goblet, Ramban states that they answered the accusation sure that such a thing could not have happened and declaring that if it had, the brother who had stolen should be killed and the other ten taken as slaves; they had not learned from their father's declaration to Lavan that anyone from his household who would have stolen Lavan's idols deserved to be killed, which resulted directly in Rachel's death.

Toldos Yitzchak tells us that at the moment the goblet was discovered in Binyomin's bag, the brothers each tore their clothes in distress., explicitly because they realize that they deserved imprisonment or slavery for the crime of selling Yosaif, but now they had brought punishment down on Binyomin as well, despite his innocence. Binyomin too tore his clothing due to his better understanding of the curse now upon him and his distress for his brothers' pain and here is a key to understanding our connections.  For the midrash tells us that it is in recompense for tearing his garments when he was guiltless that Binyomin became the forefather of Mordechai, co-savior along with Esther of the Jewish people in the time of the first exile into Persia.

A hint of this is also given earlier in the parsha, when we are told (Chizkuni) that after designating Yosaif as the proper authority to carry out the plan of warehousing grain, Pharaoh dressed Yosaif in his own jewelry and second-best robes, and had him sent out through the city in the second royal chariot, with runners announcing before him, "Here rides the young ruler!" It's very reminiscent of Mordechai being brought through the streets in Achasueros's robes and chariot, with Haman leading him and calling out "This is what is done for he whom the king wishes to honor!"
The young man on the left in the garb of a Maccabee is my son ;)
Now we see a connection to Purim, but what does that have to do with Chanukah? Purim celebrates our re-dedication as a people, our willingness to sacrifice and act to show our devotion and loyalty to G-d and to our nationhood. It is the events of Megillat Esther which allowed the building of the second Beis HaMikdash. And in fact, our haftarah for Shabbos Chanukah speaks primarily of the people and the Kohen Gadol, and then of the menorah; it doesn't speak mainly of the Beis HaMikdash itself. It also promises to punish Bavel for destroying the first.  It tells that the holiness of the people with miraculously "clean" the garments of the Kohen Gadol, remove the stains of sin, and infuse all of B'nai Yistroel with purity.

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