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Torah Sparks

December 15, 2001/5762

Prepared by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD
Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations

Annual Cycle: Genesis 41:1 - 44:17 (Hertz, p. 155; Etz Hayim, p.250)
Triennial - Year I: 41:1-52 (Hertz, p. 155; Etz Hayim, p.250)
Second Torah: - Rosh Hodesh - Numbers 28:9-15
Third Torah: Hanukkah Maftir - Num. 7:42 - 47
Haftarah- Zechariah 2:14 - 4:7 (Hertz, p. 987)

This Shabbat’s Torah Portion Summary

(41:1-44) Pharaoh dreams of seven lean cows devouring seven fat cows, and seven thin sheaves consuming seven healthy sheaves. When none of his advisors can give him a satisfactory explanation, the cupbearer remembers Joseph, who is brought to Pharaoh and interprets the dream to mean that there will be seven prosperous years followed by seven years of famine. He suggests that Pharoah appoint someone to supervise storaging to prepare for the famine. Pharoah chooses Joseph.

(41:45-52) Joseph's wife bears him two sons, Ephraim and Menasseh.

(41:53-57) The seven years of plenty pass and the famine begins.

(42:1-6) Ten of Joseph's brothers come to Egypt to get food. Their brother Simon must be left behind as a pledge that they will return.

(42:7-28) Joseph recognizes his brothers, but they don't recognize him. He sets up a deception in order to engineer Benjamin's being brought to Egypt, accusing them of being spies. The only way they can clear their names is to prove their story by bringing the other brother they had mentioned.

(42:29-38) The brothers tell Jacob what happened to them. He refuses to send his youngest and most beloved son Benjamin.

(43:1-15) After the food runs out, Jacob is forced to agree to allow Benjamin to go down to Egypt with the other brothers.

(43:16-34) This time Joseph receives the brothers with great honor, and arranges a feast for them.

(44:1-17) Joseph tests the brothers again with the accusation that Benjamin has stolen his silver goblet.

This Shabbat's Theme: Not By Might Nor By Power But By My Spirit

After two years time, Pharaoh dreamed that he was standing by the Nile River, when out of the Nile there came up seven cows, fair to look at and sturdy, and they grazed in the reed grass. But presently, seven other cows came up from the Nile close behind them, ugly and lean, and stood beside the cows on the bank of the Nile. And the ugly lean cows ate up the seven fair sturdy cows. (Gen. 41:1 - 4)

  1. The Torah portion Mikketz, which relates the dream of the seven lean cows that devour the seven sturdy ones, is always read on Shabbat Hanukkah. This is quite appropriate since Hanukkah is the story of the Maccabees, an heroic saga which tells how in 168 B.C.E. the powerful Syrian king Antiochus attacked geographically tiny Judea. Many assumed that the outnumbered Jews would be vanquished quickly but as it turned out, despite their weak disadvantage, the Jews prevailed. For this reason, on all of the days of Hanukkah we joyously rec ite the al ha-nisim prayer which reads: "Thou, O Lord, didst deliver the strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few, and the impure into the hands of the pure". And so too, this memorable truth is proclaimed in the famous words of the prophet Zechariah which is found in today's special Haftarah for Hanukkah: "Not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit, says the Lord of Hosts." (Zech. 6:6)
  2. Oftentimes apparent weakness denotes strength that is to come. At the moment of birth, no living creature is as weak and helpless as man, yet man grows up to be the master of all life. The horse secures his rest through sleep while standing; the cattle rest while kneeling; yet man is so weak that he must lie his entire body down. However, after lying in this vulnerable position, he awakens with renewed and superior strength. A Jew fasts on Yom Kippur and on other days. In so doing, he creates a situation of weakness in order to attain the inner and outer strength that follows. We thus behold that there is frequently weakness before strength. (Rabbi Pinhas of Koretz, Nofet Tzufim, pp. 5 - 7. Warsaw, Poland, 1929)
  3. One of the miracles of Hanukkah was that the small cruse of oil, enough for but one night's illumination burned for eight days. The small candles therefore suggest that great size and quantity are not always the deciding factor. The Jewish people are few in number, but they have given the world some of the greatest teachers, philosophers, scientists, philanthropists, artists, novelists, playwrights and Nobel Prize winners. The Holy Land, a territory of insignificant size produced the Bible and gave birth to three major world religions. Israel, a country of limited resources and people, has already to its credit many impressive and significant accomplishments during its short existence. (S.Z. Kahana, Heaven on Your Head, pp. 246-247)
  4. "It is not because you are the most numerous of peoples that the Lord set His heart on you and chose you - indeed, you are the smallest of peoples." (Deut. 7:7)
  5. God said to Israel: "I love you, but it is not because you are more than the Gentiles, and not because you do more mitzvot (commandments) than they, for they magnify my name more than you do (Malachi 1:11) and you are the smallest of all nations (Deut. 7:7) - but because you make yourselves small before me, therefore I love you. (Tanhuma, ed. Buber, Ekev, 9a fin.)

“Sparks” for Discussion:

There is genuine concern which exists about the small size of the Jewish population in the world today. Do you know what the size of that population is? What about in the United States (and Canada)? What percentage is that of the total population? And (Eastern) Europe? What are the demographic numbers there?

Yet, most people are under the impression that there are more Jewish people than there really are. Why?

We have always been a small people and true, we have out-survived the ancient Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Persian, etc. civilizations. Have things changed in our time that should give us more concern than usual about our lack of number?

Is it God's will that the Jewish People should live on, no matter what? Is there an "automatic guarantee"?


The first commandment given to the Jewish People was to know that the moon (month) of Nissan should be the head of all the moons (months).

Why does Israel mark its months by the moon? Because Israel is like the moon. When Israel suffers tribulation, it should look at the moon, which, early in the month, is small but grows larger and l arger. Thus, will Israel likewise increase in strength and stature. And when Israel waxes wealthy and fat, it should regard the moon again, which after attaining fullness, decreases daily. So too Israel's stable and secure condition may well be diminished. As the moon increases for fourteen days and then it is full for one day, it inevitably decreases for another fourteen days. So it is with Israel. (Shemot Rabbah, on Exodus 12:2, p. 196)

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