Special people: Fulfilling our mission in the world

Rabbi Douglas Zelden

By Rabbi Doug Zelden, Guest Torah Columnist

Torah Portion: Mikeitz (Genesis 41:1−44:17)

In this week’s Torah portion of Miketz, which is read during Chanukah ,Pharaoh dreams of cows and sheaves and demands for someone to interpret his dreams. The wine butler remembers Joseph’s ability to interpret dreams, and Pharoah has his people bring Joseph from the jail. Pharaoh  acknowledges the truth of Joseph’s interpretation that there would  be seven good years followed by seven years of famine and raises  Joseph to second in command of the whole country with the mandate to prepare for the famine.

Soon, ten of Joseph’s brothers come to Egypt to buy food, Joseph recognizes them, but they don’t recognize him. Joseph accuses them of being spies and puts them through situations which will eventually get the brothers to bring his only full brother Benjamin to Egypt. Then, as we know from this famous story of the Torah, Joseph frames Benjamin for stealing his special wine goblet. The outcome is in next week’s portion.

I’d like to focus my words on the following verses that are read this week:

“And Yosef (Joseph) was the ruler over the land… and Yosef’s brothers came and bowed twice before him, down to the ground. And Yosef saw his brothers, and he recognized them, but he made himself a stranger to them…”
– Genesis 42:6,7

Many commentators examine Joseph’s behavior and explain why he felt it necessary to display cruelty towards his brothers. But the Kedushat Levi takes an entirely different approach.  He explains that really Joseph was in fact demonstrating maximal kindness as well as self-control.

The Kedushat Levi points out that when someone loses any sort of battle or contest against another, he or she  usually feels pain and regret. When Joseph had his dreams which prophesied that his brothers would come and bow before him, they had mocked him terribly. At this point, if the brothers would have known, when they were fulfilling his dream and bowing before him, that this was their brother Joseph. They would have then felt tremendous emotional pain in proportion to the laughing they had done previously.

Thus the Torah is showing us Joseph’s tremendous character.  Any normal person would have been delighted to take maximal advantage of a situation like this, for revenge if nothing else – to let those who hated him feel low and subjugated to him. Joseph does precisely the opposite. Specifically at the moment when they were bowing before him, fulfilling his prophecy, he hid his identity from them to save them from that pain and embarrassment. This is one of the reasons Joseph was known as Yosef HaTazadik. (Joseph the Righteous)

We are now celebrating Chanukah. Like many other Jewish holidays, Chanukah is another holiday that demonstrates despite overwhelming odds we still exist. During Passover each year we read in the Hagaddah, “not only one person rose upagainst us to destroy us. Rather, in every generation they rise up against us to destroy us…”

This story is as old as time itself. First it was the Egyptian Empire; later it was the ‘Roman Empire’, and so on. These great empires are gone, but we still are here. The Greeks too tried to destroy us. Most of us are familiar with Greek culture and architecture? But that is all in the history books! We, however, are still here and like other holidays that is what Chanukah is all about.

The Egyptian, Persian, Greek, and Roman Empires are all gone. The Jews are the longest running act in history. Why are we still around?  The reason we are still around is because, as the Hagaddah concludes there, “and the Holy One, Blessed be He, saves us from their hands.” G-d told us “you will be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation…” – Exodus 19:5-6.

G-d tells us that He will help us survive because He has a special job for us to accomplish. We must be a special people — a kingdom of Kohanim and a holy nation. That is why we are here.

Our key to success has been our status as an Am Kadosh – a holy nation. This is what Chanukah and even Purim are about, and certainly this is what Passover is about. If we ever, Chas V’Shalom, cease to be that holy nation, then we could end up like those other empires that no longer exist.

At the time of Chanukah, a time of rededication, we must think about these issues. Are we living up to our role in this world?

May we live up to our special role in this world so that G-d will continue to shower his blessings on us, and may the lights of Chanukah continue to illuminate all our homes and all our hearts.

Rabbi Doug Zelden is rabbi of Congregation Or Menorah (Orthodox), chaplain for Home Bound Hospice, and host of the weekly TV show “Taped With Rabbi Doug” (www.tvrabbi.com).

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