Sunday, January 16, 2022

It seems a bit odd that the Midrash Rabbah on Miketz (89:8) includes a discussion of how dreams follow their interpretation. (This idea is described more fully in Brachot 55b-57b.) The dreams recounted in Parshat Miketz are not run-of-the-mill dreams. They were of a prophetic character. Prophetic messages must be related as they are given. So what is the midrash trying to teach? Is the midrash trying to suggest that Yosef could have interpreted Pharaoh’s dream differently and thus prevented the seven years of famine? Further, what are we to make of the discussion in the next section of the midrash that the famine only lasted two years and ended when Yaakov came down to Egypt (89:8)? Is this because of the blessing that Yaakov gave to Pharaoh in Parshat Vayigash (47:10)? If Yaakov had some ability to bring the famine to an end, why did he not do so earlier?

The answer is provided by Yirmiyahu and was manifest with Yonah.

According to some commentators, one of Yonah’s concerns is that he would be viewed as a false prophet. He was instructed to go to Nineveh and declare that the city would be soon overturned. He was convinced that Nineveh would repent and his prophecy would not come to pass. (It is often pointed out that the city of Nineveh was indeed overturned. Not in the sense that it was destroyed, but in the sense that it completely changed its ways.) This is a manifestation of the idea expressed by Hashem in the book of Yirmiyahu. There (18:8), Hashem declares that “if the nation returns from the evil about which I spoke, then I shall turn away from (or “be compassionate toward”) the evil that I intended to do unto it.” (וְשָׁב֙ הַגּ֣וֹי הַה֔וּא מֵרָ֣עָת֔וֹ אֲשֶׁ֥ר דִּבַּ֖רְתִּי עָלָ֑יו וְנִֽחַמְתִּי֙ עַל־הָ֣רָעָ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֥ר חָשַׁ֖בְתִּי לַעֲשׂ֥וֹת לֽוֹ). Repentance can avert the evil decree.

The last time we encountered an Egyptian ruler, he kidnapped Sara with the intent of engaging in illicit relations. Then, after returning her, that Pharaoh drove Avraham and Sara from Egypt. The Pharaoh in this parsha behaves differently. He welcomes Yaakov and family to Egypt. He provides them with a place to live and food to eat. Moreover, the Pharaoh of Avraham’s time was intent on illicit relations. Rashi, commenting on Emor 24:11, tells us that during the entire time the Children of Israel were in Egypt there was only one incident of illicit relations. Although Yaakov may have given Pharaoh a blessing, Yaakov’s presence was in and of itself a blessing. The presence of Yaakov and his family in Egypt allowed the Egyptians to engage in an act of kindness. That act of kindness was sufficient to modify the decree of seven years of famine and reduce it to only two years.

Thus, we can understand why the midrash discusses human beings’ ability to control the impact of dreams in our world. We are to be reminded that our own actions, the performance of mitzvot, engaging in teshuva, can impact Divine decrees. This may also explain the choice of haftarah when Parshat Miketz coincides with Chanukah.

When Parshat Miketz coincides with Chanukah we read the same haftarah that is read for Parshat Beha’alotcha. It does not seem to have been necessary to duplicate this reading. Surely the rabbis could have found a different selection from the Navi that would have evoked themes of Canukah rather than read what had been selected for Beha’alotcha. I believe, however, that there was a specific desire to have us look again at Parshat Beha’alotcha. This is not simply because that parsha speaks about kindling the menorah. That parsha also relates the creation of Pesach Sheni.

Pesach Sheni came into existence because on Pesach two individuals, through no fault of their own, were in a state of ritual unfitness and therefore could not take part in the korban Pesach. They complained to Moshe who saw merit in their argument. Moshe raised the issue with Hashem who then decreed Pesach Sheni. There would be a second opportunity for people to take part in the korban Pesach if circumstances prevented it on 14th and 15th of Nisan.

Pesach Sheni teaches that sincere and earnest desire to fulfill mitzvot and cling to Hashem can influence the Divine and bring about change. So also Chanukah. Chanukah represents an instance where a small group of Jews, desiring to cling to Hashem and stand up for what we would call true Yiddishkeit, brings about not only change but miracles.

Bizman hazeh, at this time, are we prepared to fight for true Yiddishkeit and bring about, if not miracles, at least change? Or, would the miracle be for us to stand up for, fight for, and practice true Yiddishkeit?

William S.J. Fraenkel received a Bachelor of Arts in religion and a law degree from NYU and served as a board member and officer of several Orthodox shuls. The opinions expressed in this dvar Torah are solely his own. Nota Bene: The phrase “The stuff that dreams are made of” comes from the film version of the “Maltese Falcon.” A similar line appears in Shakespeare’s “Tempest”: “We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep.” You would be dreaming to think I would misquote that other William.

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