Taking Credit – In Memoriam of Mr. David M. Warren (Menachem Dovid ben Harav Yosef Z’L)
Once again, Joseph is called upon to interpret a dream but this time he’s not with his prison mates. This time, he’ll be sorely tested by Pharaoh and surrounded by a hostile audience of Pharaoh’s magicians and councilors. This time, Joseph will be risking his freedom, his life, and G-d’s honor. He must do more than simply interpret the dream. He must also prove the interpretation is of divine origin.
And Joseph does. According to the Midrash Tankhuma (Compilation of Jewish Homiletic during the years 400 CE – 600 CE), Pharaoh repeatedly tested Joseph by changing nuances within his dream, prompting Joseph to correct him, thereby proving the interpretation was of divine origin.
Then, having interpreted the dream, Joseph, a Hebrew slave, continued speaking G-d’s words before Pharaoh’s presence, presenting a master plan to manage Egypt. Such forwardness in the king’s presence, surrounded by the king’s magicians and councilors, further jeopardized Joseph’s life.
Yet, as this dramatic scene unfolds, Joseph’s greatest fear was that he may forget, if even for a moment, that he is nothing more than a servant of G-d. “Without me, G-d will answer the peace of Pharaoh.” (Genesis 45:16-17)
As the Ralbag (Rabbi Levi ben Gershon 1288 – 1344; Languedoc, France) explains, Joseph was saying to Pharaoh that it is not within Joseph’s ability to interpret the dream. Only G-d can do that. However, Joseph’s response was not solely for Pharaoh’s benefit but also for his own; Joseph was reminding himself that only G-d “will answer the peace of Pharaoh.” Whether the interpretation was pleasing to Pharaoh or not, whether the interpretation would lead to Joseph’s release or the forfeiture of his life (See also Toelet Hashlishi), “without me, G-d will answer the peace of Pharaoh.”
Even though Joseph knew he was only speaking the words G-d placed in his mouth and even though Joseph was fully willing to accept whatever consequences resulted from his speaking, he still recognized the need to remind himself of his limited role.
When we achieve great success, we instinctively credit ourselves with having played a critical role in that success. And, when we fail, we critique ourselves under the assumption we must have done something wrong. That same intuition is so ingrained that, even when G-d’s hand is obvious, we still look to the role we play.
Just as Joseph needed to verbally remind himself, “without me, G-d will answer the peace of Pharaoh,” so must we remind ourselves. Just as each of us bears the responsibility to do what we can and all that we must, so do we also bear the responsibility to remind ourselves, “without me, G-d will answer.”
Chanukah – Its Relevance Today
After the death of Alexander the Great, the Macedonian Empire separated into four kingdoms and Judea fell under the dominion of the Seleucid Empire. Hellenism became so rampant in Judea that some men had reverse circumcisions to hide their Jewish heritage during the Olympic games. They changed their Jewish names to Greek names, like Jason the High Priest, and performed sacrifices to the Greek gods, all in the name of assimilation. King Antiochus then attempted to force the Jews to fully assimilate by outlawing Torah study, Sabbath observance, circumcision, and declaring the new moon. In 167 B.C.E. the Jews revolted, first under the leadership of Mattisyahu and then his son, Judah HaMaccabee.
Not only were the Jews victorious against their Hellenized brethren, they miraculously defeated the Greek armies and founded the first independent Jewish state in the 400 years since the Babylonian Exile.
Among their first acts was the re-dedication of the Holy Temple, which had been pillaged by the Greeks and defiled through idolatry. Among the debris, the Jews discovered one small jug of pure olive oil that still had the high priest's seal and had not been defiled by the Greeks. Even though there was only enough oil to light the Menorah for one day, the oil miraculously lasted for 8 days.
The Bach (Harav Yoel Sirkis 1561 – 1640; commenting on the Tur 570) provides additional details. The golden menorah had been defiled so the Maccabees built a wooden menorah. The olive oil had been defiled, so they needed to create new oil. However, most of the priests (Kohanim) had been rendered impure from burying their fallen brethren. Those priests who were still pure, lacked the expertise and the process itself was complex and lengthy as the oil had to be continuously refined to the point that each olive only rendered one drop. It would take 8 days for new olive oil to be produced and delivered.
Still, why did G-d create a miracle so the Maccabees did not have to wait 8 days to light the menorah?
The Maccabees fought a war for the right to perform mitzvoth. They fought against Hellenistic influence. They followed every technicality to remove every iota of impurity from the Holy Temple. So fervently did the Jews want to rededicate the temple, so meticulous were they to do every mitzvah on the highest possible level, so desirous were they to light the menorah but only in the best possible fashion, G-d created a miracle so the Jews would not have to wait.
That is the message of Hanuka. Whenever the Jewish people truly desire to perform mitzvoth, G-d will provide the means to do so. The Maccabees rejected the Hellenistic lifestyle, fought overwhelming odds, and then, at their moment of victory, paused to follow the smallest details of Torah observance.
Like ancient Hellenism, modern society has its influences. This Hanuka, we commemorate the Maccabeean victories, the re-dedication of the Temple, and the miracle of the menorah, to inspire us and strengthen our Torah values with its finest details.