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Parashat Miketz

Joseph, the Interpreter of Dreams, and Lighting the Candles for Hanukkah, Nights 5-8

We all experience two kinds of dreams: involuntary dreams that occur when we sleep, and aspirational dreams that motivate our personal and professional goals and pursuits throughout our personal and professional lives! Joseph understood and experienced both!

We are in the middle of the Joseph stories in the Book of Bereshit/Genesis. Joseph, the son of the Jacob, the third Jewish patriarch, had been violently thrown into a pit by his brothers, imprisoned, freed because of his lifelong ability to interpret dreams, and now has risen to second in command to Pharaoh. Joseph had always been associated both with involuntary dreams and dreams about the future. As a young man, he had dreams about his own life. His understanding and interpretation of his own dreams so infuriated his brothers that they threw him into the pit and left him for dead!

In prison, he successfully interpreted the dreams of other prisoners. Thanks to the intervention of Pharaoh’s chief cup bearer, the young Joseph, imprisoned due to the false testimony of the wife of Potiphar accusing him of seduction, was brought before Pharaoh to decipher two dreams. The royal cup bearer told about this young man’s skill and wisdom to Pharaoh’s household. Based on the dreams, Joseph foretold the future: Egypt would live through seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine, drought, and misery. Pharaoh listened carefully to Joseph’s teachings, and then appointed him as his viceroy to guide Egypt through the coming plague filled years.

Meanwhile, Jacob/Israel and his family were enduring the same famine in Canaan. Jacob sent his ten sons to Egypt to purchase food for the family, but he kept Benjamin, his youngest child and the only surviving son of his beloved wife, Rachel, with him.

Joseph’s brothers came to Egypt, and they addressed their brother, now second in importance only to Pharaoh, with their food needs. Fourteen years had passed since they had thrown him in anger and jealousy into a pit to be devoured by wild beasts. Although Joseph recognized his brothers immediately, they did not realize that this Egyptian ruler and nobleman was their brother whom they had abandoned years before.

Joseph was the master of understanding involuntary dreams that we experience during sleep, and he understood the power of aspirational dreams that fill us with optimism and plans for the future.  He was a great success as viceroy to Pharaoh, guiding the entire nation through the years of plenty and preparation for the seven-year famine period.

Joseph devised a series of challenges and tests for his brothers to measure the sincerity of their maturity and repentance. He demanded that the brothers return home, fetch the youngest, Benjamin, and return to him. A royal goblet was hidden in their possessions. Egyptian soldiers followed the brothers and discovered the goblet. When it was uncovered, they had to return.

Next week, we shall learn about the big reveal: Joseph tells his brothers whom he really is and a reconciliation occurs. Stay tuned!

In the year 165 Before the Common Era, the priest Mattathias and his five sons had aspirational dreams of a purified Temple, cleansed from the detritus of Greek pagan sacrifices and suitable once again for use as the center of Jewish religious life and the belief in the one universal G-d. Mattathias and his five sons, led by Judah Maccabee, waged a successful war on the Greeks, threw them out of the Temple, purified the interior accoutrements, and restored the traditional practices. That is why we celebrate the eight-day Festival of Hanukkah, the Holiday of Re-dedication!

Right after you receive this week’s eKI, you should be ready to light the Hanukkah candles for the fifth night of Hanukkah. Let us review the traditional steps to light the candles:

  1. After dark, we place the Hanukkiah in front of us, preferably on a window sill.
  2. We place the candles beginning from the right side of the Hanukkiah, filling up five spaces.
  3. We light the Shammash. We sing the first blessing. As we sing the second blessing, we use the Shammash to light the candles, proceeding from the newest candle first! We light candle five, four, three, two, and then one! The lights of Hanukkah grow in brightness and intensity each night as another candle is added!
  4. Since we have placed the Hanukkiah in the window, our neighbors know that we are bringing the Hanukkah miracle for all to see! According to the Talmud, this is the one major function of the candles: “Pirsomei Nisa,” to publicize the miracle!
  5. We join in singing Hanukkah songs, including Maoz Tzur, I Have a Little Dreidel, Mi Y’maleil, Light One Candle by Peter Yarrow, We Are Lights by Stephen Schwartz, and any other Hanukkah songs in Hebrew, English, Yiddish, Ladino, in any language Jews speak and sing!! Ask your children and grandchildren to lead the singing!

The miracle of Hanukkah is not just that the cruse of oil lasted for eight days! The miracle of Hanukkah is that all of us are here to celebrate our survival 2200 years after the Maccabees fought the Greeks for the preservation and re-dedication of our religious and cultural lives! In “We Are Lights,” by Stephen Schwartz, we all loudly sing, “But the blazing of the candles is not the only light, look at all of us, shining here tonight!”

Joseph had dreams and he acted on them. Mattathias his son, Judah and his brothers had dreams and they made their dreams a reality. We should dream about Jewish survival for us and for our children and grandchildren, and we should do all we can to bring our dreams to fruition!

Ellen and I wish you Hag Hanukkah Sameach!