August 7, 2018

Pharoh and Al HaNissim (Miketz)

Parshat Mikeitz begins with a description of Pharoh’s two dreams, the first of which describes how seven lean cows ate seven fat cows, while the second describes how seven thin ears of grain swallowed up seven fat, full ears of grain. We are then told that Pharoh woke up the next morning feeling agitated by his dreams and he then summoned all his wise men to try and explain the meaning of his dreams.
But why did Pharoh react this way? Most dreams do not contain profound messages. So what led Pharoh to think that these dreams were sufficiently significant to justify summoning all his wise men?
Rabbi Shimon Schwab raises this question (see Ma’ayan Beit HaShoevah, Mikeitz), and he explains that what startled Pharoh was how this dream conflicted with everything that Pharoh knew of the world. According to Pharoh, when two enemies battle, the larger army always overcomes the smaller army, and the stronger side always overcomes the weaker. Consequently, Pharoh was never concerned about his position as the leader of Egypt given that Egypt was the largest and strongest superpower.
However, a clear message in Pharoh’s dreams is that it is possible for a smaller/weaker people to overcome a larger/stronger nation. This message worried Pharoh, which is why he summoned his wise men to explain the deeper meaning of the dream.
Based on his explanation, Rabbi Schwab remarks that, “it is not by chance that we read Parshat Mikeitz during Chanukah – which [is the festival that] teaches us how God ‘delivered the strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few’ – since [this is the same outcome] that Pharoh saw in his dreams’”.  Thus, in a strange way, Pharoh’s dream was a blueprint for the Jewish story, which includes the story of Chanukah.
As we know, the Jewish nation has always been a minority. However, the imagery of Pharoh’s dream, along with the Chanukah story, serve as a strong reminder that our size as a nation does not mean that we are fated to be unsuccessful in our endeavours. As Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch explains in his essay titled ‘The Minority: Challenges and Problems’, “no isolated Jew should despair when looking upon Abraham, who was also one lone man when God first called him, or upon Moses, on whose loyalty alone God was ultimately willing to rebuild the nation… The very fact that the Father of all mankind chose such a tiny minority as bearers of the treasure of truth… justifies the following assumption: The fact that the cause of truth is borne by a minority does not in any manner threaten the survival and the ultimate triumph pf that cause.” Instead, “a truth upheld by a minority has many more loyal nurturers and champions than one borne by a majority.”
So the next time you read the Al HaNissim prayer, take a moment to reflect on the words ‘You delivered the strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few’, and when doing so, ponder how it was this idea that agitated Pharoh, and it is this fact that has led the Jewish people not only to survive, but also to have such a significant impact on the world.

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